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While there is a good deal of Internet flotsam and jetsam regarding the ancestry of the infamous Despencers who served Edward II, very little is known of their actual origins. As
an alternative to all the pseudo-genealogy on the web, connecting anyone of a
similar name as an ancestor, there are quality resources that offer real proof.
One of the best sources available on many such families is the Complete Peerage
(second edition). There are any number of reasons why this is such a good
source of information, but one that virtually anyone of any experience level
can easily recognize is the extensive use of correct source citations. And
anyone who takes the time to verify these citations (and we all should) can
come to appreciate the depth and breadth of this as one of the finer sources
for medieval peers.


From The Complete Peerage, Vol. IX, pp. 259-282, is the following Despencer line:


none;text-autospace:none"">(1) Thomas le Despencer

none;text-autospace:none"">(2) Hugh le Despencer dd. 1238

none;text-autospace:none"">(3) Hugh le Despencer , Justiciar of England bd. 1223 dd. 4 Aug 1265, battle of Eveshsam, m Aline Basset

none;text-autospace:none"">(4) Hugh le Despencer , Earl of Winchester bd. 1 Mar 1260 dd. 27 Oct 1326, Bristol, (hanged), m. Isabella de Beauchamp

none;text-autospace:none"">(5) Hugh "the Younger" le Despencer, Lord le Despencer, dd. 24 Nov 1326, Herford (hanged and quartered), m Eleanor de

none;text-autospace:none"">(6) Edward le Despencer dd. 1342 m Anne de Ferrers

none;text-autospace:none"">(7) Edward Despencer, Lord Despencer dd. 11 Nov 1375 m Elizabeth Burghersh

none;text-autospace:none"">(8) Thomas le Despencer, Earl of Gloucester bd. 1373 dd. 13 JAN 1399/00 (lynched by a mob), m. Constance of York

(9) Richard le Despencer , Lord Burghersh dd. 7 Oct 1414 d.s.p.



A couple of very interesting points are found in the footnotes from the same CP article. One of these, citing Round, indicates that Elyas Dispensator (his
title, not his surname) was probably an ancestor, based on the honor of
Arnesby, however it appears as yet undetermined exactly how they were related. The
same note goes on to mention how the surname probably developed from the title:


 “…As Round (op. cit., p. 304) has already observed, Elyas Dispensator was one of three persons enfeoffed in Arnesby by Hugh de Beauchamp (Testa de Neville, p. 88), and must therefore be an ancestor
of this family. It may be finally remarked that a great number of the charters
of the Earls of Chester which passed in the earlier part of the 13th century
are witnessed by a Thomas or by a Hugh Dispensator, or by both. It follows that
this family must have taken its name from the office of dispenser to these
Earls, or possibly to the Lacys, Constables of Chester.”


G.E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage, Eds. Vicary Gibbs, Arthur Doubleday, Vol. IV, St. Catherine’s Press, London, 1916, p. 259-60 note (c).


Regarding any Spencer/Despencer connection, this was disproved over a century ago, exposed for what it was then and remains to this day, a completely spurious connection. Even so, the mistake is still out there
to be picked up repeatedly by junk genealogy web pages. Here is a note from the
Complete Peerage on the subject:


“Their pedigree has been distorted by the unscrupulous efforts of many heralds and

genealogists to derive the Spencers of Althorpe from an illustrious origin: with the

result that (1) these Despensers, who appear to have been despensatores of the Earls of Chester, (2) the Despensers of King’s Stanley, co. Gloucester, who were despensatores Regis, and (3) the above-named (now ducal) family of
Spencer, who emerge from 
obscurity, as wealthy
grazers, towards the end of the 15th century, have been associated 
in a single pedigree in
which “fact and fiction are cunningly intertwined.” 
This elaborate imposture
has been faithfully dealt with by J. H. Round (Peerage 
and Family History, pp. 279-329), and is now incapable of deceiving the


G.E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage, Eds. Vicary Gibbs, Arthur Doubleday, Vol. IV, St. Catherine’s Press, London, 1916, p. 259 note (b).


