Friday, 14 March 2014

Ela; heiress, Countess, Sheriff, Abbess


Ela was born in 1187 to William FitzPatrick and Eleonore de Vitre (1164-1233), she was to be their only child and therefore their heiress. William was the 2nd Earl of Salisbury and Sheriff of Wiltshire, as was his father before him. Upon his death in 1196, the nine year old Ela became Countess of Salisbury.



In 1196, the same year she became Countess, Ela married William de Longespee, who was twenty years old. This marriage was arranged by King Richard I. William was the illegitimate son of King Henry II and his mistress Ida de Tosny, and was therefore the half-brother of kings Richard and John. William and Ela enjoyed a close relationship with the royal family, and the king regularly sent Ela gifts of venison throughout the 1220's, even after William had died. Upon their marriage, William assumed the title of Earl of Salisbury, and was granted the post of Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1198. 

The couple had eleven children together;
+ William Longespee (1209-50)  Died on Crusade
+ Richard Longespee                Canon of Salisbury
+ Stephen Longespee (1216-60) Seneschal of Gascony
+ Nicholas Longespee (d.1297)  Bishop of Salisbury
+ Isabella Longespee 
+ Petronilla Longespee
+ Ela Longespee (d.1297)
+ Ida Longespee
+ Ida Longespee
+ Mary Longespee
+ Pernel Longespee

William Salisbury.jpg
William de Longespee

William remained loyal to his brother King John during the Baron's Revolt, and was one of the leaders of the king's army in the south. For his loyalty, King John granted William the post of Sheriff of Wiltshire for life as well as Sheriff of Lincolnshire and Somerset.
However, in 1216 when Prince Louis of France landed in England in support of the rebels, William changed sides. This may have been done in reaction to his brother King John's attempts to seduce his wife Ela while William was being held captive in France after the 1214 defeat at Bouvines. However by 1217 William's allegiance had reverted back to the crown.
After the death of King John, and the accession of the young King Henry III, William held an influential position in government and was granted the position of High Sheriff of Devon (1217) and Staffordshire and Shropshire (1224).
William was sent on expedition in Gascony with King Henry's brother Prince Richard, but on his return to England in 1225 he was shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany. He then spent several months recovering at a monastery on the Island of Re in France. When William was shipwrecked, there were rumours that he had died at sea. It was then that Raymond de Burgh, the nephew of one of the most powerful men in England - the judiciary Hubert de Burgh - sought to make Ela his wife. Through his uncle, Raymond petitioned the king for his permission to marry Ela, which he granted upon the condition that Ela accepted him. Despite Raymond's flattery and promises, she rejected his proposal. Ela believed her husband was still alive, she told Raymond that she had received letters which confirmed this. She also told him that even if her husband was indeed dead, she would still not marry him due to their unequal rank. When William returned to England and was told of what Raymond had done, he went to see Hubert de Burgh and demanded reparations for his, and his nephew's, actions. Hubert gave his apologies, as well as gifts, and invited the Earl to dine with him. That evening of the feast at Marlborough Castle, it is said by some chroniclers of that time that it was at this dinner that William was poisoned, and this caused his death.
Only days after returning to England, William died on the 7th of March 1226 at Salisbury Castle.


After William's death, the post of Sheriff of Wiltshire was redistributed in 1226. However, a year later Ela was given the position of Sheriff 'at the kings pleasure' for the price of 500 marks. This post only lasted a year until she stood down from the post due to ill health. In 1231 Ela was again made Sheriff of Wiltshire 'for the remainder of her life'. This appointment was done at the approval of the king, local nobility and the Bishops of Bath and Salisbury. Ela went in person to account at the Exchequer at Michaelmas in 1236. She stepped down from the position in 1237. 
When William died in 1226, Ela had to surrender Salisbury Castle, however she bought back custody of it for life in 1231 for 200 marks.

Ruins of Salisbury Castle


Ela founded the Carthusian monastery at Hinton in 1227, as a continuation of her husband's wishes. 

"I, wishing for God's sake to complete what my husband had begun well, in my liege power and widowhood after his death have given and granted and by this my charter confirmed to the Carthusian order all my manor of Hinton, with the advowson of the church and the park and all its other appurtenances without anything reserved to me or my heirs, in exchange for the aforesaid lands. I have done this for my husband's soul, and the soul of Earl William my father, and for my salvation and that of my children, and for the souls of all my ancestors and heirs. Similarly I have granted all my manor of Midsummer Norton with the advowson of the church and all its other appurtenances, without any reservation to me or my heirs."

In 1229, Ela founded the Augustinian Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. 

"I Ela and my heirs will warrant, defend and acquit to the nuns against all men and women for ever all the aforesaid manors, with the advowsons of the churches of Shrewton and Lacock, and with all their other appurtenances, as free and quit as any alms which can be given."

In 1237, the king granted the abbey a fair to last three days on the day, eve, and day after St Thomas the Martyr. Ela then entered as a nun in 1238, and in 1240 she was made Abbess of Lacock. 
Whilst Abbess, Ela obtained many rights for the abbey as well as the village of Lacock. In 1241, Ela was granted permission from the king to hold a weekly market, and another royal grant was for the abbess to have one cart of dead wood for fuel from the forest of Melksham once a week. Ela remained Abbess until 1257, when she stepped down. 

Lacock Abbey

Ela died on the 24th of August 1261 and was then buried in Lacock Abbey.
The Latin inscription on her tombstone;
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
 Even after her death, Ela was remembered by the Abbey for her kindness and generosity. The anniversary of Ela's death was celebrated every year by the Abbey; on the 30th of November corn would be given out to the poor, and on the eve of that day, three poor people would be given food and drink. Ela's last surviving son, Nicholas, ordered that after his death his heart was to be placed at Lacock Abbey.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post about one of my favourite figures in history. Earl Patrick's granddaughter has a special place in my heart :-) I'm sure he would have been proud of her.