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Portrait of John de Montagu or Montacute, 3rd Earl of Salisbury from BL MS Harley 1319.

John de Montacute, 3rd Earl of Salisbury (1350?-1400)

JOHN DE MONTACUTE or MONTAGU, third Earl of Salisbury (1350?-1400), son of Sir John de Montacute, younger brother of William de Montacute, second earl, a distinguished warrior, who was summoned to parliament as John de Montacute (1357-1389), and died in 1390, by Margaret, granddaughter and heiress of Ralph de Monthermer, by his son Thomas, was born about 1350.

While serving in France in 1369 he received knighthood from the Earl of Cambridge before Bourdeille, and highly distinguished himself at the taking of that town.1 Having on his father's death received livery of his lands, he obtained license in 1391 to go on a crusade into Prussia with ten horses and ten servants, apparently on the same expedition as that joined by the Earl of Derby [see under Henry IV], and in November was summoned to parliament as Baron de Montagu. He held a command in Ireland during the visit of Richard II to that country in 1394 and 1395.

For some years he had been known as one of the most prominent supporters of the lollards; he and others of his party attended their meetings armed, he kept a lollard priest as his chaplain, it was reported, though as it seems falsely, that he had dishonoured the host, and he had caused all the images in the chapel of his manor of Shenley, Hertfordshire, which had come to him by his wife, to be pulled down, only allowing the image of St. Catherine to be set up in his mill, on account of the popular reverence for it.2 Before Richard's return from Ireland he and other lords presented a bill in parliament containing a lollard attack on the church, and affixed the same to the doors of St. Paul's, London, and of Westminster Abbey. When the king came back he summoned John and the rest before him, and rated and threatened them.3

By the death of his mother he inherited the barony and estates of Monthermer, and received livery of her lands in this year [1395], when he appears as a member of the king's council.4 He advocated a peace with France and the king's marriage with Isabella of France, daughter of Charles VI, and was in France in 1396 when the king went over to marry that princess, and possibly earlier. While there he met with Christine de Pisan, gave her much encouragement, and took back with him to England a collection of her poems. The next year Christine sent her son to be educated in his household.5

On the death of his uncle, Earl William, in 1397, he succeeded to his lands and dignity as Earl of Salisbury. The part that he took with reference to the peace and the king's marriage secured him Richard's confidence, and he was a favourite with him and a prominent member of the court party. With the people at large, and specially with the Londoners, who were displeased at the peace and at the king's doings generally, he was unpopular. On one occasion he is represented as replying on behalf of the king to a deputation of London citizens, who had been stirred up by the Duke of Gloucester to inquire of the king concerning a rumour that he was about to surrender Calais.6

In common with other lords, he advised the arrest of Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick, and at a conference of the court party at Nottingham on 5 Aug. 1397 agreed to be one of eight lords who were to appeal them and others of treason in the coming parliament.7 The appeal was made on 21 Sept.,8 but Salisbury prevailed on the king to spare the life of Warwick, his former companion in arms.9 He received a part of Warwick's estates, and was made a knight of the Garter, having a grant of robes made him for the feast of the order on 23 April 1399.10 By the parliament of Shrewsbury, which in January 1398 made the king virtually absolute, Salisbury was appointed one of the committee for discharging the functions of parliament. In September he was made deputy-marshal of England for three years in the absence of the Duke of Surrey.

In December he was appointed joint ambassador to France, and, much against his will, received special orders to urge the king of France to prevent the marriage of Henry of Derby, duke of Hereford, to the daughter of the Duke of Berry. In this he was successful, and avoided seeing Henry, who was highly displeased at his conduct. He was much blamed for carrying the king's message. The Londoners, with whom Henry was popular, were specially incensed against him, and men said that he would rue the day when he consented to thwart Henry's wishes.11 On his return he with other lords assented to the repeal of the patent allowing Hereford to have control of his estates.12 In March 1399 he was appointed a commissioner to treat with the Scots.13

Earl of Salisbury arriving at Conway.

Salisbury accompanied the king to Ireland in May, and on the news of the landing and success of the Duke of Lancaster (Henry IV) reaching the king, was sent across to Wales to raise a force to oppose him. He landed at Conway, and sent messengers to call the forces of Wales and Chester to the king's help. The troops that he collected and those that the king brought over deserted, and Salisbury is said to have advised Richard to flee to Bordeaux. At Conway he was present at the interview between the king and the Earl of Northumberland. He accompanied Richard to Flint, and Henry, who met Richard there, refused to speak to Salisbury. He took leave of Richard at Chester, received a summons to attend parliament on 6 Oct., and was probably present at the proceedings connected with the accession of Henry IV.

On the 16th the commons petitioned that Richard's evil counsellors might be arrested. Lord Morley accused Salisbury of complicity in Gloucester's death, and challenged him to combat. Salisbury accepted the challenge, and was committed to the Tower. In common with the other surviving appellants of 1397, he was called upon to answer for his conduct, and pleaded that he had acted through fear. He was not included in the sentence pronounced on the rest on 3 Nov., but was left to prove his innocence by combat with Morley at Newcastle. The Londoners clamoured for his execution, but he was released from prison on the intercession of Henry's sister, Elizabeth, countess of Huntingdon, and the Earl of Kent became surety for him.