Here is a quote from J.H. Round (taken from the citation mentioned above):


“In this paper, however, the subject I propose to discuss is that of the Spencer pedigree and arms. For theirs, it will be found, is a typical case of the Herald's College providing a family, when it has acquired
wealth, with arms to which is it not entitled, on the strength of a pedigree
concocted for the purpose. I lay the guilt at the heralds' door, not at that of
the family itself, because its founder, John Spencer, the purchaser of Althorpe
and Wormleighton, made, we shall see, no claim to any other than his true
origin; while its first peer,—although 'for his skill in antiquities, arms,
alliances it was singluar,—desired, in his will, to be buried “not in the
pompous traine of Heraulds and glorious Ensignes, nor in dumbe ceremonies, and
superfluous shewes, but in a decent and Christian manner, without pomp and


J.H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History, 1901, p. 285


Finally, it should be pointed out that there is no connection between the household position of a dispenser and that of a steward. Any source that cannot differentiate between the two is clearly one that you’d
want to verify all information from carefully as the writer is showing unfamiliarity
with the history of the period he or she is writing of.


“A document called the Constitutio Domus Regis was drawn up just after the death of Henry I that showed the members of the household by their various ranks and pay. Officers of the highest rank were the
chancellors, stewards, and master marshals. The second rank included the master
dispensers (of the bread, the larder, and the butlery), the master of the
writing office, the clerk of the spence, and chamberlains. The third ranking
included deputy constables, and lesser chamberlains. The fourth and lowest rank
of household officers included the dispensers (of the 11.0pt"">pannetry, the larder, etc.). Under them were minor officials and the
ordinary household staff.”


Geoffrey White, The Household of the Norman Kings, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fourth Series, Vol. 30 (1948), pp. 132-135 


Royal dispensers fell into two groups, the (ordinary) dispensers, who were court officials of the fourth rank and master dispensers, who were of the second rank. Neither position has anything to do with that of
steward or a dapifer (or that of a chamberlain, marshal, butler, constable—any of
the great officers of the royal household). In Henry I’s time and before, the position
was that of a dapifer. After the Anarchy the position became more powerful and
the name changed from dapifer to steward. A steward was the chief officer of
the royal household and all other officers were ranked below him.


The proven pedigree of Hugh ‘the Younger’ Despencer, who virtually ruled England for a time, can reliably be traced back, then, to his second great-grandfather, Thomas. Here I used just one quality source and there are
other sources to corroborate this information. But as to any earlier
connections, these are, at best, purely speculative. And, Robert le Despencer,
of the d’Arbitot family? He died childless which means he had no descendants.


In each and every case, you can trace a branch of your family tree only so far until the proven information simply runs out. At that point, it’s as far as you can go unless or until proof of the earliest person’s
parentage is discovered. And we all hold out hope that we can find more at some
future point. But for the present, for any others who have Despencer ancestors,
I hope this helps.






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Replies to This Discussion

Great article. During my genealogical research, I have found myself reading about this period & family particularly their association with Robert Baldock, chancellor to Edward II, and also of his namesake, Robert Baldock serjeant-at-law to James II. Although I cannot currently find a line or link to either, I have my line back to late 1500s and hold out hope of an eventual success. I have many Robert Baldocks, but none the right one!
In the meantime it has all revitalised my interest in history & reading.
I've come across this name (as Chancellor) several times in researching Edward II and the two Dispencers. The only thing I've seen that might point to his origins are references to a Bloomfield's Norfolk in various sources referring to a Baldock family in Norfolk. Don't know if it's his family but if you haven't already checked there there you might see if you can find a copy. Just a thought. Anyway, best of luck in your researching.

Continuing, the following Despenser line is generally treated as a separate family by some sources, but is actually a different branch of the first Despenser line I posted earlier. The following note in The Complete Peerage, Vol. IV, note (a) helps to explain:

"The subject of these inquisitions was s. and h. of Philip le Despenser (who d. 24 Sep. 1313--Excheators Accounts. K.R., 3, no. 15), by Margaret (b. 12 May 1294 at Whittington, Salop, and bap. there; d. 29 July 1349), d. and h. of Ralph Gousille, from whom this family inherited Goxhill and the other manors mentioned above. (Ch. Inq. p.m., Edw. I, file 69, no. 12; Edw. II, file 6, no 12, file 34, no. 5; Edw. III, file 96, no. 21). See also Gousille and Ros of Watton. The last-named Philip was yr. s. of Hugh le Despenser the elder (Close Rolls, 6 Edw. II, m. 21, ; 20 Edw. III, p. 1, m. 25d; 21 Edw. III, p. 1, m. 6). not, as usually stated, of Hugh the younger. His father gave him the manors of Parlington, co. York and Alkborough, co. Lincoln, and the goods and chattels therein, by letters patent dated the day of St. John the Baptist 22 Edw. I [24 Jun 1294]. (Ancient Deeds, A, no. 3185).

