The Despensers, a great family of England controlled the Manor of Martley for over two hundred years, but nothing remains locally to show us. Robert Despenser was William the Conqueror’s Steward and built Elmley Castle on the slopes of Bredon Hill. Hardly anything remains but it was through Robert that the Despensers had significant control of Worcestershire from then on.
In 1234, Henry III signed a Charter granting Geoffrey Le Despenser the Manor of Martley with the Advowson of Martley Church. The Charter was drawn up at Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Elsewhere in the County the family obtained the Manor of Oldberrow, on the border with Warwickshire, from the Abbey of Evesham and were also given a Charter to hold fairs and markets there in 1253. Hugh Despenser was a Chief Officer of State and Administrator of Justice in 1260. He died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, fighting on the side of the Barons.
More ominously in 1275 Edward I ordered an Inquisition to be sent to investigate the death of John Despenser at Martley. An Inquisition was a serious matter but not quite as bloodthirsty as we probably think today. It was an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of key important nobles and was especially designed to investigate whether any taxes or duties were liable to the Crown from the deceased’s estate.
Hugh Despenser (son of the above Hugh) became Head of the King’s Court in 1312, fell out of favour and was banished in 1321 with his son (another Hugh) but then recalled to the Court in 1322 by Edward II and made Earl of Winchester. As the tide of politics flowed he fell from grace and was executed at Bristol in 1326, and his son was executed at Hereford. It had been the return of Queen Isabella (Edward II’s wife) which signaled the end of the Despenser dynasty at Martley. She despised her husband, hated the Despensers and gave her favours in love and ennoblement to Mortimer. Although Edward III was king in name, effectively Mortimer and Isabella ran the country and, as part of his control, the Mortimers took the Manor of Martley.
Coincidentally, at the same time gifts of lands and premises, including Martley Church, passed from Richard de Aston to Master Peter Fillol who then became Rector of Martley. Richard had gained these properties from John, son of Walter de la Grave, of Martley in 1316, presumably as a supporter of Hugh Despenser when he was at the height of his power and influence.
In 1364, we hear again of an Inquisition being sent to Martley to investigate the death of Hugh De (le) Spenser to establish if there were any liabilities due to the Crown from the deceased’s estate. Presumably this Hugh too was part of the lineage of the family of Despenser who were the Lords of the Manor of Martley from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to their fall from grace in 1326