“Great Earl!” cried Randolph, “and do I really behold thee? Do I embrace the man, under whose command my last days of honourable war saw glory and victory? Hath my leader survived the dreadful night of tempest which dispersed our ships! He whom we imagined buried in the seas! Is he at length returned in safety? But why this garb? Are these wretched weeds, befitting the son on an illustrious monarch, the conqueror of Gascoigne, the glory of England? Thou art come, but not to peace and repose: danger, difficulty, and distress, are still prepared for that undaunted spirit!”
“Am I not in England?” replied the stranger. “Have I not, at length, happily escaped the insidious attempts of my enemies? What dangers have I now to fear? No, my dearest ELA! illustrious dame! tenderest wife! In thy arms shall I now forget my dangers. To thee I fly, to wipe away those tears, which burst forth at my departure, and must have flowed in full streams, during this melancholy interval of my absence. In thee and thy endearments shall all my future hopes be centred: and never, no, never more shall WILLIAM be deluded by the smiling promises of glory, to hazard the chance of arms!”
Published in 1762 – two years before The Castle Of Otranto – Thomas Leland’s Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury is often described as “the first true historical novel”…but it isn’t, not really. Curiously enough, very recently in a different context I had reason to try and define the difference between “an historical novel” and “an historical romance”, at least at it exists in my own mind, and this is exactly the issue here. The distinction is not a judgement call, in spite of that use of the r-word: unlike some (many?), I don’t happen to consider the term “romance” a pejorative. Rather, I tend to define an historical novel as a work that makes a genuine effort to engage with the past and to provide a context for real people and real events; whereas an historical romance uses the past chiefly as a colourful backdrop, even if it does feature real people and events.
As far as I have been able to determine, this novel belongs in the latter category—and in fact, Thomas Leland admits as much in his novel’s rather charming preface, which I am moved to quote in full:
The out-lines of the following story, and some of the incidents and more minute circumstances, are to be found in the antient English historians. If too great liberties have been taken in altering or enlarging their accounts, the reader who looks only for amusement will probably forgive it: the learned and critical (if this work should be honoured by such readers) will deem it a matter of too little consequence to call for the severity of their censure.—It is generally expected that pieces of this kind should convey some one useful moral: which moral, not always perhaps, the most valuable or refined, is sometimes made to float on the surface of the narrative; or is plucked up at proper intervals, and presented to the view of the reader, with great solemnity. But the author of these sheets hath too high an opinion of the judgement and penetration of his readers, to pursue this method. Although he cannot pretend to be very deep, yet he hopes to be clear. And if anything lies at the bottom, worth the picking up, it will be discovered without his direction.
In spite of the “liberties” for which the preface prepares us, the central characters of Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury are real enough. William Longsword (or Longespée) was an illegitimate son of Henry II—Leland assumes by the Fair Rosamond (who gets a tut-tut name-check), but in fact by Ida de Tosny, one of Henry’s royal wards; she was later safely married off to the Earl of Norfolk. Longsword rose to prominence under his half-brother, Richard the Lion-Heart; Richard married him to Ela, the daughter and heiress of the 2nd Earl of Salisbury, and granted him his father-in-law’s title. Longsword and Ela were major contributors to the re-building of Salisbury Cathedral, and his tomb and effigy may be found there today.
In the publisher’s series Bell’s Cathedrals, Gleeson White’s entry, The Cathedral Church Of Salisbury, presumably quoting those same “antient English historians” to whom Thomas Leland refers, has some things to say about the Earl himself and, more importantly, at least in the context of this novel, about the mysterious circumstances of his death:
On the Nativity of our Lord following, the King and his justice Hubert de Burgh came to Sarum on the day of the Holy Innocents, and there the King offered one gold ring with a precious stone called a ruby, one piece of silk, and one gold cup of the weight of ten marks; and when the mass was celebrated the King told the dean that he would have that stone which he had offered and the gold of the ring applied to adorn the text which the justice had before given; and then the justice caused the text which he had given to be brought and offered with great devotion on the altar.
