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Portrait of William de Montagu or Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury, from the 'Bruges Garter Book'

William de Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury (1328-1397)

WILLIAM DE MONTAGU, or MONTACUTE, second Earl of Salisbury (1328-1397), elder son of William de Montacute, first earl, by his countess Catharine, was born 25 June 1328, and succeeding to his father's honours while yet a minor in 1344, was a ward of John de Somerton and Thomas Waryn.

He accompanied the king [Edward III] in his expedition against France in 1346; on landing at La Hogue on 13 July he was knighted by the Prince of Wales [Edward, the Black Prince], and served in the ensuing campaign. A contract of marriage was made between him and Joan (1328-1385), the 'Fair Maid of Kent', daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, but the lady was claimed by Sir Thomas Holland, first earl of Kent of the Holland family, and her contract with Salisbury was annulled by a papal bull, dated 13 Nov. 1349. In that year he obtained livery of his lands.

In 1350 he was one of the original knights of the order of the Garter, and in August shared in the king's victory over the Spaniards off Winchelsea. He did homage in 1353 for the lordship of Denbigh in North Wales, which he inherited from his father, and being the following year appointed constable of the king's army in France, he sailed for Bordeaux with the Prince of Wales on 30 June 1355, having received a protection for two years in respect of any debts for which he might be liable in Gascony. The rear-guard of the prince's army was under his command, and he bore his part in the ravage of the south of France.1

On 17 Sept. 1356 he held the command of the rear of the prince's army, with the Earl of Suffolk, at the battle of Poitiers, defending the gap in the hedge that covered the English position with dismounted men-at-arms and archers, and, fighting 'like a lion,' routed the attack of the marshal, Jean de Clermont. He served in France in 1357, in 1359, and again in 1360, in which last year he received a commission to treat with the enemy, and assisted to make the treaty of Bretigni.2

By the death of Joanna, dowager-countess of Surrey, in 1361, he came into possession of the castle of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, together with lands in that county and in Somerset and Dorset, of which his father had obtained the reversion from the crown.3 In 1364 he received commission to treat with the Count of Flanders for a marriage between the king's son Edmund, earl of Cambridge, and the count's daughter Margaret. He was at this time a member of the king's council, and as such joined in sending letters to the Prince of Wales in 1366 assenting to his expedition in aid of Pedro of Castile.

In August 1369 he served under the Duke of Lancaster in the north of France. On the defeat of the Earl of Pembroke in 1372 the king designed to send him to the relief of Rochelle, but the plan came to nought and Rochelle was lost [see Battle of La Rochelle]. He took part in the abortive attempt that the king made in September to relieve Thouars. On 16 Feb. 1373 he was appointed commander of an expedition to guard the coast, and contracted to serve himself for six months with twenty knights, 279 esquires, and as many bowmen. Being joined by the admirals of the western and northern fleets, he sailed from Cornwall in March, and burnt seven Spanish ships in the port of St. Malo.

He thence sailed to Brest, and having received reinforcements from England, cruised about off the coasts of Normandy and Brittany. He was called to the relief of Brest, the garrison having given hostages to Du Guesclin, and promised to surrender to him on a certain day unless they were relieved by a force sufficient to meet him in the field. Salisbury landed his troops and sent a message to Du Guesclin bidding him either meet him or give up the hostages. The constable would not accept his challenge, and after the day fixed for the surrender had passed without his doing so, Salisbury reinforced and revictualled the place, and left it to return to his work of guarding the coasts. At the opening of parliament in November, the chancellor, Sir John Knyvet, spoke in strong terms of the success of this expedition.4

In February 1375 Salisbury was appointed joint-ambassador to attend the congress at Bruges, and in the following September was a joint-commissioner to treat of peace with France. He was made admiral of the western fleet in July 1376, but was relieved of that office in November. In the course of that year he was sent by the king to summon the king of Navarre to a conference.5 A French invasion being expected, he was ordered in March 1377 to go down to his estate in the Isle of Wight with all his household and such force as he could muster for the defence of the island.6 In April he was appointed joint-commissioner to treat with France, crossed the Channel and entered into negotiations, but was unable to obtain more than a month's truce.7

He returned to England in June about the time of the king's death,8 and in July received charge of the defence of the coasts of Hampshire and Dorset, and bore a royal vestment at the coronation of Richard II. Having entered into an engagement to serve abroad, he embarked with the Earl of Arundel and having reconnoitred, persuaded the inhabitants of Cherbourg to place their town in the hands of the English king. He was lying with his ships at Plymouth in June waiting for a wind to go to the relief of Brest and Hennebon, when Lancaster took command. He sailed with the duke as admiral. The expedition did not accomplish anything.

Having been made captain of Calais in February 1379, an office which he held until the following January, he went thither and made forays, bringing much cattle into the town. In September he was appointed chief commissioner to treat with France. When the revolt of the villeins [Peasants' Revolt] broke out in June 1381, he was with the king in the Tower of London; he counselled Richard to speak gently to the insurgents, and accompaned him from the Wardrobe to Smithfield, where he is said, after the death of Wat Tyler, to have commended the king's resolution not to take instant vengeance upon the rebels.9 He was in July appointed captain against the rebels in Somerset and Dorset.

In common with other lords he tried to make peace between Lancaster and Northumberland, who quarrelled violently in the presence of the council at Berkhampstead. In December he met the king's bride, Anne of Bohemia, at Gravelines, and escorted her to Calais. In 1385 he was made captain of the Isle of Wight for life, accompanied the king in his invasion of Scotland, and was the next year also summoned to serve against the Scots. He shared in the anger with which the lords generally regarded the elevation of Robert de Vere as Duke of Ireland, and in their dissatisfaction with the king's misgovernment, and is said to have joined the king's uncles in their resistance to the duke.10 In 1389 and 1392 he was appointed commissioner to treat with France, and in 1390 was employed in the march of Calais.

Having no son living, he sold the lordship of Man to William le Scrope of Bolton, afterwards Earl of Wiltshire, in 1393, together with the crown thereof; for it was the right of the island that the chief lord of it should be called king and should be crowned with a gold crown.11 Nevertheless he retained the title of Lord of Man until his death, using it in his will, dated 20 April 1397, by which he bequeathed five hundred marks to complete the buildings of Bisham priory, where he desired to be buried, and to make a tomb there for his father and mother, and another for himself and his son.12 He died on 3 June following, and was succeeded by his nephew John, third earl of Salisbury.

He was an active, valiant, and prudent man, and was skilled in war from his youth. After the declaration of the nullity of his marriage with Joan of Kent, he married Elizabeth, daughter of John de Mohun, ninth lord Mohun of Dunster, who survived him, and had by her Sir William Montacute and two daughters. Sir William, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Richard, earl of Arundel, was killed at a tilting at Windsor in 1383, by, it is said, his father; he left no issue.

1. Avesbury's Chronicle.
2. Fœdera, III. i. 483, 493.
3. ib. p. 638.
4. Rolls of Parliament, ii. 316.
5. Continuatio Eulogii, iii. 840.
6. Fœdera, III. ii. 1073.
7. ib. p. 1076; Chronicon Angliæ, p. 140.
8. Froissart's Chronicle, i. 709.
9. Froissart, ii. 164-63.
10. ib. pp. 606, 609, 622.
11. Annales Ricardi II, p. 157.
12. Dugdale's Baronage.


      Hunt, Rev. William. "Montacute or Montagu, William de."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol XXXVIII. Sidney Lee, Ed.
      New York: Macmillan and Co., 1894. 214-215.

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