Your RDA of Irony

Popular Disembowelments of 1326

Imagine Dick Cheney with sex appeal: as mean, greedy, and dishonest as ever but now with a “come-hither” look that George Bush couldn’t resist. (I will give you a moment to stop retching.) In a previous and more sensuous life, Cheney may have been Hugh Despenser–one of the greatest scoundrels of English history.

Edward II (1284-1327) ruled England as if it were an audition for “A Chorus Line.” He picked out the most alluring–if otherwise untalented–young men to run the kingdom. The king was married–politics can make normal bedfellows–but his preference was quite obvious. Edward bestowed titles and treasures on his special friends. One flagrant favorite was even given the queen’s jewelry–but Mrs. Plantagenet evidently was the lesser queen of the two.

The nobles, embracing medieval family values, murdered that particular favorite. But Edward II did not seem to get the hint. He just found new boy toys and the worst was Hugh Despenser. Hugh was not content being lavished with estates; he stole them as well. He used the king’s infatuation as a royal license to embezzle and extort. If the nobility was already hostile about “the lifestyle”, it really resented being robbed. The nobles organized a coup in 1321 and forced Edward to banish Despenser.

In exile, Despenser found gainful employment as a pirate, and he had time to consider the errors of his ways. He should have terrorized or murdered his victims instead of just robbing them. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. All he needed was a second chance, and that occurred after one year.

The nobles be damned. Edward missed his Hugh and recalled him from exile, fully indulging his favorite’s greedy and vindictive whims. The nobles who had ousted Despenser now were hunted down. The Earl of Lancaster was beheaded; he was lucky enough to be a member of the Royal Family and was spared public disembowelment. The Queen herself had only looked askew at Despenser; so she was merely dispossessed of all her estates. She understandably resented that, went home to France and plotted a rebellion with exiled English nobles. (One of them, the Earl of March, even became her lover. Be fair: the woman was certainly entitled.)

The Queen, her Earl and their army landed in England in 1326. Their public intention was to rid the realm of Despenser. The rebellion also had a more discreet goal: to get rid of the King as well. If the lack of any resistance is any indication, the rebellion was more than welcome. Since Despenser was not of royal blood, his public disembowelment was permissible–and very popular. It occurred on this day in 1326. (The King’s death in 1327 was a private affair–except that his screams could be heard over a considerable distance.)

The throne passed to Edward III; somebody got the Queen pregnant. And the new King was said to look like a Plantagenet. (Perhaps Edward II had closed his eyes and made the effort for England.)

British historians recently compiled an interesting list: the worst Englishmen of the last thousand years. Of course, Hugh Despenser made the list. In fact, he made the top ten and was named the worst Englishman of the 14th century.

  1. Les says:

    So who was at the top of the list? And where did Neville Chamberlain rank?

  2. Neville Chamberlain was not in the top–or should should I say “bottom”–ten of the worst Britons in history.
    His cowardice, treachery and incompetence apparently did not suffice.

    However, two Archbishops of Canterbury made the list! Of course, King John was included.

    The list was compiled by historians for BBC Magazine. Then readers voted on who was the worst Briton of all time.

    The readers had a choice of a horrible king, several traitors, vicious bigots, sociopaths and scoundrels–men who were a danger to the country. Yet, the readers selected the sensational but historically insignificant Jack the Ripper. Mr. Ripper simply had an excessive way of discouraging prostitutes.

  3. Alan Perlman says:

    Which Edward was the “Longshanks” in “Braveheart”?Now that was one mean SOB.

  4. Edward I was known as “the Hammer of Scots”. I am surprised that Mel Gibson didn’t depict him with a Yiddish accent.

  5. Bob Kincaid says:

    So then the defenestration scene in “Braveheart” is a bit of artistic license on the elimination of the bejewelled boy toy you mentioned above.

    Not that I would ever expect Mel Gibson to deal with history accurately if it meant sacrificing some blood and violence. One must, after all, understand Mel’s out-of-balance sense of priorities.

  6. Did you know that in the first script for Braveheart the villain was Sid the evil kilt tailor? Unfortunately, Patrick McGoohan couldn’t do a plausible Yiddish accent so the script was changed.

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