On the 10th of January, 1226, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, returned from Gascoigne, where he had resided twelve months with Richard, the King’s brother, for the defence of Bordeaux (after three months on the channel between the Isle of Rhè and the coast of Cornwall, owing to the tempestuous weather, that so long delayed his landing), “and the said Earl came that day after nine o’clock to Sarum, where he was received with great joy, with a procession for the new fabric.” The scandalous account of his death (as given by Stow), which occurred at the castle of Old Sarum, on the 7th of March in the same year, and the part played in the transaction by Hubert de Burgh cannot be told here, beyond the fact that the justice was strongly suspected of poisoning him.
On the 8th of March, at the same hour of the day on which he had been received with great joy, he was brought to New Sarum with many tears and lamentations, and honourably buried in the new church of the Blessed Virgin. Matthew Paris gravely records that at his funeral, despite gusts of wind and rain, the candles furnished a continual light the whole of the way. Of all secular figures connected with this cathedral his is perhaps the most prominent, nor is his fame merely local. He was active in public affairs during the reign of King John, and one of the noticeable heroes in an expedition to the Holy Land in 1220, when, at the battle of Damietta, Matthew Paris tells us, he resisted the shock of the infidels like a wall. He fought both in Flanders and in France, was at his King’s side at Runnymede, and a witness to Magna Charta—a copy of which famous charter, made probably for his special use, is still preserved in the cathedral library.
(Matthew Paris was a 13th century Benedictine monk, a cartographer, an illuminator of manuscripts, and an historian—albeit not an entirely reliable one, apparently. John Stow was a 16th century antiquarian and historian.)
From this account, it will come as no great surprise that we find Hubert de Burgh playing the role of villain in Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury. De Burgh was another prominent figure at the time, effectively becoming Regent of England during the minority of Henry III, and created Earl of Kent and appointed Justiciar of England and Ireland after Henry’s coronation (though he later suffered a sharp falling out of favour). I have not been able to identify any particular reason why de Burgh should have murdered Longsword, if indeed he did. Other accounts explicitly contradict the suggestion, asserting that the two men were close comrades, and that Longsword’s death was the result of an illness contracted during his difficult journey back to England.
Thomas Leland gives us a lengthy (and mostly invented) account of Longsword’s adventures on the Isle of Rhè, where he is hunted by the forces of various French noblemen, but finds a lifelong friend in the form of a Frenchman named Les Roches, an honourable man in the service of dishonourable masters who recognises in Longsword a kindred spirit.
While this is going on, back in England Hubert de Burgh is taking advantage of Longsword’s absence and abusing his influence with the king not directly for his own gain, but for that of his nephew, Raymond, as part of a scheme for the general enrichment of his family.
It eventually falls to the unfortunate Sir Randolph to tell Longsword what has been going on:
“We all know with what uncontrouled power Hubert rules in the court of England: how his subtile arts of insinuation have penetrated into the inmost heart of our Henry; and now direct all its motions and designs. Already too dangerous, he seeks but to extend his influence and authority, and to heap wealth and honours on his family and dependents. These are his great purposes; and to these he sacrifices the reputation of his master, and the welfare of his country. To him was soon conveyed the false intelligence, that Earl William and his Knights, separated from our fleet in the tempestuous tumult, had perished in the deep. The King heard the tidings with kind concern, and paid just tribute of sorrow to his unhappy kinsman, and brave soldier. The crafty Hubert assumed the semblance of grief, whilst his soul was busy in contriving the means of turning this event to his own interested purposes. He seized the easy and complying moment, when the King lay most open to his influence: he represented the close alliance, in which Raymond stood to the illustrious house of Salisbury: he reminded him, that by the royal bounty, Lord William had obtained the heiress of that house with her possessions, and urged that the same royal bounty ought now to confer this gift on him, whom nature seemed to point out as the true inheritor. In a word, he asked this boon, that Raymond should be permitted to wed the Countess, now supposed a widow, and to enjoy her ample fortunes and her honours.”
Backed by his uncle’s authority and the king’s complacence, Raymond de Burgh has taken up residence at Salisbury Castle. Over time, he begins to replace Ela’s people with his own, progressively cutting her off from anyone she can rely upon for support and finally isolating her altogether. Rumours soon abound that he and Ela are betrothed: the people are surprised, even shocked, but see no reason to doubt it, particularly not in light of Raymond’s prolonged occupancy of the castle. Ela herself, increasingly desperate, tries every way she can think of to get a message out of the castle; and here Thomas Leland gives us a series of suspenseful scenes, as Ela tries to determine who, if anyone, she can trust, and as her chosen representatives try to find a way to elude the watchfulness of Raymond’s guards.
