On January 1, 1327, Queen Isabella, having executed her enemies and imprisoned her husband, King Edward II, turned her attention to much smaller matters: Hugh le Despenser the younger’s little daughters. On that day, the queen issued an order that Eleanor le Despenser be packed off to Sempringham, a Gilbertine priory in Lincolnshire, and veiled as a nun “without delay.” A similar order sent Margaret to Watton, another Gilbertine priory in Yorkshire. Coming just a few weeks after the brutal execution of the girls’ father and the imprisonment of their mother, the queen’s orders completed the unraveling of the privileged existence these girls had enjoyed.
Hugh le Despenser had left four sons and five daughters behind him. Isabel, the oldest of the girls, was about fourteen. She had been married as a child to Richard Fitzalan and thereby escaped her younger sisters’ fate.