Beyond the Archive Door: Bishop Longspee's Will | Salisbury Cathedral

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Beyond the Archive Door: Bishop Longspee's Will

In the Cathedral Archive is a collection of 18 medieval wills, al

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Beyond the Archive Door: Bishop Longspee's Will

Posted By : Emily Naish Monday 13th July 2015

In the Cathedral Archive is a collection of 18 medieval wills, all written on parchment and dating from 1261 to 1464. They were made by a variety of people including Bishops, a glazier, a butcher and one by a woman, Amicia, the wife of Robert of Abingdon. The most impressive will, as an object, is that of Bishop Nicholas Longspee made on St Valentine’s Day, 1295.


Bishop Nicholas Longspee held the post of Bishop of Salisbury from 1292 until his death on 18th May 1297. He was elected Bishop sometime between 8th November and 12 December 1291 and was consecrated on 16th March 1292. Before becoming Bishop he was Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral.  He was the fourth son of William Longspee, Earl of Salisbury (and half-brother of King John) and Ela, 3rd Countess of Salisbury, and later founder and Abbess of Lacock Abbey. We do not know his year of Nicholas’ birth, although his father had died in 1226.   Bishop Nicholas died on 18th May 1297, he was buried at Salisbury although his heart was buried at Lacock Abbey and viscera at Ramsbury. 


Bishop Nicholas’ will is written on parchment, probably sheepskin which was commonly used for official documents. The will measures approx. 17 ½” x 13 ¼” and the writing covers a space of 16 x 10 ½ inches. It is about 2200 words long and gives a fascinating insight into an episcopal household at the end of the 13th century. There were originally seven seals, all in black wax, of which six remain. The will in its modern form started to emerge around this time i.e. the mid to late 13th century. Early wills were often primarily concerned with arrangements for burial and gifts to the church, and their survival is very patchy.   Bishop Nicholas’ will, as was the custom is written in Latin.  The late medieval will begins by bequeathing the soul to God, then specifies the place of burial, followed by gifts to the church and then to individuals.


As expected Bishop Nicholas bequeaths his soul to God and requests that his body is buried at Salisbury before the great altar. He also leaves to the Cathedral two large silver basins of a ‘superior quality’ and his new pontifical robe [no longer surviving]. His heart he leaves Lacock with his silver crucifix ‘so that it be fixed in the middle of the altar which is situated there in the choir of the nuns.’ Also to Lacock Abbey:  two silver basins, a chalice, two large silver phials and two other smaller silver ones, a pen case, one gold ring ornamented with a sapphire and one bronze vessel to carry holy water to the abbess’ room. To the Abbey Infirmary three pairs of irons for making wafer, waffles and pancakes. Also to the Abbey 200 marks to pay for two chaplains to pray in perpetuity for his soul and to Ela a gilded cup. 


He continues…


To Lady Margaret de Lascy amongst other things ‘a goblet of nut wood and a picture which I used to wear around neck. That spoon which was meant for my mouth’.


‘I bequeath my new missal to the church at Calne. I bequeath my better portable breviary to Lord Nicholas of Jarpenvile and 20 marks. Similarly I bequeath my old missal, my new portable breviary, psalter and my better chapel vestment, one silk cape of the choir, together with the frontal and altar cloth to the church at Iwerneminster’


‘To Lambert, my chamberlain and foster son 100 pounds sterling, 16 cattle, six cows, 200 sheep and 20 pigs from my better cows. Also all the dishes and silver saucers, one silver salt cellar, two large and one medium silver pitcher, 28 silver spoons, one silver cup, eight cups of silver plate, two wooden goblets with feet and two without feet.  I bequeath to him also my vessels and utensils of brass and the cauldrons from my pantry, butlery, bakery and brewery. I leave to him all the coffers from my chamber and wardrobe together with everything pertaining to the wardrobe, namely clothes, small cloths and various other things. The whole attire of my armour to cover his body and his horse.’


There are several references to other individuals including four boys whose education he supported at Oxford schools. The will ends:


‘For the fulfillment of this will of mine, all my moveable and immoveable goods that are not bequeathed should be sold. And if any remain that should be given away for my soul according to what my executors consider is best. I also wish that this will should be executed in full as soon as possible and then retaining in perpetuity at the treasury at Salisbury. 


I have though fit to have my seal attached to this present will of mine as evidence of this and I have arranged for my executors’ seals to be attached for the memory of future generations.


Probate was read by Robert, the Archbishop of Canterbury at Chartham on 29th May 1297.


Six of the original seven seals remain, from left to right they are:

1. The missing seal is probably that of the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral.

2. Bishop Nicholas Longspee

3. Richard de Sotwell (held the prebend of Bitton in Gloucestershire from 1289-1296 and was then Archdeacon of Wilts from circa 1299 to 1303 when it is believed he went to Rome)

4. Stephen de Ramsbury (held the prebend of Winterbourne Earls and was Warden of de Vaux College 1296-1303) 

5. William de Braybroke (held the prebends of Alton Australis 1297-1298 and Beminster Prima 1298-c1319)

6. John de Herterigg


See the accompanying Gallery for more photos of Bishop Nicholas' will.