History has little to say about the real Raymond, or “Reymond”, de Burgh, but this novel presents him as weak, selfish and greedy, rather than actively evil. Though without his uncle’s craft, he is sufficiently lacking in morals to throw himself with fervour into Hubert’s scheme for his enrichment, his enthusiasm not one whit abated by the undisguised revulsion of Ela herself, as he variously tries wooing, coaxing, arguing, threatening, tricking and forcing her into marriage. The only thing that can be said in his defence is that he is genuinely smitten with the beautiful Ela—so much so that on occasion he hesitates to take decisive action against her: he would rather have a willing bride, if only that were possible. However, it is eventually made clear to him that it is not possible; and finally the reluctant Raymond is driven to compel Ela’s compliance by exploiting what he knows is her one weak point: she and Longsword have a young son…
Meanwhile, Longsword is making his way home to Salisbury Castle—not without a certain trepidation. There is a contrast, both amusing and exasperating, between how Longsword and Ela each receive the tidings of the other. Ela, for her part, simply refuses to believe that her husband is dead, and therefore treats Raymond’s courtship as an unmitigated insult:
“And dost though know me? Hast thou ever heard that the greatness of soul which hath invariably distinguished my long train of noble ancestry, is lost in me? One year hath not yet elapsed, since these arms embraced my honoured lord. But had the grave long since received him; had time dried up my widow’s tears, thinkest thou that the widow of a Plantagenet— But why talk I thus?—How knowest thou? What officious babbling slave hath flattered thee with the lying story that Lord William lives no longer; that the great light of England is extinguished, and that Raymond may now rise and shine?—It is false—I will not think it. Yet, yet will I hope for his return. Should he find thee here, (and this thy purpose) what could defend Lord Raymond from his resentment? Thou knowest the mighty spirit of Earl William. Fly this moment; and tempt not thy fate.”
Would that I could say that Longsword is worthy of his wife’s loyalty!—but when Sir Randolph, who has heard the disturbing rumours issuing from the castle, reluctantly explains the situation as he understands it, this is Longsword’s immediate reaction:
“Heavens!” exclaimed the Earl, “this man admitted to her bed!—Am I so soon forgotten? What? not a few months of sorrow?”
He pulls himself together moments later, telling himself sternly that it cannot be true, but clearly his doubts remain. Then, just as he is setting out from Sir Randolph’s estate, garbled word is brought that Ela has married Raymond. Immediately, Longsword begins planning a vengeful assault upon his former home:
“No,” cried the Earl, hastily interrupting him, “the attempt is not rash, nor the purpose desperate. What tho’ my wife hath so soon forgotten me? What tho’ the absence of a few months was too great for her impatience? What tho’ she hath accepted a second husband? Have my numerous dependents too been false? Have they forgotten me? No! let us collect them! let us fire their brave spirits to revenge their injured Lord; and let his fury fall with its due force upon this adulterous pair… Foolish and wretched is the man who builds his happiness on the frail and unstable affection of a woman. O my friend! how securely did I conceive our loves to have been founded! how firmly did her heart seem linked to mine!… And did our loves ever decrease? Was my heart ever estranged? Was it one moment seduced by any other object?—And yet, so soon to be forgotten! the false tidings of my death so eagerly received!”
