Eleanor de Clare (3 October 1292 – 30 June 1337) was the wife of the powerful Hugh Despenser the younger. She was born in 1292 at Caerphilly in Glamorgan, Wales. She was the eldest daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford and 7th Earl of Gloucester, and Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile; thus she was a granddaughter to Edward I of England. With her sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret, she inherited her father's estates after the death of her brother, Gilbert de Clare, 4th Earl of Gloucester at Bannockburn in 1314.
In May 1306 at Westminster, Eleanor married Hugh le Despenser the Younger, the son of Hugh le Despenser, Earl of Winchester and Isabella de Beauchamp, daughter of William de Beauchamp, 9th Earl of Warwick. Her grandfather, King Edward I of England, granted Eleanor a maritagium of 2,000 pounds sterling. Eleanor and Hugh had nine children:
Hugh le Despencer, 2nd Baron le Despencer (1308–1349)
Gilbert le Despenser, (1309–1381).
Edward le Despenser, (1310–1342), soldier, killed at the siege of Vannes; father of Edward le Despencer, 1st Baron le Despencer, Knight of the Garter
John le Despenser, (1311 - June 1366).
Isabel le Despenser (1312–1356), married Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel
Eleanor le Despenser, (c. 1315 - 1351), nun at Sempringham Priory
Joan le Despenser, (c. 1317 - 1384), nun at Shaftesbury Abbey
Margaret le Despenser, (c. 1319 - 1337), nun at Whatton Priory
Elizabeth le Despenser, born 1325, died 13 July 1389, married Maurice de Berkeley, 4th Baron Berkeley.
Eleanor's husband rose to prominence as the new favorite of her uncle, King Edward II of England. The king strongly favored Hugh and Eleanor, visiting them often and granting them many gifts. One foreign chronicler even alleged that Edward was involved in a ménage à trois with his niece and her husband. Whatever the truth, Eleanor's fortunes changed drastically after the invasion of Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer. Hugh le Despenser was gruesomely executed.
In November 1326, Eleanor was confined to the Tower of London. The Despenser family's fortunes also suffered with the executions of Eleanor's husband and father-in-law. Eleanor and Hugh's eldest son, another Hugh, who held Caerphilly Castle against the queen's forces until the spring of 1327, was spared his life when he surrendered the castle but remained a prisoner until July 1331, after which he was slowly restored to royal favor. Three of Eleanor's daughters were forcibly veiled as nuns. Only the eldest daughter, Isabel, and the youngest daughter, Elizabeth, escaped the nunnery, Isabel because she was already married and Elizabeth on account of her infancy.
In February 1328 Eleanor was freed from imprisonment. In April 1328, she was allowed possession of her own lands, for which she did homage.
Eleanor was abducted from Hanley Castle in January, 1329, by William la Zouche, 1st Baron Zouche of Mortimer, who had been one of her husband's captors and who had led the siege of Caerphilly Castle. The abduction may in fact have been an elopement; in any case, Eleanor's lands were seized by the King, Edward III, and the couple was ordered to be arrested. At the same time, Eleanor was accused of stealing jewels from the Tower. Sometime after February 1329, she was imprisoned a second time in the Tower of London; later, she was moved to Devizes Castle. In January 1330, she was released and pardoned after agreeing to sign away the most valuable part of her share of the lucrative Clare inheritance to the crown. She could recover her lands only on the condition that she pay the enormous sum of 50,000 pounds in a single day.
Within the year, however, the young Edward III (Eleanor's first cousin) overthrew Queen Isabella's paramour, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, and had him executed. Eleanor was among those who benefited from the fall of Mortimer and Isabella. She petitioned Edward III for the restoration of her lands, claiming that she had signed them away after being threatened by Roger Mortimer that she would never be freed if she did not. In 1331, Edward III granted her petition "to ease the king's conscience" and allowed her to recover the lands on the condition that she pay a fine of 10,000 pounds, later reduced to 5,000 pounds, in installments. Eleanor made payments on the fine, but the bulk of it was outstanding at the time of her death.
Eleanor's troubles were by no means over, however. After Eleanor's marriage to Zouche, Sir John de Grey, 1st Baron Grey de Rotherfield claimed that he had married her first. Grey was still attempting to claim Eleanor in 1333; the case was appealed to the Pope several times. Ultimately, Zouche won the dispute. Eleanor remained with him until his death in February 1337, only a few months before Eleanor's own death. Eleanor and William had children:
William de la Zouche, born 1330, died after 1360, a monk at Glastonbury Abbey.
Joyce Zouche, born 1331, died after 4 May 1372, married John de Botetourt, 2nd Lord Botetourt.
Hugh le Despenser the younger and Eleanor are generally credited with beginning the renovations to Tewkesbury Abbey that transformed it into the fine example of the decorated style of architecture that it is today. The famous fourteenth-century stained-glass windows in the choir, which include the armor-clad figures of Eleanor's ancestors, brother, and two husbands, were most likely Eleanor's own contribution, although she probably did not live to see them put in place. The nude, kneeling woman watching the Last Judgment in the choir's east window may represent Eleanor.