Sir William Longspée the Younger was born in about 1212. His father, William Longspée, was an illegitimate son of Henry II, friend of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke and husband of Ela of Salisbury, the suro jure countess.
William’s father was an influential man and chivalrous man but the earl died not long after he was shipwrecked in 1225. Rumour whispered that Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent had a hand in his death through poison but by then Hubert was not a popular man. Unfortunately for William II, his mother Ela held the title in her own right so William the Younger could not legally carry the title although he did attempt to claim it.
In 1233 he sailed close to rebellion because of his friendship with Richard Marshal who took the Marches to war when one of Gilbert Basset’s manors in Wiltshire was unlawfully seized on the kings orders. Another of Marshal’s adherents Richard Siward was wrongfully imprisoned at about the same time. The king was accused of listening to the advice of his advisor the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches who advocated that kings could do as they wished.
The so-called Marshal War was largely a March affair but it resulted in Shrewsbury being burned and Henry III experiencing the embarrassment of the Welsh routing his army – who were sleeping soundly in their tents at Grosmont Castle when Llewelyn’s army arrived. Longspee did not become involved but he was required to hand over his daughter as a hostage for his good behaviour when he threatened to join the rebellious barons. The Crown perhaps recognising that they were on thin ice placed the girl in the custody of her grandmother.
By 1240 William decided to go on Crusade in the service of Richard of Cornwall, Henry III’s younger brother, who sailed for the Holy Land via Marseilles. Two other groups of nobles set off at the same time including Simon de Montfort. Cornwall’s party included his own extended family, of whom Longspée was a part. William didn’t see action, returning with Cornwall in the spring of 1241.
He returned to the Holy Land in 1247 on a second crusade with the French king, Louis IX against the Egyptian mamlukes. To raise the funds for the endeavour he sold a charter to the town of Poole. It was during this crusade that he gained renown for his daring and ultimately his death as reported by the chronicler Matthew Paris which, in the long term, did nothing to help Anglo-French relations. It was reported that the Count d’Artois tricked Longspée into making an attack before the French king was in place with his own troops. Longspée, his men and 280 knights templars were killed during the encounter.
An effigy was erected in Salisbury Cathedral although his remains were buried in the Holy Land at Acre.
Although William was married and had several children, his own heir, another William, also predeceased Ela of Salisbury who died in 1261. William the even younger’s (sorry couldn’t think of anything snappier) only child, Margaret, married Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln. Margaret became suo jure Countess of Salisbury in her own right following her grandmother’s death.
The female line continued to hold the earldom of Salisbury. Margaret’s daughter Alice de Lacy became the suo jure countess of Lincoln and Salisbury after one of her brothers fell down a well and the other one fell off a parapet at Pontefract Castle. Alice was unhappily married to Edward I’s nephew Thomas of Lancaster from childhood. The inheritance, when it fell into Thomas’s lap, made him the wealthiest man in the kingdom. Alice’s turbulent life is well worth the retelling: it includes two kidnaps and imprisonment demonstrating that, on occasion, life as an heiress wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Alice died without children in 1348.
The earldom of Lincoln fell into abeyance but the earldom of Salisbury had already been forfeited in 1322. The lands which had once belonged to the Longspée dynasty passed back up the collateral line to James Audley who was descended from William Longspée the younger’s eldest daughter Ela who was married into the Audley family.
The title would be recreated for Edward III’s friend William Montagu or Montacute depending upon your preference. And from there it’s a hop and a skip to Richard Neville Earl of Warwick (a.k.a. The Kingmaker).
If you would like to find out about William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury’s mother she can be found in Medieval Royal Mistresses and Alice Montagu, 5th Countess of Salisbury appears in my forthcoming book about The Kingmaker’s Women.