The Lords of Tewkesbury

by Cynthia Brown, 1999

Part Three: The Beauchamps and Nevilles

Arms of Despencer
Arms of Despencer

Earl Bertric’s rejection of Matilda, who was later to become the wife of William the Conqueror, resulted in his being the last (Saxon) Lord of Tewkesbury. After William died in 1087, his son, William Rufus, granted the Lordship to Robert Fitzhamon, a Norman nobleman. Fitzhamon had no son, so the Lordship passed to his eldest daughter, Mabel[1]. She eventually, in 1183, bequeathed it to the de Clares, and the Despensers who also had no male heir. Thomas Despenser’s son Richard had died before him, leaving only a daughter, Isabel.[2]

When she was eleven, Isabel Despenser was married to Richard Beauchamp in Tewkesbury Abbey by Abbot Parker. Richard had recently inherited the title of Earl of Abergavenny from his father, William, second son of Thomas, the third Earl of Warwick. Ten years later, in 1421, Richard was killed and he was buried in Tewkesbury Abbey. Six years earlier a daughter, Elizabeth, had been born to them at Hanley Castle, their home since their marriage.[3]

Countess Isabel had a chantry built in memory of her first husband. A chantry is a chapel designed to release a soul from Purgatory and, by the fifteenth century, so many masses were required to be said for departed souls that there was a need for more priests. Thus it was that an increasing number of these family chantry chapels were built. Most of these escaped Henry VIII’s Reformation, but subsequently fell victim to Edward VI, who abolished chantry services and appropriated their financial endowments. After the chapel had been dedicated, Isabel married her husband’s cousin, another Richard Beauchamp, the fifth Earl of Warwick, at Hanley Castle on 26th November 1423. Because her two husbands were cousins, a special dispensation had to be obtained from the Pope.

This second Richard Beauchamp, who had been previously married to Lady de Lile, was a widower with three daughters when he married Isabel. He was a trusted friend of Henry V, and fought at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He was given custody of the boy King, Henry VI; although he is said to have chastised his royal ward severely, the two became close friends.

The second Richard Beauchamp had defeated Owen Glendower, thus subduing the Welsh[4]. He had also been on Crusade to the Holy Land, and in 1435 was made Regent of France. He died at Rouen Castle in April 1439, and Lady Isabel and their son Henry brought his body back to England for burial in the Beauchamp Chapel at Warwick. Isabel died in London shortly afterwards and, on her deathbed, asked the King to care for her son and to see that the many rich gifts she wished to give to Tewkesbury Abbey reached there safely, with an endowment for six more monks.

Isabel’s son, Henry Beauchamp, was only fourteen when his parents died. He became a ward and favourite of the King, who was himself only six years older. Henry VI went on to bestow many honours and favours on him. He was already Baron Despenser, Lord of Tewkesbury, Duke of Warwick and Earl of Abergavenny, while at twenty-one the King created him King of the Isle of Wight as well as King of Guernsey and Jersey! However, he did not long enjoy such favours as he died at Hanley Castle on 11th June 1446, aged twenty-one. His grave was uncovered during restoration work at the Abbey in 1875.

However, Henry Beauchamp had already been married at the age of ten to Ciceley[5],  daughter of Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and sister of the Earl of Warwick, the so-called ‘Kingmaker.’ Henry’s sister, Anne Beau-champ, was herself the ‘Kingmaker’s’ wife! His widow, Cicely, subsequently married Tiptoft, the Earl of Worcester. She died in Tewkesbury in 1450 and is also buried in the Abbey.

The most well-known of the Lords of Tewkesbury, after Fitzhamon, must be the next Lord, Richard Neville, sixth Earl of Warwick, second Earl of Salisbury, Baron Despenser and Earl of Abergavenny, amongst other titles. He became Lord of Tewkesbury when Lady Anne died in 1449. He married her aunt, Lady Anne, daughter of Countess Isabel and sister of Henry, Duke of Warwick. Anne brought with her the possessions of the Fitzhamon, de Clare and Despenser families through her mother, and those of the Beauchamps through her father. No wonder Richard Neville had such great influence. It is said he turned no-one away who had fought for him, and that thirty thousand in his service fed daily at his many castles. His personal household consumed as many as six oxen for breakfast alone each day! His titles were numerous[6] so, not surprisingly, he had little time for Tewkesbury. A prominent Lancas-trian, he was slain at the Battle of Barnet, where his body lay unburied for three weeks. His wife Anne, however, survived him for nearly thirty years, receiving harsh treatment and sometimes imprisonment from both Yorkists and Lancastrians alike. All her possessions were confiscated, though some were restored in 1488 by Henry VII.

The two daughters of Anne and the ‘Kingmaker’ were used as pawns to secure the succession of his massive wealth and influence. He married Isabel to George, Duke of Clarence, second son of Richard, Duke of York, and brother of Edward IV. He married his younger daughter, Anne, to Edward, Prince of Wales, the Lancastrian heir, who was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

Isabel’s husband, the Duke of Clarence, came into the Lordship of Cardiff through his wife when Warwick the ‘Kingmaker’ was killed at Barnet in 1471. The ‘Kingmaker’s’ defection to the Lancastrian cause gave King Edward IV an excuse to divide the estates between the two sisters in case his own brother, Clarence, should become too powerful! The Lordship of Tewkesbury descended to Isabel in her own right.

