Tickets: Salisbury Information Centre, Fish Row, Salisbury Phone: 01722 342860 or from www.ticketsource.co.uk/studiotheatresalisbury
History at Large will be using Studio Theatre for one of their dramatic Retrials. In recent years they have investigated issues such as the Titanic, Jack the Ripper and the Salisbury Rail Disaster of 1906. This time they will be contributing to the Salisbury History Festival with a study of one of Salisbury’s historical whodunits – the untimely death of William Longespee “Longsword” the third Earl of Salisbury, in 1226.
Both men were top ranking Anglo Norman nobles whose careers spanned the reigns of Richard the Lionheart, “bad” King John and Henry III. Both were distinguished warriors and administrators and both displayed consistent loyalty to the English Crown – particularly during “bad” King John’s reign, when England sank into civil war and the barons actually invited the King of France to come and take over!
During this crisis, William’s loyalty did falter and he briefly changed sides. This led to a bitter scene with the unswervingly loyal De Burgh. An even worse confrontation arose after the war, when William went missing on a sea voyage and was presumed drowned. De Burgh used the opportunity try and foist one of his nephews on William’s supposed “widow” – Countess Ella of Salisbury – who contemptuously saw him off the premises!
On his unexpected return, William threatened violence! De Burgh backed down, offered him apologies and some handsome gifts and finally invited him to a reconciliatory banquet.
A few day after the banquet, William sickened and shorty afterwards he died. He was aged fifty.
Although people died relatively young in those days, William was an exceptionally strong fighting man and his demise was considered very sudden and inexplicable. Rumours of poison began to spread and Hubert was an obvious suspect.
No proof was possible either way and the story dimmed with time, but in 1791, during Wyatt’s refurbishment of the cathedral, William’s famous tomb was opened and the mummified corpse of a rat was found in his skull. It showed signs of arsenic poisoning. The five centuries old rumours revived with a vengeance.
Now, with a ‘judge’, ‘learned counsel’ and YOU, the audience, as a jury. HAL will asses the evidence, motives, means and opportunity and explore this fascinating murder mystery in the history of Salisbury.