Was Greedy Hugh Who Stole an Empire of Welsh Land the Worst Briton in 1,000 Years?

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), December 27, 2005 | Go to article overview

Was Greedy Hugh Who Stole an Empire of Welsh Land the Worst Briton in 1,000 Years?


Byline: By Sam Burson Western Mail

Historians have drawn up a list of the 10 worst Britons of the last 1,000 years.

The likes of Jack the Ripper and King John have made the BBC History Magazine rogues' gallery, which has identified a fiend for each century.

And it is one of Wales' most treacherous characters who has been branded the biggest rotter of the 1300s.

Hugh Despenser the Younger infamously used his position at the court of King Edward II to amass a largely stolen empire of land in Wales.

He was Keeper of the Castle and Town in a number of places including Dryslwyn and Cantref Mawr in Carmarthenshire; and Brecknock, Hay and Cantref Selyf in Mid Wales.

However his real wealth came when he dubiously seized most of Glamorgan through his wife Eleanor's inheritance.

He had opponents murdered and hostages killed in a greedy quest for power.

As Earl of Winchester and one of Britain's wealthiest men, Hugh was eventually stopped after Edward II was deposed by Queen Isabella, whom Hugh had attempted to have assassinated.

He tried to starve himself before trial, but failed, and in 1326 was judged a traitor and a thief before being drawn and quartered.

Nigel Saul, professor of Medieval History at Royal Holloway College, London University, nominated Despenser, saying, 'Despenser was pure evil. He browbeat the weak into signing over their estates.'

The public will be asked to vote for the UK's most dastardly figure in the public vote, which mirrors the corporation's Greatest Briton poll, won by Winston Churchill.

Dave Musgrove, editor of BBC History Magazine, said, 'How do you decide on the worst Briton?

'It's not an easy choice - is it the person who murdered the most citizens or the one who led the country into the most desperate straits of poverty or war, or perhaps just he who trod most unscrupulously on those around him?

'We left the criteria up to the 10 historians we spoke to, and it's their definitions of wickedness that give us such a diverse selection of figures on our list of evilness.'

Other candidates include Oswald Mosley, who represents the evils of the 20th century because of his role as an inspiration to Britain's far-right groups, according to Professor Joanna Bourke of Birkbeck College, London.

She said, 'On his death in 1980, his son Nicholas concluded that his father was a man whose 'right hand dealt with grandiose ideas and glory' while his left hand 'let the rat out of the sewer'.'

Marc Morris, writer and presenter of Castle on Channel 4, said King John, who died in 1216, was 'clearly one of the worst kings in English history'.

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was nominated by Professor John Hudson, of St Andrews University, as the worst villain of the 12th century.

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