Isabel and Clarence, who had moved to Warwick Castle, had two sons – Edward and Richard, and a daughter, Margaret (destined to be the last of the Plantagenets[7]). Richard, their third child, was born on 6th October 1476, ‘in a new chamber of the Infirmary of Tewkesbury Abbey,’ where he was baptised. Tragedy soon hit the couple, however, since Isabel and her younger son, Richard, died early in January 1478. A month later George, Duke of Clarence, was escorted to the Tower and, on 18th February, put to death, said to have been drowned in a ‘butt of malmsey.’ Both were buried in Tewkesbury Abbey with their young son. Years later, when Samuel Hawling, a member of Tewkesbury Corporation, died it is said that the Clarence vault was appropriated for his family burial. In 1829 the Hawling bodies were removed and the bones, thought to be those of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence, replaced. Isabel’s funeral at the Abbey was the last to have all the traditional ceremonial magnificence. She was also the last of the Fitzhamons to be personally connected with the Abbey.

Isabel’s sister, Anne, who was married to the Lancastrian heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, was present at the Battle of Tewkes-bury, but she appears to have escaped when Queen Margaret was captured. The story goes that she remained in hiding to escape the attentions of Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future ‘infamous’ King Richard III), who had been her suitor before her marriage to Prince Edward. However, after she was widowed in Tewkesbury, it was Richard of Gloucester who succeeded in finding her and marrying her, it is said, against her will. The marriage took place at Westminster, where she and her husband, Richard III, were crowned in 1483. They had a son, another Edward, who lived for only a short time, and Anne herself died in 1485, the same year as her husband.

When Edward IV died suddenly his son, the young Prince of Wales (Edward V), was at Ludlow. He set out for London, but was met by his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who conducted him to the capital with every sign of loyalty. However, Edward was taken to the Tower, which he never left, for he and his brother Richard, Duke of York, disappeared, presumed murdered. We do not know whether the crime was instigated by Richard, who assumed the kingship as Richard III, or by his successor, Henry VII, who decisively defeated and killed the Yorkist King on Bosworth Field in 1485.

By 1488 the Crown had confiscated all the possessions of the Despensers and De Clares but Henry VII restored the Despenser and Warwick (Neville) lands to the ageing Dowager Anne, Countess of Warwick (widow of the ‘Kingmaker’), only to force her to surrender them immediately afterwards to himself and his heirs. He did, however, grant her the manor of Sutton in Warwickshire and a small pension. Local estates confiscated by the King were Hanley Castle, Upton-on-Severn, Elmley Castle, Stoke Orchard, Tredington, Pamington, Fiddington, Northway, the Mythe, Kemerton and Tewkesbury[8].  There then remained Edward, elder son of Isabel and Clarence, last of the Lords of Tewkesbury, who was imprisoned in the Tower and went to the scaffold in 1499 aged twenty-four.

For more than fifty years the Crown retained the Lordship of Tewkesbury, allowing it to be administered by local gentlemen as stewards. An example was the appointment of the Sheriff of Worcestershire, Richard Nanfan Esq. of Birtsmorton, as steward of the Lordship of Tewkesbury, and keeper of the park and lodge there, for services rendered to the House of Lancaster during its struggle for power. When Henry VIII came to power the manor Barton, which was attached to the Abbey, was surrendered at the Dissolution and, once again, the gifts of Fitzhamon and Richard, Earl of Gloucester, became united with the Lord-ship of Tewkesbury, but in the power of the King.

His son, Edward VI, upon ascending the throne in 1547, granted them to his uncle, Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley, second husband of Catherine Parr and brother of Somerset, the Lord Protector. However, this ambitious man fell foul of the Lord Protector: he was impeached for High Treason, condemned, and beheaded in March 1549.

The estates passed to the Crown once more, and there remained until 1609, when King James I, in need of money, sold to the Corporation the manor and borough of Tewkesbury, including the Warwick and Despenser lands, for £2,453.37p (worth £207,180 in 1999 – Editor). Thus came to an end the line of Lords of Tewkesbury. Their residences of Holme Castle and Hanley Castle are gone, but at least the beautiful Abbey remains as a memorial to them.


  1. See Part 1, T.H.S. Bulletin, No.7 (1998), p.4.
  2. See Part 2 in T.H.S. Bulletin, No.8 (1999), p.56.
  3. Elizabeth Beauchamp married Edmund Neville, the third son of the Earl of Westmorland and Joan, daughter of John of Gaunt. From them are descended the present Earls of Abergavenny. 
  4. The defeat of Owen Glendower removed the threat of further offensives by the Welsh, and so Richard moved from the keep at Cardiff Castle to the lodgings on the west wall. As they were not sure of permanent peace, the Beauchamps built the Octagonal Tower at the north-west corner of the new building.
  5. They had a daughter, Lady Anne Beauchamp, born at Cardiff, who lived only six years and was buried in Reading Abbey.
  6. Great Chamberlain, High Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, Warden of the Marches, Admiral of the Cinque Ports and Captain of Calais.
  7. She became Marchioness of Salisbury and, perhaps because of her illustrious ancestry, Henry VIII ordered her death on the scaffold in 1541.
  8. Also confiscated were: Warwick and twelve manors in the county; the city of Worcester, Droitwich and thirteen other manors in the county; Fairford, Whittington, Sodbury, King’s Barton near Bristol, Barton Hundred, Chedworth and Lydney in Gloucestershire; Glamorgan in Wales; Walsall and four other manors in Staffordshire; Barnard Castle in the Bishopric of Durham; large estates in sixteen other counties and the islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Sark.


  • D. Williamson, Kings and Queens of England
  • John Blunt, Tewkesbury Abbey
  • Bradley-Birt, Tewkesbury Abbey
  • Dyde, History of Tewkesbury
  • James Bennett, History of Tewkesbury
  • Visits to various castles, named and unnamed
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