Edward Despard Was a Traitor


As a gift to my roommate who is one of the worst people you’ll ever meet I am writing up a quick post on his ancestor, Edward Despard. Despard, a debtor, rabble rouser and traitor, clearly passed those underwhelming characteristics along to said roommate. To be honest, the more research I do on Despard’s failed hijinks and generally dissolute ways, the more I’m reminded of my roommate, who has demanded that I write this up to please him even though I have a cold and would rather take a nap. He is literally the worst.

And so was Edward Despard, so let’s get into it.  Despard was born in 1751 in Queens County, Ireland to a Protestant family of French and Irish descent. At the age of 15 he joined the British Army and within six years he had been promoted to Lieutenant. When the American Revolution broke out in 1776, his regiment remained in the West Indies (typical) and he was promoted to captain after a failed expedition to San Juan in 1780 (even more typical).

While serving as Superintendent of the Bay of Honduras, Despard administered the British enclave and married Catharine, a local black woman, while simultaneously arguing that equal rights should be given to freed slaves. (Ok, this is actually v. decent of Despard.)

Anyway, his actions weren’t well-received back home and he was recalled to London, suspended and eventually arrested after a lawsuit from his enemies in Honduras from 1792-1794. Upon his release he joined the London Corresponding Society before being arrested again in 1798 for suspicion of being involved in the Irish Rebellion. He was held without a trial for three years and finally released again in 1801.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. About a year later Despard would be named as a co-conspirator in what became known as the “Despard Plot,” a plan to seize the Tower of London and the Bank of England and assassinate George III. A week before this was meant to go into action, Despard would be arrested at a pub in Lambert. During his trial, Nelson would testify on his behalf as a character witness, however even so, Despard was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, a traditional traitor’s death. Remarkably, it would the last time anyone received that sentence in England.

Immediately before his death, the punishment was commuted to a simple hanging and beheading. Despard was executed at Horsemonger Lane Gaol in front of a crowd of 20,000 on this date in 1803. It was the largest public gathering until Nelson’s funeral after the Battle of Trafalgar.

The point is, my roommate is descended from a man that wanted to commit regicide and I can’t possibly live like this.


4 thoughts on “Edward Despard Was a Traitor

  1. So often there exist more than one opinion on a subject. You have expressed one. I propose another. Edward Marcus Despard stood up and acted against the lumber merchants in Belize and their financial backers in the English Government. His approach was democratic and protective of minority interests. As Governor he expended a large sum of his personal money in executing his duties – and the Gevernment never repaid this – which was one of his grievances. He was undoubtably a man of high standards but his frustration with the Government resulted in him falling into bad company. If you consider the epoch, his open mindedness and lack of prejudice resulted in his marriage to a coloured woman who he brought back to London. She also demonstrated impressive support for him maintaining contact with the Nelsons, Hamiltons, and others in Government. Despard’s execution was ‘convenient’ for the Government !
    So – as to Despard’s character – I believe that you are unjust. As to the charges against him – the evidence that I have seen makes him guilty as charged.
    Who is your roommate?

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