So, again, from the standard reference work The Complete Peerage, Vol. IV, pp. 288-294 is the following additional line:

(1) Hugh le Despenser, Earl of Winchester, b. 1 Mar 1260, d. 27 Oct 1326, Bristol, Executed, m. Isabella de Beauchamp
His younger son's (cadet) line:

(2) Philip le Despenser, Lord of Parlington &c., d. 24 Sep 1313, m. Margaret Gousille
(3) Sir Philip le Despenser, of Camoys & Goxhill, b. 6 Apr 1313, Lincoln co., d. 22/23 Aug. 1349, m. Joan Cobham
(4) Sir Philip le Despencer, Lord le Despenser, b. 18 Oct 1342, Gedney, d. 4 Aug 1401, Goxhill, m. Elizabeth unknown
(5) Philip le Despencer, Lord Despenser, b. ca 1365, d. 20 Jun 1424 d.s.p.m., m. Elizabeth de Tibetot
(6) Margery le Despenser, Lady Roos (m. 1st John Ros, 7th Lord Ros) m. 2ndly Roger Wentworth , Baron Despenser
(7) Sir Philip Wentworth d. 18 May 1464, Middleham,co. York, taken prisoner by Yorkists at battle of Hexham & beheaded, m. Mary de Clifford
(8) Sir Henry Wentworth bd. ca 1448 dd. bef 27 Feb 1500 m. Anne Say
(9) Sir Richard Wentworth, Lord Wentworthe bd. ca 1480 d. 17 Oct 1528 m. Anne Tyrelle

The following refers to Sir Richard Wentworth and his descendants regarding the Lordship of Despenser:
"...any hereditary Barony of Despenser, that may be supposed to have been created by the writ of 1387, became then united to that of Wentworthe. For further particulars and the subsequent descent of those Baronies see Wentworth [Complete Peerage, vol IV, p. 294].

In additon to the mistake that Philip le Despenser was a younger son of Hugh 'the Younger' (which is also found in the first series of the CP as well, corrected in the second series) is the error regarding the wife of (#3 above) Philip le Despenser of Camoys, here corrected to Joan Cobham. The mistake being that he married a Joan Strange and that their son (4) Philip had married Margaret Cobham (when in fact his son married an Elizabeth unk.). This, combined with the number of Philips named le Despenser confused later compilers causing this to be treated as a separate Despenser line or in a few cases treated as a cadet line of the younger Hugh le Despenser (see Burke's Dormant and Extinct Peerage, p. 166 "Despencer--Barons Despencer, Earl of Gloucester"). Given the name Despenser is an occupational one, much like Smith or Cooper, and was not at that time particularly uncommon, it isn't surprising there were several famililes of the same name. However, this line is part of the same Hugh le Despenser line (one of Edward II's favorites). The CP information is supported by other sources as well, I just offered this as it comes from the Complete Peerage which is readily available. Some of you may want to consult volume IV (whcih is also available digitized online) for the details of the above Despensers).

Also, here is a list of abbreviations used in the Complete Peerage (modified and edited from CP vol 1, pp. xxxiv - xxxvl):

