Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Female Sheriffs in the Middle Ages Part 4--Ela Countess of Salisbury

Ela of Salisbury 

Enlargement of Medieval Abbey Seal from above notice. SIGI~LLVM:ELE:CO- MITISSE:SARESBERIE. The inscription translates as. Seal of Ela Countess of Salisbury

Ela of Salisbury, 3rd Countess of Salisbury

Ela was an English heiress and the Countess of Salisbury. She inherited
the title in 1196 when her father died. Her father was William FitzPatrick,
2nd Earl of Salisbury. She was born in Amesbury, Wiltshire in 1187-1188. She was the only child of and
Eleonore de Vitre. After her father's death she was either imprisoned
or hidden in Normandy. Some accounts say imprisoned her. But in Annals
and antiquities of Lacock Abbey, Bowles and Nicholls, they say that the suggestion
that this theory "would account for her daughter's confinement by an
anxious and affectionate mother, that she might be placed out of reach of
those who perhaps might have mediated worse than confinement." Whichever
was true, confinement or imprisonment, she was taken to Normandy and hidden
from the King even though she was legally his ward.

An English knight named William Talbot went to France disguised as a pilgrim
in order to rescue her and take her back to King Richard I. King Richard then
arranged for his half brother to marry her. Her husband was William Longespee. He was the
illegitimate son of King Henry II which meant he was half brother to Richard I and King John.
Upon marrying Ela, in 1196 when she was 9 years old, he became the 3rd
Earl of Salisbury.

They were the founders of Salisbury Cathedral and William was buried there
when he died.

Although it was unusual for the times, Ela held the position of High
Sheriff of Wiltshire for two years after William died. Then she retired to a nunnery.
She founded Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire which she became Abbess of.

"All that is said in the Book of Lacock respecting this captivity of
the maid of Salisbury, is this: 'When Ela was now deprived of both her father
and mother, she was secretly taken into Normandy by her relations, and there
brought up in close and secret custody.' It proves, however, to be a mistake
that Ela's mother died before the Earl, for she was living eighteen years after; it is
therefore probable that they were her mother and her mother's family, whose
estates were either in Normandy or Champaign, and who could readily have
found thereon a place of concealment for the heiress." "Let it b remembered
that Ela had three uncles, the eldest of whom must have been interested--
deeply interested--as the presumed heir of his brother Earl William, to his
immense possessions, and high hereditary rank and honours, had not
one infant daughter stook in his way."

"To return to the captivity of the youthful Ela, as related by our only authority,
the Book of Lacock. It informs us that she was concealed by her
"relations," who were, it is most probable, her mother's family. Immediately
upon the inquisition held after her father's death, Ela's land would
in due course be taken into the possession of the King, as she had
become a royal ward. But the abstraction of her person might probably throw
some difficulty in the way of the inquisition, or the consequent
legal proceedings. The sequel of events, which is highly characteristic
of the manners of that court, where the minstrel monarch, the lion-hearted
Richard, presided over his train of galland and chivalric Troubadours. An
English knight, named William Talbot, undertook to discover the place of
the youthful heiress's concealment; the idea having been suggested, if the
fact be admitted, by King Richard's own discovery, a few years before, by
the minstrel Blondel.



At Rouen Richard kept his state,
Released from captive-thrall;
And, girt with many a warrior-guest,
He feasted in the Hall.

The rich metheglin mantled high,
The wine was berry-red,
When tidings came that Salisbury,
His early friend, was dead;

And that his sole surviving child,
The heiress of his wealth,
By crafty kinsmen and allies
Was borne away by stealth--

Was borne away to Normandy, 

Ela of Salisbury, 3rd Countess of Salisbury (1187 – 24 August 1261) was an English heiress who became the Countess of Salisbury after her father William FitzPatrick, who was the 2nd Earl of Salisbury died. She was his only child by Eléonore de Vitré.

She was born in Amesbury, Wiltshire in 1187.

