Birth of a City. Death of a Knight

Insults from licentious soldiery, being forced to buy water and scarcely able to keep the roof on the cathedral because of the high wind, hence in 1219 the migration by the church from Old Sarum to the new city in the valley began.

There is a small window in the east end of the Cathedral, pictured above, that can be seen by those in the know. It depicts the laying of the foundation stones for Salisbury Cathedral. We know who was present at this celebration. There is also a small mark on this window that is believed to depict the cat from the mason’s workshop! For yes, rats were a problem then and one particular rat features in the history of the death of Knight William Longspee.

Imagine the Laying of the Foundation Stone ceremony on the 28th April 1220. Amongst those present were a “great multitude of common folk” and they all watched as William Longspee Earl of Sarum, and his wife Ela Countess of Sarum, each laid a stone. There was great joy at this momentous occasion, but, little did William Longspee know that it would be his body that would be the first to be laid in a tomb in this truly inspiring building.

For William was a busy Knight off to fight for the crusades. On his failure to return his wife, Ela, was approached and pursued to re-marry. His return was both miraculous for some and disappointing for others. After a celebratory meal laid on by those who had less joy in their hearts at his return, he died! The intrigue revolves around the rat that died of arsenic poisoning. For this rat had eaten a part of his head and laid where it died.

Of course, all of this was discovered far later. By the way, the said rat was saved for future generations and can be seen in the Chapter House.

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