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William de Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury

William Longespee - Earl of Salisbury - Coat of Arms - Medieval England - NobilityIn my recent short story The Sea-Ghost, I make mention of William de Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury. The following is a brief biographical sketch about him.

William de Longespée (also known as “Longsword”) was an English noble born in 1176, and he was the illegitimate son of Henry II, the King of England from 1154 to 1189. Though the true identity of William’s mother was unknown for many years, a charter mentioning William was later found that referenced “Comitissa Ida, mater mea,” and this “Ida” happened to be the wife of Roger Bigod, the 2nd Earl of Norfolk. King Henry did acknowledge William as his son and bestowed on him the lands of Appleby, Lincolnshire in 1188.

William received his lands and title of the 3rd Earl of Salisbury when his half-brother King Richard I married him to Ela (also called Isabel), the countess of Salisbury and daughter of William the 2nd of Earl of Salisbury.

Under the reign of King John (1199 – 1216), Earl Longespée held several offices: sheriff of Wiltshire, lieutenant of Gascony, constable of Dover and warden of the Cinque Ports, and later warden of the Welsh Marches. He served as a commander in King John’s army during the king’s Irish and Welsh expeditions of 1210 – 1212.

William de Longespée is most known for his command of the English forces at the Battle of Damme in Flanders. In the year 1213, Longespée led a fleet across the channel to Flanders, where a fleet of French ships was preparing to invade England. Longespée successfully destroyed and siezed a major portion of this fleet, ending the invasison threat but not the war between England and France.

In 1214, King John sent Longespée to Germany to assist Otto IV in Germany’s invasion of France. At the Battle of Bouvines, the French slaughtered Otto’s army and  Longespée was captured. The French later made an exchange for  Longespée, and Earl William returned to England in May 1215.

In the rebellion against King John,  Longespée remained loyal to the king for a time but later deserted after the French prince Louis (later Louis VIII) landed on the southern coast of England and joined the rebel barons in their cause against the crown.

Longespée, however, returned to the king’s cause after the death of John and the departure of Louis. By this time, Henry III, John’s son, was King of England. Early in the king’s reign, William held an influential position in government, and later he fought in Gascony to help secure the remaining English posesssions in France.

William de Longespée died on March 7, 1226, and he was buried in Salisbury Cathedral. He and his wife were benefactors of the cathedral, and they laid the foundation stones of the new cathedral in 1220. Roger of Wendover claimed Hubert de Burgh poisoned Longespée, though actual evidence is inconclusive. When Longespée’s tomb was opened in 1791, however, a well-preserved corpse of a rat with traces of arsenic was discovered inside William’s skull, lending possible proof to the idea that Longespée was indeed poisioned.


William Longsword, 3rd earl of Salisbury.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 01 Sep. 2008 <>.

William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury.” 01 Sep. 2008. <>.

*wikipedia’s entry on William Longespée also has several sources cited that might be useful for further information
**image retrieved from

5 thoughts on “William de Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury”

  1. Pingback: Business blog » Blog Archive » William de Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury

  2. Hi, Nice to see your blog doing so well. It’s been a few weeks since I visited you here so I thought that I should just stop by for a quick hello. Ok, thats it, have a nice day. Bompa

  3. I hadn’t known about Longespee before. His story is an interesting addition to the history of the era, expecially regarding the political tensions and shifting loyalties during the last years of King John.

    William Ramsay
    Author of the book “Me and King John: Medieval and Modern History Ransacked, as an Evil King shakes His Family Tree to Improve His Karma”

  4. William, I can’t recall how and when I came across the story of William de Longespee, but I thought he was interesting as well, and would probably make a good character if one were so inclined to write a historical fiction novel during that time period. The backdrop of everything involving King John certainly makes for interesting reading. Tell me a little about your book.

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