Recorded in several forms including Dispenser, Spencer, the rare patronymic Spencers, this is one of the most famous medieval status and occupational surnames. It describes a man who was in charge of 'the larder or pantry', and responsible for the purchasing and distribution of all food and provisions. Within a great house or a monastery, this responsiblity extended to as many as one thousand people, a very important position, one literally of life or death. The derivation is from the Old French pre 8th century "despense", meaning 'to weigh' and the word was probably introduced into England by the Norman French after the Conquest of 1066. The spelling of the surname has always been with the transposed 'c' rather than the 's' as in 'despense'. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the glutton in 'The Summer's Tale' is described as "All vinolent as botel in the spence". The Despencer was one of the four main officers of a noble household. The others being the Steward, who was responsible for administration, the Marshal for the horses, and the Butler, for household staffing. Since the Middle Ages there has hardly been a time in English history when a 'Spencer' did not hold a major position in the state, and that is no less today (1992). The most prominent is the Princess of Wales formerly Lady Diana Spencer. Her family, the Spencers of Althorp in Northamptonshire, claim descent from one Robert, who was 'Despenser' to William the Conqueror, in 1066. Probably the most famous of the early name holders was Sir Hugh Le Despencer (1256-1326), who fought at the Battle of Falkirk in 1308, and whose son took part in the Siege of Calais in 1345. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John le Spencer, which was dated 1273, in the "Hundred Rolls" of Southampton. This was during the reign of King Edward 1st of England, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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