Isabella de Beauchamp, Lady Despenser (Hugh’s mother)


Arms of William Marshal - Isabella's great, great grandfather on her mother's side
Arms of William Marshal – Isabella’s great, great grandfather on her mother’s side

One of the problems and frustrations of this era (and others) is that, to a large extent, women are invisible in the records – even women belonging to the noble classes. If we are lucky, we may get a couple of glimpses but it is usually because a man is involved somewhere – as husband, father or son and in relation to land and/or dowry settlements.

The mother of Hugh Despenser the younger is no exception. We know about her family, the possible decade of her birth, her husband, her children and the date of her death. But we know nothing of the woman herself – there are no glimpses of her character or deeds apart from one small entry in the miscellaneous inquisitions of 1327. But I’ll speak about that later.

Isabella de Beauchamp was born probably in the 1260s, and most likely circa 1266 to William de Beauchamp, the 9th earl of Warwick and Maud Fitzjohn. She had a brother, Guy, later to become the 10th earl of Warwick and one of the men responsible for the execution of Piers Gaveston. On her mother’s side she had a very impressive pedigree – being the great great grandaughter of William Marshal and the great-great-great grandaughter of Richard de Clare (Strongbow). With such esteemed blood and even without being an heiress, Isabella would have been deemed a prestigious catch in marriage.

Marriage to Patrick de Chaworth

Her first husband was Sir Patrick de Chaworth, Lord of Kidwelly and Ogmore. He was a fairly well off landowner, but not in the league of the major magnates and one must assume that there was some strategical reason for Warwick to agree to this alliance, one which has now been lost down the years. Isabella and Patrick had one daughter – his only heir – on 2nd February 1282. Just over a year later, still only in his thirties, Patrick died, leaving behind him a young wife and baby who now became a ward of the King. Isabella’s widow’s dowry wasn’t that much either and we only know for certain that she received the manor of Hartley Mauditt in Hampshire and the livery of the manor of Chedworth in Gloucestershire (although six other manors are mentioned as being given to her until her dowry was agreed).

Marriage to Hugh Despenser (the elder)

In 1286, Isabella married again, this time to the young Hugh le Despenser the elder (who at that time didn’t have the elder tag!). Upon the death of his mother, Aline Basset, in 1281, Hugh became a wealthy landowner. But as he was underage, his marriage was given to the earl of Warwick. A year later Despenser bought back the right to arrange his own marriage for 1600 marks. It is likely that Hugh was a regular visitor to Warwick’s court and that this is probably where he met the widowed Isabella. The marriage took place without the king’s consent and they were fined 2000 marks. It is not known what Warwick thought of the match but evidently he wasn’t too unhappy as he gifted the couple some land.

Hugh and Isabella went on to have six children that we know of: Aline, Hugh (the younger), Isabella, Phillip, Margaret and Elizabeth. I shall write bios of them in future posts, so won’t go into detail here. During her childbearing years, in 1295, Hugh was made Lord Despenser by a writ of Parliament, which meant that Isabella was now Lady Despenser.

Isabella died at some point before May 30th 1306, around the date of her son, Hugh’s, knighting and marriage. There is no record of where she was buried. After her death, her dower lands passed to her daughter by Chaworth, Maud.

The Odiham Park Incident

Now, on to that entry in the Miscellaneous Inquisitions. The complaint was registered on 15th February 1326 and forms one of the many that were lodged against the Despensers after their downfall and death. The complainant was one William de Odyham (Odiham):

The said William held the keepership of Odiham park by grant of King Edward I for 10 years and was removed therefrom by Hugh le Despenser the younger because he levied hue and cry upon Isabel the said Hugh’s mother who was taking 5 bucks in the park without warrant.

Now, if this is a true account then it adds a little more colour to Isabella’s life as it shows she enjoyed hunting and was not adverse to taking something that wasn’t hers (a family trait, it must be said!). It also shows that Hugh must have been fond of his mother to avenge the slight to her honour.


There is always a however when it concerns the Despensers and their activities. I did a little research into William’s claims, and although other records are unfortunately sparse, I have discovered one thing which casts doubt on his petition. William was granted the keepership of Odyham Park by Edward I in 1292:

January 18th 1292 at Westminster
Grant, for life, to William son of Matthew de Odiham, of the custody of the park of Odiham, after the death of Robert le Parker his grandfather, the present keeper, upon the same terms.*

If he kept the job for ten years, as he said, it would have been around 1302 when he was ‘ousted’. In 1302 Hugh the younger was only 15 or thereabouts and is unlikely to have had the sort of influence by which to have someone removed in such a manner. It is far more likely that if anyone was responsible for William losing his job it would have been Hugh the elder who would most definitely have had both the power and the motive. That’s if the incident ever happened in the first place. I also cannot track down the man, John Bronyng, that William said replaced him at Hugh’s behest. The only person I could find of that name was a ship’s captain. There were other keepers of the park during Edward II’s reign, but as far as I can tell, none of them had any connection with the Despensers.

