William Longespee, 3rd Earl of Salisbury

Born: c. 1167

Died: March 7, 1226

Salisbury, Wiltshire, England (Age c. 59)

Salisbury in History

William Longespee was undoubtedly given a distinct advantage in life based on his mother's affair with King Henry II of England. Though an illegitimate son of the king, and therefore barred from ever succeeding to the throne himself, William was received with much favor during the remainder of his father's reign and the subsequent reigns of his half-brothers, Richard and John. Richard I married him off to the infant Ela, daughter and heir to the Earl of Salisbury, assuring that he would ultimately hold a title by right of his wife, and William began his successful military career by fighting alongside his brother in Normandy. After Richard's sudden death in 1199 and the ascension of his other brother, John, the new earl was, once again, taken into favor. He was given a number of important and lucrative posts, to make up for the fact that his earldom was a fairly poor one, and continued to display his military prowess by serving in France, Wales and Ireland, among other places. By 1215 though, King John's primary problems lye at home in England, as he was faced with a revolt of his own barons, who believed he was running the country poorly and ignoring their advice. At first, Salisbury seems to have remained loyal to his brother. However, the barons were reinforced when Louis of France (son and heir of the French King Philip II) invaded to aid them. Believing that John's cause was completely lost, Salisbury almost immediately joined forces with Louis and the other magnates. John died in October 1216 and was succeeded by his young son as Henry III. Salisbury, at first, decided to remain with the French. But when Louis briefly left to return to France, the earl decided to defect back to the English forces.

By 1218, after sporadic fighting, Louis and the English signed the Treaty of Lambeth, which stated that the Frenchman would drop his claim to the English throne (he was married to John's sister Blanche). As for the magnates, a document that came to be known as the Magna Carta was signed into effect (originally drawn up and signed in its original form by John) that limited the powers of the monarchy. For the rest of his life, Salisbury remained faithful to Henry III. He continued to build up his wealth and serve on military expeditions, falling sick after campaigning in Gascony in 1226. He died shortly after his return to England. Salisbury, despite the fact that he was a highly influential figure within England's government for the first quarter of the thirteenth century, remains a difficult figure to analyze. One can only speculate on what made him desert his own brother in favor of a French invader, but one cannot help but call his loyalty into question over the issue. Perhaps, though, it shows that King John truly was a tyrannical ruler and alienated even his family members.

Salisbury in Shakespeare

Appears in: King John

The Earl of Salisbury appears throughout the action of King John. He is present in the opening scene where it is agreed the English will go to war over the French, and it is he who informs Constance that the two sides have made peace, causing her son Arthur's claim to the English throne to be put aside. When it is discovered that Arthur has supposedly been murdered under orders from John, Salisbury is one of the lords (along with the Earl of Pembroke and Lord Bigot) who rebels against the king. Although Arthur is not dead at the time, he dies in an attempt to escape the castle and the lords discover his body, believing he has been murdered by Hugh de Burgh. At this point, the lords set off to join forces with Louis the dauphin, who has come to England to press his claim to the throne (by right of his wife). Once it appears that the dauphin's cause is lost though, Salisbury and the other lords rejoin the king's forces, preventing their own executions had they lost the battle. In the play's final scene, Salisbury announces that the dauphin, under Cardinal Pandolph's advice, has dropped his claim. In reality, the lords rebelled against John in 1215 (Salisbury did not join until the following year), twelve years after Arthur's death. The two events were, therefore, completely unrelated. Additionally, Salisbury was a half-brother of John's historically, yet there is no mention at all of this within the play.


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