In fact, what is going on at the castle is that Raymond, having gotten tired of waiting for Ela’s consent, has decided to go ahead without it, having found a monk not too scrupulous about the details:
He conjured the Countess by all her hopes of peace, all the tenderness she felt for her darling son, no longer to delay her own happiness; no longer to continue thus perversely insensible of his just pretensions to her love. He now stood before her, he declared, to claim those rights which the royal favour had conferred upon him; that neither his honour, nor his love, permitted him, any longer, to flatter her pride, or to indulge her weak scruples.—She fell upon her knees, and began to utter an earnest vow, that she never would accept his hand; but Raymond and his associates quickly intervened and raised her from the ground. Nor was her great spirit yet subdued by this rude violence: she turned upon them with looks of astonishment and disdain. Raymond entreated; Grey reproved; and Reginhald denounced the vengeance of heaven against her obstinacy… Raymond still held the hand of Ela; and the impious Monk, who had waited for the signal from Grey, suddenly began to pronounce the marriage rites; but was instantly interrupted by loud and piercing shrieks frequently and violently repeated both by the Countess and her attendant. The unhappy Lady could not long support this violent emotion; she sunk down upon her couch…
Sir Randolph manages to persuade Longsword that it’s really all Hubert de Burgh’s fault, and that he should carry his wrongs to the king, who is holding court at Marlborough. Longsword’s sudden resurrection is more embarrassing than gratifying to Henry, who is uneasily aware that he allowed himself to be overpersuaded by de Burgh. Hubert himself intervenes with a smooth explanation of the situation, insisting on the honourable nature of Raymond’s courtship, the loyalty of Ela’s steadfast refusal, and that in any case it was a condition of Henry’s consent that she should not in any way be coerced (which, to Henry’s credit, is actually true; the de Burghs have simply chosen to ignore the fact). This is on the outside; on the inside, de Burgh is seething with hatred and thwarted ambition, besides having a very good idea of the form that Raymond’s “honourable courtship” has taken:
Conscious of his own artifice and hypocrisy, he naturally suspected that readiness of belief, with which Salisbury seemed to yield to his declarations, as well as that sudden calm of peace and reconciliation, in which his fury appeared to subside. He had injured, and therefore hated him: he had affirmed boldly to divert the present storm; but, whether the Countess had already yielded to Raymond, or whether he had forcibly possessed himself of her bed, as yet he knew not…
Recognising that he must at all cost stop Longsword from reaching Salisbury Castle, de Burgh confers with the treacherous monk, Reginhald:
Reginhald, with an awkward and abject abasement, declared that he was totally unable to advise, but ready to follow the directions of Lord Hubert with implicit submission. The subtle courtier seized him by the hand, applauded his zeal, lavished the amplest promises upon him. “Be bold,” said he, “and be happy.—There is but one way— Let us prevent the attempts of our common enemy—by destroying him.”—Reginhald took fire at this proposal: he at once freely offered himself to be the agent, and seemed impatient to learn the means of executing a design so suited to a heart that never felt humanity or remorse.
Hubert hastily produced a phial filled with a deadly poison. “Behold,” said he, “the sure means of destroying our enemy. Let it be thy care to present Lord William with this fatal draught…”
Despite its title, the focus of Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury is Ela rather than her husband. Not without good reason is this novel commonly included on the timeline for the development of the Gothic novel: the middle section of the narrative describing Raymond’s persecution of Ela, even granting that it takes place under her own roof and in England, could be the template for any number of Gothic novels featuring besieged maidens and ruthless villains. No less than Emily St. Aubert is Ela, Countess of Salisbury, a victim; no less than Udolpho, situated high amongst the Pyrenees, is Ela’s own home of Salisbury Castle a prison. The difference is that Ela is no inexperienced girl, but a mature woman of dignity and courage. It is a measure of Thomas Leland’s skill that we fear for her every bit as much as for Emily; even more, perhaps, given that her situation is distressingly credible.
Two other aspects of this novel mark it as a progenitor of the Gothic proper. The spineless Raymond is the forefather of all those many villains who are “cowed” and “subdued” by the very virtues of their chosen victim. Left to himself, Raymond would have bailed on the plot against Ela—but of course he is not left to himself, but caught between the political scheming of his uncle and the desperation of his own minions, who are only too well aware that their own lives and fates hang in the balance with his, and so refuse to let him back out.
One of those minions, who soon breaks away into evil scheming on his own behalf, is Reginhald. Over the second half of Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury, the narrative is progressively dominated by the machinations of a figure that in time would become one of the defining tropes of the Gothic novel: the Wicked Monk. In the character of Reginhald, Thomas Leland may have made his most significant contribution to the evolution of this branch of fiction…even granting that, correctly enough in historical terms but somewhat joltingly even so, his “wicked monk” is English. In future years this stock character would of course be used to express English Protestant hostility towards “foreigners” in general and Catholics in particular; here, the same sentiment would seem to lurk behind the jaundiced eye which Thomas Leland casts over England’s own past.