File:Hartley Mauditt church - - 931733.jpg
Hartley Mauditt Church – Isabella would have known this church.

But – in William’s favour – Odiham is neighbouring Hartley Mauditt, Isabella’s manor, so it is more than possible that she would have hunted in the area. Also, the original petition claims that the keepership of the park was given to William for life by the late king. The petition has been dated to 1327, but not tied into any month. Therefore, the late king could refer to either Edward I as I proposed above (before Edward II’s death), or Edward II (after his death). Upon what evidence we have, I still stand by the former, but it does muddy the waters somewhat. Until any other evidence comes to light (that is, if any exists), it will be hard to prove this either way. Just another of the frustrations of researching the early 14th century.

*Patent Rolls, Edward I, Vol 2, p.467


  1. I am looking into weather on not I belong to the bloodline of that of Hugh Despenser?

    • I’m afraid I can’t help you with that – you’ll have to contact a professional genealogist who can look into your family records – but I must say it would be doubtful there was any direct link, as the male bloodline died out in the 15th century.

    • There’s actually a good chance that you do belong to that bloodline. Lady Diana Spencer was a descendant, as am I. Hugh Despenser the Younger was my 20th great-grandfather.

      People often confuse direct male-line descent from descent. Direct male-line descent means it goes from father to son only. That was because inheritance laws had been set up that way. But, as you know, you inherit just as much of your blood and DNA from your mother as you do your father. I am descended from Hugh’s son Edward, thru his son, also called Edward, thru his daughter, Elizabeth, who inherited just as much blood and DNA as any boy in the family did. She passed it on to her daughter, Eleanor La Zouche, who passed it on to her son William, 7th Baron Lovel. William passed that same blood and DNA on to his son John, 2nd Baron Lovel, who in turn passed it on to his daughter Frideswide Lovel. She passed it on to her son, Sir Henry Norreys (the guy who was such a favorite of Queen Anne Boleyn, and lost his head for it) who passed it on to his son Henry Norris, 1st Baron Norreys. Henry passed it on to his son Sir Edward Norris, who passed it to his daughter Mary Norris, who came over to America on the Mayflower. She passed the blood on to her daughter, Mary Allerton, who passed it on to her son Isaac Cushman, who passed it to his daughter Rebecca Cushman. Rebecca passed it to her daughter Elizabeth Mitchell who passed it to her daughter Elizabeth Howland.

      Now, Elizabeth inherited just as much of Hugh’s blood and DNA as any direct male-line descendant would have. Why is that? Because the direct male-line descendant mixes his blood 50/50 with the blood of his wife. Sons and daughters inherit blood and DNA in the same quantities, and qualities. Outside of old, traditional property inheritance laws, sons and daughters are equal.

      Elizabeth Howland, passed the blood and DNA she received from Hugh Despenser to her daughter Susanna Bubar who passed it on to her daughter Mary Jane McDougal. Mary Jane passed that blood and DNA on to her son Elbridge Lannigan who passed it on to his daughter Jessie Lannigan, who passed it on to her son Hubert McMannus who passed it on to his son David McMannus. That’s me: 20th great-grandson of Hugh Despenser. I’m also, of course, the 20th great-grandson of Eleanor de Clare, Hugh’s wife. I inherited just as much from her as from him.

      No, I would never be in line to inherit properties and titles from the estates held by Hugh Despenser. I’m not entitled to use his coat-of-arms as my own. That right only goes by direct male-line descent for five generations. But, I did inherit Hugh’s blood and DNA. Anyone with any knowledge of how we get our DNA will tell you as much. The only reason my last name is McMannus is because one, just one, of my eight great-grandparents was named McMannus, but I inherited just as much blood and DNA from the other seven great-grandparents as I did from the one named McMannus.

      Hire a professional genealogist, or sit down right now, open up a site like, and set up a family tree. Put yourself down, then add your parents and grandparents. If you get lost at any point call a relative and asked them if they remember birthdates, etc. You’d be surprised how easy it is, and what you’ll discover along the way. Have fun with it, and let us know what you find. I have a feeling I’ll be calling you ‘cousin’ before long!

  2. Is there any record that Isabella de Beauchamp was firstly married to a William Walthers and had a child by him named Walter Walthers?

    • Hi Nancee,
      No, there are no records of a marriage between Isabella and William Walthers. Her first marriage was most certainly to Sir Patrick de Chaworth, by whom she had a daughter. He died in 1283 and she subsequently married Hugh Despenser the elder in 1286.

      • Thank you for responding to my earlier question about William Walthers. I have found another source that leads me to believe William Walthers may have actually been William de Blount with a son Walter Blount. It also says William was married to Elizabeth Despencer. Any thoughts?

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