&c. - etcetera (modern etc.)
admon - administration
afsd. - aforesaid
ap. - apparent (as in 'heir apparent')
Arch. - Archieologia, 1809
b. - born
bap. - baptized
Barr. - Barrister at Law
bur. - buried
cod. - codicil
coh. - coheir
Coll. Top. et Gen. - Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, 8 vols., Nichols & Son, London, 1834-43
Coll. Gen. - Collectanea Genealogica, edited by J. Foster, vol. i, 1881
Collins - Collins' Peerage of England, edited by Sir E. Brydges, 9 vols, 1812
Compendium [E.] - Compendium, English Peerage, 1st to 13th editions, 1718-69
Compendium [S.] - Compendium, Scottish Peerage, 1st to 7th edit., 1720-64
Compendium [I.] - Compendium, Irish Peerage, 1st to 5th edit., 1722-56
Courthope - Courthope's Historic Peerage of England, 1857
Crawfurd - Crawfurd's Peerage of Scotland, folio, 1716
Crossley - Crossley's Peerage of Ireland, folio, 1725
cr. - created
Cruise - Cruise on Dignities, 2nd edit., 1823
d. - decessit [Latin] died
diem cl. ext - diem clausit extremum, (a writ issued to convene a jury to conduct an inquiry post mortem)
da. - daughter
dat. - dated
disp. - dispensation (an exemption from a rule of law or obligation)
Douglas - Douglas' Peerage of Scotland, 2nd edition, edited by J. P. Wood, 2 vols.,1813
Dugdale - Dugdale's Baronage of England, 2 vols., 1675-76
ed. - educated
[E.] - England
Ex. Hist. - Excerpta Historica, 1831
Fac. off. - Faculty office, London
Fun. Cert. - Funeral Certificate
Gen. - Genealogist, edited by G. W. Marshall, 1877-83
[G.B.] - Great Britain
Han. Sq. - Hanover Square, Middlesex
h. - heir
Her. and Gen. - Herald and Genealogist, edited by J. G. Nichols, 8 vols., 1863-74
Hewlett - Hewlett's Dignities in the Peerage of Scotland..., 1882
Hewlett's Jur. - Hewlett's Jurisdiction in regard to Scottish Titles of Honour, 1883
Hist. MSS. Com. - Historical Manuscripts Commission
[I.] - Ireland
Inq. - Inquisition
Inq. p. m. - Inquisition post mortem
J. P. - Justice of the Peace
lic. - license
Lib. Hib. - Liber Munerum Publicorum Hibemice, 19 Stephen to 7 Geo. IV, 1852
Lodge - Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, 2nd edit., edited by M. Archdall, 7 vols., 1879
Lond. off. - Bishop of London's office
L.C.C. - London County Council
Lords Reports - Reports on the dignity of a Peer of the Realm..., 4 vols., 1826
Lynch - Lynch's Feudal Baronies in Ireland, 1830
Maidment - Maidment's Genealogical Collections, pp. 172, 1882. Privately printed
m - married
mar. lic. - marriage licence
mar. settl. - marriage settlement
matric - matriculated
M.I. - monumental inscription
Miss. Gen. et Her. - Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, edited by J. J. Howard, 2 vols., 1868-76
Nicolas - Nicolas' Synopsis of the Peerage of England, 2 vols., small 8vo., 1825
Nichols' Wills - Royal and Noble Wills, 1087 to 1508, edited by J. Nichols, 1780
off. - office
pr. - proved
P.C. - Privy Councillor
Rep. - Representative
Riddell - Riddell's Law and Practice in Scottish Peerages, 2 vols., 1842
Robertson - Robertson's Proceedings relating to the Peerage of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1790
[S.] - Scotland
Segar - " Baronagium Genealogicuin, " by Sir W. Segar, MS., 3 vols., in the College of Arms, London. Selden - Selden's Titles of Honour, 3rd edit.,

folio, 1672
s. - son
s.p. - sine prole, [Latin] without issue
s.p.legit. - sine prole legitima [Latin] without legitimate issue
s.p.m. - sine prole mascula [Latin] without male issue
s.p.m.s. - sine prole masculd superstite [Latin] without surviving male issue
s.p.s. - sine prole superstite [Latin] without surviving issue
spec - special
Sq. -square
St. - Saint
Str. - street
suc. - succeeded
sum. - summoned
Summons - Summons of the Nobility to the Parliaments, 1264 to 1685, W. Dugdale, 1685
surv. - surviving
Test. Vet. - Testamenta Vetusta, 1190-1560, N. H. Nicolas, 1826
Top. and Gen. - Topographer and Genealogist, J. G. Nichols, 3 vols., 1846-58
[U.K.] - United Kingdom
unm. - unmarried
v.f. - vita fratris [Latin] during his brother's lifetime
v.m. - vita matris [Latin] during his mother's lifetime
v.p., vitci patris [Latin] during his father's lifetime
V.C.H. - Victoria History of the Counties of England, H. A. Doubleday & William Page
Vic. Gen. - Vicar General's office, London
Visit. - The Heralds' Visitation of the county
Westm. - Westminster
yr. - younger
yst. - youngest

Note - In some cases you will find abbreviations combined, such as d.v.m., where you use this list to look up "d." (died, or decessit in Latin) and link it to "v.m." (Latin, vita matris, or in the mother's lifetime). Together it means the person predeceased his or her mother.




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