Question from Heathcliff - Despenser and Spencer families
I am wondering if the Spencer family which first enters English aristocracy in the 15th century ( or thereabouts?) is descended from the Hugh Despenser, or his relations, who played an integral part in the English court of EdwardII and Isabella?
The website Tudor Place (http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/index.htm) is a pretty good source for genealogies for most of the prominent families of the Tudor period. The genealogies to be found there are extensive and usually fairly accurate. You can look under the "Gentry" link on the homepage to find the list of non-aristocratic families, including the Spensers. Unfortunately, the Spenser page in particular is not working today when I try to check it.
So I also did a bit of cross-checking through the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. It appears that the Despenser line originated in Leicestershire in the late 12th century and may be distinct from the Warwickshire Spencers of Althrop. The latter arose from the line of Sir John Spencer, who established the family fortune through sheep farming early in the sixteenth century. Sir John's grandson did acquire a pedigree from the College of Arms that claimed his line was descended from the Despensers, but that pedigree was later challenged during the Parliament of 1621. (It may be useful to recall that the Tudor-era College of Arms also published pedigrees showing that the kings of England were descended from all manner of mythological figures, suggesting that their methods at the time were not entirely reliable.) Since Leicestershire and Warwickshire were and are neighboring counties, it is perhaps possible that the line of Sir John Spencer represents a re-emerging lesser and collateral line of the Despensers that had fallen on hard times during the period between the 14th and 16th centuries, but I have not been able to find any direct evidence that this is the case.
It would have been interesting if there was a link. Princess Diana was supposedly descended from two of Charles II's mistresses, Louise de Keroualle and Barbara Villers; James II's mistress, Arabella Churchill and Henry VIII's mistress, Mary Boleyn. If a link could have been made with Hugh Despenser, the alleged lover of Edward II, it would have made quite a history of service to the crown.
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