In the Middle Ages when a huge estate was left to a female, particularly a child, it was usually given to another powerful noble by right of marriage. That is, women were not usually allowed to control that great of an estate and the king would usually decide who he wanted to have it. In this case it was his brother.

When she was 9 years old in 1196, she married William Lonespee, who was the illegitimate half-brother of the English kings Richard I and John. He assumed the title of 3rd Earl of Salisbury by right of his marriage to Ela.

Despite being an arranged marriage, they must have developed some affinity for each other because they had several children:

  • William II Longespée, titular Earl of Salisbury (c.1209- 7 February 1250), married in 1216 Idoine de Camville, daughter of Richard de Camville and Eustache Basset, by whom he had four children. William was killed while on crusade at the Battle of Mansurah.
  • Richard Longespée, clerk and canon of Salisbury.
  • Stephen Longespée, Seneschal of Gascony and Justiciar of Ireland (1216–1260), married as her second husband 1243/1244 Emmeline de Ridelsford, daughter of Walter de Ridelsford and Annora Vitré, by whom he had two daughters: Ela, wife of Sir Roger La Zouche, and Emmeline (1252–1291), the second wife of Maurice FitzGerald, 3rd Lord of Offaly.
  • Nicholas Longespée, Bishop of Salisbury (died 28 May 1297)
  • Isabella Longespée (died before 1244), married as his first wife shortly after 16 May 1226, William de Vescy, Lord of Alnwick, by whom she had issue.
  • Petronilla Longespée, died unmarried
  • Ela Longespée, who first married Thomas de Beaumont, 6th Earl of Warwick, and then married Philip Basset. No issue.[4]
  • Ida Longespée, married firstly Ralph who was son of Ralph de Somery, Baron of Dudley, and Margaret, daughter of John Marshal;[4] she married secondly William de Beauchamp, Baron of Bedford, by whom she had six children, including Maud de Beauchamp, wife of Roger de Mowbray.[5]
  • Ida II de Longespée (she is alternatively listed as William and Ela's granddaughter: see notes below), married Sir Walter FitzRobert, son of Robert Fitzwalter, by whom she had issue including Ela FitzWalter, wife of William de Odyngsells. Ela's and Williams's grandsons include William de Clinton and John de Grey.[4]
  • Mary Longespée, married. No issue.[4]
  • Pernel Longespée.

William Longespee was shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany on the way back from Gascony. For months he was in a monastery on the Island of Re in France recupperating. Within a few days of making it back to England, he died at Salisbury Castle, 7 March 1226.
Ela held the position of High Sheriff of Wiltshire for two years after William's death, then became a nun, and eventually Abbess of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, which she had founded in 1229.

Just three years after William died, she founded Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire as a nunnery. She later entered the abbey as a nun herself in 1238. She became the Abbess of Lacock in 1240 just 2 years later and was Abbess until 1257.

She died 24 August 1261 and was buries in Lacock Abbey.

The inscription on her tombstone, originally written in Latin, reads:

Below lie buried the bones of the venerable Ela, who gave this sacred house as a home for the nuns. She also had lived here as holy abbess and Countess of Salisbury, full of good works.

Lacock Abbey Cloisters, Wiltshire,UK

Ancestral Stories and Traditions of Great Families Illustrative of English History
John Timbs
Griffith and Farran, 1869

Lacock Abbey, an Ela Countess of Salisbury

About thirteen miles East of Bath, and nearly halfway between the towns of Chippenham and Melksham, Anastasius and level meadow, surrounded by elm's, and watered by the Avon, rise the walls and tall spiral chimneys, and arches hung with IV, of the ancient Nunnery of Lacock. The site, it may be supposed, was originally a solitary glade, adjoining the village or town of Lacock. The name is derived from Lea and Lay, a meadow, and Oche, water; and here, in the Avon, Aubrey found large round paddles, "the like of which he had not seen elsewhere." Lacock was, in the Saxon times, of greater importance than at present; for in an ancient record, quoted by Leland, we read that Dunvallo founded three cities, with three castles, Malmsbury, Tetronberg (?Troubridge), and Lacock. We need scarcely remark, that what might have been then called cities or castles, would not be much in accordance with our ideas of such places in the present age.

The Nunnery of Lacock is far more interesting than the Castle of Dunvallo. In the year 1232, Ela, only child of William Earl of Salisbury, and sole heiress of all her father's vast landed possessions in Wiltshire, laid the foundation of this religious house in her widowhood, in pious and affectionate remembrance of her husband William Longespée (in her right Earl of Sarum), who had then been dead six years. This brave man was the eldest natural son of Henry II, by the lady whose transcendent beauty has become proverbial under the name of Fair Rosamond. He assisted in the founding of the magnificent Cathedral of New Sarum in the year 1220: six years afterwards he died of poison at the Castle of Old Sarum, and was the first person buried within the walls of New Sarum Cathedral, where his tomb now remains. The earliest ancester of Ela, whose existence rest on credible record, was Edward of Salisbury, Sheriff of Wilts, whose name occurs in doomsday book, and attesting several charters of the Conqueror.

The childhood and early life of the pious Ela are fraught with romantic interest. She was born in Amesbury in 1188. Until her father's death in 1196, Ela was reared in princely state. Earl William, her father, was one of the distinguished subjects of the chivalric lion King, Richard, and took a prominent part at both his coronations. He also kept the King's charter prelicensing tournaments throughout the country. One of the five steads or fields then appointed for tournaments and Englan was situated between Salisbury and Wilton; and on that spot, when a child, the future Abbess of Lacock may have first witnessed the perilous gaiety of nightly enterprise, and its proud exhibitions of personal courage and external splendor and gallantry. The situation is well known on the downs in front of the side of Sarum Castle.

Such was the scene on which I live in her childhood might have gazed when animated with the glitter of arms and banner; but from which, on the death of her father, this richly-portioned heiress was suddenly snatched and subjected to seclusion in a foreign country. All that is said in the transcript of the annals of the Abbey of Lacock – – year regional perished in the fire at the Cotton Library – – is that Ela was secretly taken into Normandy by her relations, and their brought up and close in secret custody. These relations, it is conjecture, where her mother and her mother's family, whose estates were either in Normandy or Champagne. Immediately upon the Inquisition held after her father's death, Ela's land would, in due course, be taken into the possession of the King, as she had become a Royal ward: but such was not the case. The event which arose from the circumstances is highly characteristic of the court of the minstrel monarch. An English Knight, named William Talbot undertook to discover the place of the youthful heiress' concealment; the idea having been suggested, if the fact to be admitted by King Richard's own discovery, a few years before, by a of the minstrel Blondel.

Assuming the garb of the Pilgrim, the gallant Talbot passed over into Normandy, and their continued his search, wondering to and fro for the space of two years. When at length he had found the lady Ela of Salisbury, he exchanged his pilgrims dress for that of a harper or traveling troubadour, and in that guise entered the court in which the maid was detained. As he sustained to perfection his character of a gleeman, and was excellently versed in the jests or historical lays recounting the deeds of former times, the stranger was kindly entertained, and soon received as one of the household. At last his chivalric undertaking was fully accomplished; when, having found a convenient opportunity for returning, he carried with him the heiress, and presented her to King Richard. Immediately after, the hand of Ela was given in marriage to William Longespée by his brother King Richard, – – Ela being then only 10 years old, and William twenty-three.

After the marriage of Ela, we have little to recount of her for several years, unless it were to enumerate the names of her flourishing family of four sons and as many daughters. The Earl was in frequent attendance upon King John; but the Countess Ela appears to have passed most of her life in provincial sovereignty at Salisbury, or in the quiet retirement of some country Manor, – – most frequently, perhaps, in the peaceful shades of her native Amesbury.

