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Norwich Crusade

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

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

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