The Earl of Winchester is a title in the Peerage of England which has been created a total of three times, the last time in the year 1472.
The title was first borne by Saher de Quincy who was awarded the title by king John on the 13th of March 1207. Saher was later to fall out with the king over the matter of the concession of England to the pope and was one of the leading barons who persuaded John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, when he was named as one of the twenty-five barons charged with enforcing its observance. Saher continued his opposition thereafter and together with Robert Fitz Walter, was responsible for inviting Louis of France to assume the crown of England in 1216 and led the pro-French forces at the battle of Lincoln Fair in 1217.
After defeat in that battle, Saher was captured and imprisoned. Although his estates were forfeited, they were restored to him in October 1217 on condition that he went on crusade. In 1218 he therefore departed for the Holy Land and it was there at the siege of Damietta, that he died on the 3rd November 1219.
His elder son Robert was also in the Holy Land at the time and so Saher de Quincy was succeeded in the earldom by his second son Roger de Quincy, or as some might put it, Roger usurped the earldom during the absence of his elder brother. In any event Robert appears to have died on crusade and Roger succeeded in law as well as in fact. Through his marriage to Helen of Galloway, this Robert obtained substantial lands at Galloway in south-west Scotland as well as the herditary office of Constable of Scotland, but although thrice married Roger died without male issue on the 25th April 1264 at which point the title reverted to the crown.
The title does not appear to have been revived until some sixty years later, when it was granted to a certain Hugh Despenser. This Hugh Despenser, who was the father of another Hugh known as Hugh Despenser, the Younger, was one of key supporters of the court party during the early part of the reign of Edward II. After the murder of Piers Gaveston in 1312, the younger Hugh began to be seen as the natural successor to Gaveston in the king's favour, and both father and son emerged as the leading advocates of the king's right to govern as he saw fit.
It was the favouritism shown to the Despenser pair by Edward II that was one of the main causes of the revolt of the Contrariants in 1321, and after the Contrariant defeat at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, the elder Hugh was rewarded by being created Earl of Winchester on the 10th May 1322. From that point onwards England was effectively ruled by the two Despensers, but their rule and that of Edward II was brought to an end by the invasion of England in September 1327 led by Roger Mortimer (later Earl of March) and Isabella of France. Edward II's government rapidly collapsed in the face of widespread popular indifference and Hugh Despenser met a traitor's death at Bristol on the 27th October 1326 when he was hanged, drawn and quartered before the castle walls. Attainted as a traitor his title died with him; in any event, his son and heir Hugh Despenser, the Younger met a similar fate at Hereford on the 24th November 1326.
It was a century and a half before the title was to be recreated when it was granted to Louis de Bruges or Lodewijk van Brugge, also known as the Lord of Gruthuyse and Prince of Steenhuyse by king Edward IV. Louis was a Burgundian and Edward IV, we should remember, was temporarily dispossesed of the kingdom in October 1470 and fled abroad. It was during this period of exile that Edward went to Burgundy, where both he and his brother Richard were both housed and entertained by this Louis until the February of 1471 when Edward returned to England and won back the throne.
Louis later became the Burgundian ambassador to the English court and in gratitude for his earlier hospitality, on the 13th October 1472 Edward granted him the title of Earl of Winchester together with a pension of £200 a year to be paid from the customs of Southampton, but not the right of sitting in parliament; Louis was after all a foreigner.
Although some accounts state that Louis (or Lewis as he is sometimes called) surrendered his title to Henry VII in 1499, it seems reasonably certain that Louis had died on the 26th November 1492 and was thus in no position to do so. It therefore seems most likely that the title passed to his son John de Bruges, and that it was this John who resigned the peerage, probably sometime about May 1500.
John de Bruges proved to be the last holder of the title of Earl of Winchester; when the dignity of Winchester was later revived a half a century it was in the form of a Marquessate granted to the Paulet family. (Therefore see Marquess of Winchester.)
THE EARLS OF WINCHESTER
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for WINCHESTER, EARLS AND MARQUESSES OF
- Leo van de Pas - Lodewijk van Brugge
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- Stirnet Genealogy at
- The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm