Friday, June 27, 2008

Fullbore Friday

I guess this should be for Valentines Day - but I don 't care too much for Hallmark Holidays - and I am feeling all warm and fuzzy about Mrs. Salamander and the wee and not so wee ones of the female type that I have in the house. The eldest's grades were out of this world this year; if she didn't look like her cousin, my almost twin sister's eldest, I would wonder if she was mine ... but Mrs. Salamander is brainy too; so I guess she takes after her mom.

What, pray tell, does that have to do with FbF? Character. The character of strong, smart women who lived in a period of time when most women were little more than property - kind of like Saudi Arabia now.

Another great woman who we just have a hint of what she was; I give you Ela, Countess of Salisbury.
Ela, only child of Eleanor de Vitre and William, 2nd Earl of Salisbury, from whom she inherited large estates in Wiltshire, was born (date unknown) at Amesbury. The estates, including Chitterne, had been held by Ela's great- great-grandfather, Edward, after William the Conqueror defeated King Harold.

Ela's grandfather, Patrick, constable of Salisbury, was created Earl of Salisbury in 1149 by Empress Matilda whose steward of the household he was.

Ela's father, William, succeeded to the title and estates in 1168 upon the death of Patrick, who died whilst returning from a crusade. William was a captain in the King's army in Normandy in 1195 and keeper of the charter for licensing tournaments.

At her father's death in 1196, Ela succeeded to the title and estates, but here her story becomes blurred. According to Canner, she was:

"secretly taken to Normandy by her relations and there brought up in close and secret custody.....An english knight, named William Talbot, undertook to discover the place of the youthful heiress's concealment.... Talbot dressed as a pilgrim, went to Normandy, and after wandering to and fro for two years, at length found the Lady Ela of Salisbury. He then exchanged his pilgrim's dress for that of a Harper or travelling Troubadour, and in this disguise entered the Court in which the maid was detained. As he acted his part well he was kindly received and treated as one of the household. At last after two years of search his undertaking was fully accomplished and having found a convenient opportunity for returning to England brought the young heiress with him and presented her to King Richard..... Ela, countess of Salisbury in her own right, then became the wife of William Longespee, son of Henry II".

However, CFJ Hankinson (editor of Debrett's Peerage) writes thus:

"...he (Ela's father) died in 1196. His only child, Ela, (third holder), married at the age of eight William de Longespee (illegitimate son of Henry II by Rosamund Clifford**) who thereupon became earl of Salisbury in her right."

Clearly Ela could not have spent several years in Normandy after her father's death and still have married William de Longespee at the age of eight, unless her year of birth (only provided by Canner) is wrong.

All agree that Ela was a woman of strong character. She and William each laid a foundation stone of the new Salisbury Cathedral. During one of his long journeys abroad (the Crusades), when others feared he had been lost, she refused to marry any of the suitors who had their eye on her fortune and steadfastly believed in her vision of his return. She was proved correct.

On his death, William was the first to be buried in the new Salisbury Cathedral and his fine tomb, pictured left, stands in the nave. Ela founded two religious houses in his memory, one for men at Hinton Charterhouse and the other for women at Lacock. It is said that she laid the foundation stones for both on the same day, 16 April 1232, requiring a journey of 16 miles.

She bore her husband eight children, four girls and four boys. Her eldest son, William, who donated his lands at Chitterne to the Abbey, was later killed on a crusade and also has a tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.

Her youngest son, Nicholas, became Bishop of Salisbury (1292 - 1297) and his heart was buried at Lacock, his body at Salisbury. The photo right shows Nicholas' marble heartstone, inscribed with ecclesiastical regalia, which is on display at Lacock Abbey.

One of Ela's daughters visited the convent in 1287 and two of her granddaughters became nuns there.

Ela joined Lacock Abbey as a nun in 1238, and in 1241 became it's first abbess, it had started with fifteen nuns under a prioress. She was abbess for fifteen years and died at seventy-five in 1261. She was buried in the choir of the Abbey church before the High Altar. Upon the demolition of the church her tombstone was moved to the centre of the Cloister Court, and from there in 1895 to it's present position in the cloister walk. It's inscription, which may date from the eighteenth century reads (latin translation):

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

During her time Ela had obtained many rights for the Abbey and the village of Lacock. She was also Sheriff of Wiltshire for two years following her husband's death, the only woman sheriff Wiltshire had until Lady Hawley in 1998.
Here is the part of this write up that is missing. Her husband William (whose tomb I have seen) most likely did not die of natural causes.
He died not long after his return to England at Salisbury Castle. Roger of Wendover alleged that he was poisoned by Hubert de Burgh. He was buried at Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.

William de Longespee's tomb was opened in 1791. Bizarrely, the well-preserved corpse of a rat which carried traces of arsenic [5], was found inside his skull. The rat is now on display in a case at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.
The long story; de Burgh wanted to marry Ela before William showed after given up for dead - and then after his actual death, started to pursue Ela again. The convent was her way of foiling his acts in an age where women had almost no power. Sheriff Ela though .... sigh ... what a woman. What a leader she must have been.

There is a movie in there somewhere.

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