On 17 Dec. he met the Earls of Huntingdon, Kent, and Rutland [Edward of Norwich] at the abbot's house at Westminster, and entered into a conspiracy to surprise Henry at the jousts that were to be held at Windsor on Twelfth-day, and to restore Richard. According to arrangement he met his fellow-conspirators at Kingston on 4 Jan. 1400, but on reaching Windsor with Kent he found that the king, who had been warned of the plot, had gone to London. He and Kent, seeing that their plan had failed, rode to Reading, visited Queen Isabella at Souning, and tried to raise the people. The rebel leaders decided to retreat to the Welsh marches, and Salisbury led a body of their forces to Woodstock, where he was joined by Kent, and pressing on reached Cirencester on the night of the 6th, with greatly diminished numbers.

In the night the townsmen attacked the house where the rebel leaders lay; they were compelled to surrender on the following morning, and were lodged in the abbey. In the afternoon some houses in the town were set on fire, and a rescue was attempted. The mob rushed to the abbey and demanded the prisoners. Lord Berkeley [Thomas Berkeley, 5th Baron Berkeley], who had charge of them, was forced to give them up, and in the evening Salisbury, Kent, and Lumley [Ralph de Lumley, 1st Baron Lumley] were beheaded by the mob; Salisbury, 'the supporter of lollards, the despiser of images, and the mocker at the sacraments,' refusing, it is said, the rites of the church at his death.14 His head was sent to the king at Oxford, and was set on London Bridge; his body was buried at Cirencester Abbey, but his widow was allowed by Henry V to remove it to Bisham Priory, Berkshire, of which he was the hereditary patron.

Salisbury's lollardism and his attachment to Richard II account for the bitterness with which the English clerical chroniclers speak of him. He was brave, courteous, and loyal, a munificent patron of poets, and a poet himself, being the author of many 'beautiful ballads, songs, roundels, and lays.' None of his poems, which were doubtless written in French, are now known to be extant. They are noticed by Christine de Pisan and by Creton, who was a member of his household, and who writes of him in terms of the highest praise.15 It is evident that he loved French culture and manners, and his French sympathies made him one of Richard's most trusted counsellors during the latter part of that king's reign, led him to abet the king's attempt to establish an absolute sovereignty, and exposed him to the hatred of his own countrymen. He is represented in Shakespeare's play of 'Richard II.'

Salisbury married Maud, daughter of Sir Adam Francis, a citizen of London, and, already widow successively of John Aubrey, a citizen of London, and of Sir Alan Buxhull, K.G. (d. 1372). After Salisbury's death, his lands being forfeited by reason of attainder in 1400, his widow received from the crown a grant for life of the manors of Stokenham and Polehampton, Devonshire, for her maintenance. By her Salisbury had two sons; Thomas de Montacute, fourth earl of Salisbury of his house (1388-1428), and Richard, who left no issue, and three daughters: Anne, married, first Sir Richard Hankford, secondly Sir John Fitzlewes, and thirdly John Holland, duke of Exeter and earl of Huntingdon (1395-1447), and died in 1457; Margaret, married William, lord Ferrers of Groby (d. 1445); and Elizabeth, married Robert, lord Willoughby of Eresby (d. 1452).16 Salisbury's attainder was reversed on the accession of Edward IV in 1461.17

1. Froissart, Chronicles i. 582.
2. Walsingham, Historia, ii. 159; Ypodigma Neustriæ pp. 868, 390; Capgrave, Chronicle, p. 245.
3. Walsingham, Historia, ii. 217; Fox ap. English Chronicle, p. 112.
4. Proceedings of the Privy Council, i. 59.
5. Boivin, Vie de Cristine de Pisan ap Collection de meilleurs ouvrages françois, ii. 118, ed. Kéralio.
6. Froissart, iii. 289.
7. Annales Ricardi, p. 207; Chronique de la Traïson, pp. 6-9.
8. Rolls of Parliament, iii. 357.
9. Froissart, iii. 310.
10. Beltz, Order of the Garter, p. 362.
11. Froissart, iii. 334, 336.
12. Rolls of Parliament, iii. 372.
13. Fœdera, viii. 69.
14. Annales Ricardi Secundi, p. 326; the stories, in the Traïon, p. 88, that he fell fighting, and in Froissart, iii. 363, that he was beheaded by knights and esquires sent against the rebels by the king, are merely attempts to provide him with a more honourable end.
15. Boivin, Vie de Cristine de Pisan; Metrical History ap. Archæologia, vol. xx.
16. Dugdale, Baronage, p. 651.
17. Rolls of Parliament, v. 484.


      Hunt, Rev. William. "Montacute or Montagu, William de."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol XXXVIII. Sidney Lee, Ed.
      New York: Macmillan and Co., 1894. 205-207.

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
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Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
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Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
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William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
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Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
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Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
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