There are three gentlemen named Hugh Despenser who have some claim to historical significance as detailed below;
Note that these gentlemen also appear under the name of Hugh le Despenser or sometimes as De Spenser or DeSpenser. Most narrative accounts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries refer to 'Despenser' although many genealogical sources use 'le Despenser' following the practice adopted by The Complete Peerage.
The first of these Hugh Despensers held the office of Justiciar of England and was killed on the 4 August 1266 at the Battle of Evesham, fighting at the side of Simon de Montfort. He was known as Hugh 'the Elder' in order to distinguish him from his son of the same name.
Then there was his son Hugh Despenser, who became the 2nd Baron and later Earl of Winchester and was one of king Edward I's chief ministers who was executed at Bristol on the 27th October 1326. This Hugh, known as 'the Younger' in his youth to distinguish him from his father, is now more commonly known as 'the Elder' in order to distinguish him from his son. He is often confused with his father and vice versa.
The third Hugh Despenser, (and son of the second) now most often known as 'the Younger' claimed to be Earl of Gloucester and was the man who effectively ruled England during the years 1322 to 1326 and who presided over what was quite possibly the most unpopular and hated regime ever to rule the country. He met a particularly gruesome and unpleasant death at Hereford on the 29th November 1326.
In addition to these three 'important' Hugh Despensers there were two others of some minor significance;
- the Hugh Despenser who was the father or possibly grandfather of the 1st Baron who died in 1238 and is recorded as holding a number of manors in the east Midlands.
- Hugh Despenser, 4th Baron Despenser and son of the 3rd Baron who was partially restored to his father's estates in 1337, and later fought at the battle of Crecy finally dying without surviving issue in 1349.
Of course these three individuals do no represent the sum total of all the Hugh Despencers that have walked this earth. The family name of Despenser is derived from the Norman French 'le dispencer' and refers to someone who held the position of a dispensator or steward; accordingly there are a number of different families who carried out the duties of stewards and where known as 'despensers' and who are not necessarily related to one another. Various misguided attempts are sometimes made to link these families together.
- Despencer genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/dd/despencer1.htm
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)