Ela of Salisbury
|suo jure Countess of Salisbury|
Amesbury, Wiltshire, England
|Died||24 August 1261 (aged 73–74)|
Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
|Noble family||de Salisbury|
| William II Longespée |
Nicholas Longespée, Bishop of Salisbury
|Father||William FitzPatrick, 2nd Earl of Salisbury|
|Mother||Eléonore de Vitré|
Ela of Salisbury, 3rd Countess of Salisbury (1187 –24 August 1261) was an English peeress. She succeeded to the title in her own right in 1196 upon the death of her father, William FitzPatrick, 2nd Earl of Salisbury. 
Ela married William Longespée, an illegitimate half-brother of kings Richard I and John, who thus became Earl of Salisbury, in 1196. Ela held the post of High Sheriff of Wiltshire for two years after William's death, then became a nun, and eventually Abbess of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, which she had founded in 1229.
Ela was born in Amesbury, Wiltshire in 1187, the only child and heiress of William FitzPatrick, 2nd Earl of Salisbury, Sheriff of Wiltshire and Eléonore de Vitré (c. 1164–1232/1233). [Note 1] In 1196, she succeeded her father as suo jure 3rd Countess of Salisbury. There is a story that immediately following her father's death she was imprisoned in a castle in Normandy by one of her paternal uncles who wished to take her title and enormous wealth for himself. According to the legend, Ela was eventually rescued by William Talbot, a knight who had gone to France where he sang ballads under windows in all the castles of Normandy until he received a response from Ela.  [Note 2]
In 1198, Ela's mother married her fourth husband, Gilbert de Malesmains.
In 1196, the same year she became countess and inherited her father's numerous estates, Ela married William Longespée, an illegitimate son of King Henry II, by his mistress Ida de Tosny. [Note 3]
The couple had been betrothed earlier but Ela was the King's ward until she reached the age of majority. William was approximately 13 years older than Ela.  After the marriage, Longespée became 3rd Earl of Salisbury by right of his wife. The Continuator of Florence recorded that their marriage had been arranged by King Richard I, who was William's legitimate half-brother. 
Together William and Ela had at least eight or possibly nine children:
In 1225, Ela's husband William was shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany, upon returning from Gascony. He spent months recovering at a monastery on the Island of Ré in France. He died at Salisbury Castle on 7 March 1226 just days after arriving in England. Ela inherited the post of Sheriff of Wiltshire and held that position for two years following her husband's death.  She never remarried; some historians suggest that she did not remarry because her new husband would have become the Earl and she wanted that role reserved for her eldest son. 
Three years later in 1229, Ela founded Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire as a nunnery of the Augustinian order. In 1238, she gave up all rights to the county of Wiltshire.  She entered the abbey as a nun; she was made Abbess of Lacock in 1240, and held the post until 1257. The Book of Lacock recorded that Ela founded the monasteries at Lacock and Hinton in Somerset (Hinton Charterhouse).   During her tenure as abbess, Ela obtained many rights for the abbey and village of Lacock. She gave up that role in 1243 due to age and health issues. 
Ela died on 24 August 1261 and was buried in Lacock Abbey. The inscription on her tombstone, written in Latin, reads:
Below lie buried the bones of the venerable Ela, who gave this sacred house as a home for the nuns. She also had lived here as holy abbess and Countess of Salisbury, full of good works 
Ela has been described as having been "one of the two towering female figures of the mid-13th century", the other one being Margaret de Quincy, Countess of Lincoln. 
Lacock Abbey in the village of Lacock, Wiltshire, England, was founded in the early 13th century by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as a nunnery of the Augustinian order. The abbey remained a nunnery until the suppression of Roman Catholic institutions in England in the 16th century; it was then sold to Sir William Sharington who converted the convent into a residence where he and his family lived. It was fortified and remained loyal to the crown during the English Civil War, but surrendered to the Parliamentary forces once Devizes had fallen in 1645.
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