We pass over the career of the Earls; his assumption of Ela's hereditary office of the shrievalty of Wiltshire; his attendance at the coronation of John, and upon the King in Normandy; his progress is with John in England, and his appointment to military command and as Warder of the Marches; his rule in his campaign in Flanders; and his presence at the signing of Magna Charta. After the death of John, the Earl returned to his Castle of Salisbury, into the most interesting scene in which the pious Ela was an active partaker with him. This was no less than a ceremony of founding the present beautiful Cathedral Salisbury, the four stone of which was laid by the Earl, and the fifth by the Countess Ela. We next passed the Earls visit to Gascony in the spring of 1224, and his disastrous return, when, according to Matthew Paris, he was "for almost 3 months at sea" before he landed in England. During the interval all his friends had despaired of his life, except to his faithful wife, who, though now a matron, became an object of pursuit to the fortune hunters of the Court. The Justice Hubert de Burgh, with most indecent haste, now put forward a nephew of his own as a suitor to the Lady of Salisbury. It is related by Matthew Paris, that whilst King Henry was deeply grieved that the supposed loss of the Earl of Salisbury, Hubert came and required him to bestow Earl William's wife (to him the dignity of that earldom belonged by hereditary right) on his own nephew Reimund, that he might marry her. The King having yielded to his petition, provided the Countess with consent, the justice sent Reimund to her, in a noble, knightly array to endeavor to incline the ladies heart to his suit. But Ela rejected him with majestic scorn, and replied that she had lately received letters and messengers which assured her that the Earl, her husband, was in health and safety; adding, that if her Lord the Earl had indeed been dead, she would in no case have received him for a husband, because there on equal rank pervades such a union. "Wherefore," said she, "you must seek the marriage elsewhere because you find you have come hither in vain." Upon the Earls return, he claimed reparation from the Justiciary, who confessed his fault, made his peace with the Earl by some valuable forces and other large presents, and invited him to his table. Here, it is said, the Earl was poisoned (probably with repletion). He returned to his Castle at Salisbury, took to his bed, and died March 7, 1226; and, as already mentioned, was buried at Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral

William Longespee Tomb

courtyard of the cloisters, Lacock Abbey

Ela, now a widow, continued firm in her resolution to remain faithful to the memory of her first lord, and to maintain her independence and what was then termed, in legal phrase, "a free widowhood." Her choice, however, was singular; for ladies of large estate, at that period, were seldom permitted to remain either as virgins or widowers without a Lord and protector, unless they had arrived at an advanced age. Her case is deemed extraordinary and the chronicles. Her son, when he became of age, claimed the inheritance of the earldom; but the King refused it, by the advice of his judges, and according to the principles of feudal law. The objection probably was, that the earldom was then vested in his mother. Thus Ela's entrance into the profession of a recluse may possibly have partaken of a worldly motive, as being likely to facilitate her sons admission to his hereditary dignity; but if so, it was still unsuccessful. In consequence of her protracted life, the earldom of Solesberry continued dormant; and as she survived both her son and grandson, it was never revived in the house of Longespée.

Ela was permitted to exercise in person the office of Sheriff of Wiltshire, and Castellane of old Sarum. Her great seal, and elegant work of art, it is an extant, and represents her noble and dignified deportment, and her gracefully simple costume: "for right hand is on her breast; on her left stands a hawk, the usual symbol of nobility; On her head is a singularly's small cap, probably the precursor of the Coronet; for long-haired flows negligently upon her neck on each side; and the royal lions of Salisbury appear to gaze upon her like the lion in Spenser on the desolate Una!"

We at length reach the time and the foundation of Lacock Abbey. "When," says the Book of Lacock, "Ella had survived her husband for seven (six?) Years in widowhood, and had frequently promised to found monasteries pleasing to God, for the salvation of her soul and that of her husband, and those of all their ancestors, she was directed in visions (per revelationes) that she should build a monastery in honor of St. Mary and St. Bernard in the meadow called Snail's Mead, near LaCock.” This she did on April 16, 1232, although the requisite charters bear prior dates.

