Medieval unrest | Salisbury Cathedral

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Medieval unrest

The whole of Europe was disastrously affected by the Black Death of 1348-9, which killed up to half the population.

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Medieval unrest

The whole of Europe was disastrously affected by the Black Death of 1348-9, which killed up to half the population. England became involved in long-drawn-out wars in France. Popular discontent led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The very long-lived Bishop Wyville was a royal civil servant, and so was often not resident. But, in spite of all this, Salisbury and its cathedral continued to grow and thrive. 


Those who planned the cathedral do not seem to have intended the high tower and spire. So the huge extra weight pressing down on the centre of the cathedral began to distort it, pushing columns out of alignment and threatening to collapse the building from the middle. So from the mid-14th century there began a process of reinforcing the structure, with additional buttresses, iron ties, and, most obviously, the ‘strainer’ arches across both sets of transepts.


In 1450 the Bishop, William Ayscough, was murdered at Edington, but was immediately replaced by a powerful new man, Richard Beauchamp. Through the new Bishop’s energy, the cathedral’s founding father, Bishop Osmund (1078-99), was finally made a saint in 1457. His shrine became a spectacular centrepiece to the Trinity Chapel, as this cathedral tried to rival others such as Canterbury and Winchester in creating a focus for devotion and pilgrimage. Important as this cathedral’s way of worship was in England, there is no evidence that Salisbury ever became a major place of pilgrimage, although the three ‘Osmund’ pilgrim badges in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum show that pilgrims came.


Bishop Beauchamp reconstructed the eastern end of the cathedral around the shrine, and the Trinity Chapel, always used for the daily Lady Mass, was now also used by a new professional choir (with boys) to sing polyphonic masses. Beauchamp also had the stone vault built over the crossing in 1479. Salisbury remained a centre of learning: in 1445 a library and lecture room were built above the eastern cloister.


The other notable changes came with the building of new chapels inside and adjoining the cathedral. These were chantry chapels - specially built for regular masses to be said for the souls of the donor. Three were very prominent: the ironwork Hungerford chantry on the northeast side of the nave, a second Hungerford chantry north of the Trinity chapel, and the Beauchamp chantry to the south.