February 18, 2008 / 11:59 AM / 10 years ago

Remains linked to reviled gay lover of Edward II

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A mutilated body found at an abbey has been identified as that of Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger, one of the most reviled medieval courtiers and reputed gay lover of the Plantagenet king, Edward II.

Despenser died a gruesome death, being publicly hanged, drawn and quartered for treason in 1326 following Edward’s fall.

The remains, found in the 1970s on Despenser’s brother-in-law’s estate at Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire, bear such hallmarks, anthropologist Mary Lewis says.

Lewis, from Reading University, made the link by drawing on the manner of execution, carbon-dating of the bones and the absence of several parts of the body.

The skull, part of the vertebra and one leg are buried on the family estate at Tewkesbury Abbey.

“Research on the bones shows he was stabbed in the throat and probably stabbed in the stomach, but we would not have any evidence to disembowelment unless the knife had hit any bones,” Lewis said.

“It was initially thought that the coffin had been disturbed, but the remains clearly show the body had been cut up.”

Despenser was also found guilty of theft at his Hereford hearing, and the remains show the hands had been cut off, which would be in line with such a fate.

Radiocarbon analysis dated the remains to between 1050 and 1385, and subsequent tests suggested the male was over 34 years old. Sir Hugh was 40 when he died.

Only about half a dozen people were hung, drawn and quartered during this time, and they were high profile traitors.

Despenser’s brutality and greed were notorious. He eliminated rivals and seized their land, amassing a great fortune in the process.

His influence at court was immense, annoying the barons and alienating the king’s wife, Isabella.

One of the reasons put forward for her hatred was the rumored sexual relationship between Despenser and Edward II.

Isabella formed a liaison with Roger Mortimer during a trip to France and together they invaded England in 1326, capturing the fleeing king and Despenser.

Lewis said there were still some unanswered questions which, perhaps, only DNA testing of the bones at Tewkesbury could resolve.

“I do not know for certain who it is, but it seems likely it is Despenser the Younger,” she said.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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