Among the earliest coadjutors with the pious cello was Constance De Legh, who assisted by giving "her whole Manor." Ella had likewise founded a monastery of Carthusian monks at Hinton, in Gloucestershire, in which, as also at Lacock, she is supposed to have fulfilled the intentions of her husband; indeed, the profits of his wardship of the heiress of Richard de Camville were assigned to the foundation at Hinton by the Earls last will.

The first canoness veiled at LaCock was Alicia Garinges, from a small nunnery in Oxfordshire, which was governed under the Augustine rule, the discipline to be adopted at Lacock. In the transcripts from the Book of Lacock another person is mentioned, either as abbess or canoness, during the eight years which elapsed after the foundation, and before Ela herself took the veil as abbess of her own establishment, in the year 1238, in the 51st year of her age; she "having, in all her actions and doings, been constantly dependent on accounts on aid of St. Edmund the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other discrete men."

The records of Ela's abbacy are neither copious nor numerous. Among them is a charter, dated 1237, and which the King grants to the prioress of Lacock, and "the nuns there serving God," and fair to last for three days, – – namely, on the eve, feast, and morrow of St. Thomas the Martyr. In the year 1241 Ela obtained two other charters from the King; one to hold a weekly market. A beautiful crusted in the marketplace at Lacock until about the year 1825, when it's light and elegant shaft was destroyed to furnish stone for building the village school room. By the second charter the King gave the abbess the privilege of having, every week, one cart to traverse the forest of Melksham, and collect "dead wood" for fuel, without injury to the forest, during the royal pleasure. Five years before her death, Ela retired from the peaceful of her monastic society, and appointed in her place in abbess named Beatrice, of Kent. Yet Ela obtained several more benefits for the Abbey from the King. At length, in the 74th year of her age, August 24, 1261, yielding up her soul in peace, Ela rested in the Lord, and was most honorably buried in the choir of the monastery. Aubrey has this strange entry in his natural history of Wiltshire: "Ela Countess of Salisbury, daughter to Longspee, was founders of Lacock Abbey, where she ended her days, being Emperor hundred years old: she outlived her understanding. This I found in an old MS. called Chronicon de Lacock, in Bibliothèca Cottiniana.” Now, the Chronicle referred to was burnt in 1731, and the extracts preserved from it do not confirm Aubrey's statement, but placed Ela's death and her 74th year.

Ella had been deprived by death of her son and grandson, and her daughter Isabella, Lady Vesey; and in the last year of her life she was proceeded to her tomb by her son Stephen; so that, of all her family, she left only two sons and three daughters surviving, one of whom died in the following year. William's son William Longspee the second, having joined the expedition of St. Louis to the Holy Land, perished at the assault of Mensoura. His mother, according to the monkish legend, seated in her abbatial style in the church at Lacock, saw, at the same moment, the mailed form of her child admitted into heaven, surrounded by a radius of glory. His son William Longspee III was killed in a tournament near Salisbury.

Lacock Abbey from the south

Women in Medieval Western European Culture
Front Cover
Linda E. Mitchell
Routledge, Nov 12, 2012 

When Ela, Countess of Salisbury (1189 – 1261), paid the English King, Henry III, the substantial sum of 500 marks (and mark was two thirds of the pound) in 1226 for the privilege of holding the powerful, lucrative and highly political public office of Sheriff of Wiltshire, she became one of only two women ever to perform the duties of sheriff in all of medieval England. Or although Ellis ancestors had performed the sheriffs of Wiltshire, first as castellans of serum and later as the Earls of Salisbury, since the reign of William the Conqueror, Ela had not been granted the position of sheriff upon her father's death in 1196. Rather, her husband, William Longspee, received the office upon their marriage in 1198. It was not until William's death in 1226 and Ela, in her widowhood, was able to claim, at some expense, the position of sheriff for her own. Thus, despite the fact that she was heiress to the Salisbury earldom, religious attitudes in the legal realities of medieval life conspired to keep Ela of Salisbury – – and noble women like her – – distanced from nearly all forms of public activity.

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