Henry Despenser

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DESPENSER, HENRY

Bishop; b. c. 1343; d. Aug. 23, 1406. He studied civil law at Oxford and received a licentiate in civil law in 1370. In that year, because of the prominence of his family, he was made bishop of Norwich by papal provision; he received a papal dispensation since he was only 27. He suppressed the Peasants' Rebellion of June 1381 in East Anglia, delivering peterborough and its monks from the rebels and hanging three captive rebels at Wymondham on his own authority. In 1382 Pope urban vi commissioned him to raise and conduct an English crusade against the French supporters of the Avignon anti-pe clement vii in Flanders (see western schism). The indulgences, with absolution from punishment and guilt, which were conceded to him for the crusade by Pope Urban VI, stimulated the project but also provided an occasion for John wyclif to attack the Church in general and the crusade in particular. Parliament, which at the time was weighing the value of an English expedition to Spain under John of Gaunt's leadership against the crusade to Flanders, optedwith the support of the Commons and the Churchfor the bishop's crusade. But the crusade ended in disaster, and on his return Despenser was impeached by the Commons for the misconduct of the war, found guilty by the Lords, and condemned to lose the temporalities of the see (1383). However, these were restored in 1385. A steadfast supporter of Richard II, he only reluctantly accepted Henry IV (1399). He is buried in Norwich cathedral.

Bibliography: t. f. tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, 6 v. (Manchester, Eng. 192033). e. powell, The Rising in East Anglia in 1381 (Cambridge, Eng.1896). a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500 (Oxford 195759) 216970. r. l. poole, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 18851900; repr. with corrections, 190809, 192122, 1938) 14:410412. a. b. steele, Richard II (Cambridge, Eng. 1941; repr. 1963).

[v. mudroch]

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Norwich Crusade, 1383. Led by Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich (1370–1404), this ‘crusade’ had scandalously mixed ecclesiastical, commercial, and political motives—with disastrous results. Supported by Pope Urban VI (Rome) in his move against Pope Clement VII (Avignon) and backed by Parliament, it was cheaper than John of Gaunt's planned ‘crusade’ against Castile—the cost being borne by ordinary people's alms, with the added objective of releasing Philip of Burgundy's stranglehold on the Flemish wool trade. Despite military experience, Despenser was no strategist. Landing in May, he took coastal towns, invaded Urbanist Flanders instead of Clementinist France, and besieged Ypres, but hastily abandoned all at Philip's approach. No Clementinists were converted, the route from Calais remained closed, and access to Flemish markets denied to English traders; the church and Despenser were discredited by the gross abuse of indulgences. Despenser was impeached.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

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Despenser, Henry (c.1343–1406). Bishop of Norwich (1370–1406). The younger son of a peer, Despenser studied civil law at Oxford. He became bishop in 1370 after serving in a papal war in Italy. In 1381, he was the first magnate to resort to arms against the rebellious commons, rescuing fenland abbeys from their tenants, restoring order in Cambridge and Norwich, and routing an assembly at North Walsham, Norfolk; he had ringleaders hanged. Parliament decided to send an expedition to support Flemish towns in revolt against their pro-French count in 1383, adopting the pretext that this was a crusade against adherents of a schismatic pope. Despenser was given command of this operation, doomed from the start because the towns had already been defeated. On his return, he was impeached for incompetence and his bishopric sequestrated, until 1385. In 1400 his loyalty to Henry IV was suspect, but he avoided open implication in treason.

R. L. Storey