Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rat bastard

When American actor Kevin Spacey was asked on Inside the Actor's Studio what his favorite curse word is, he blurted out, "Rat bastard!" William Longespée (c. 1176-1226), the illegitimate son of England's King Henry II, was just that. King Henry acknowledged his son, and when he reached the age of 20, Longespée's marriage to the Countess of Salisbury was arranged. The union landed him the title of the 3rd Earl of Salisbury, and the couple had 8 children. After a wavering military career, Longespée returned to Salisbury Castle and soon died. It was speculated that he had been poisoned - and the rumor was bolstered when his tomb in Salisbury Cathedral (1st image) was opened in 1791. Traces of arsenic were discovered in the body of a well-preserved rat found curled up inside the nobleman's skull. Arsenic was a preferred method of murder in the Middle Ages and was called "the poison of kings," in addition to having preservative properties. I have determined that Longespée's exhumation occurred when architect James Wyatt renovated the cathedral, but none of the accounts explains the presence of the rat. I take great pride, however, in bringing you - compliments of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum - a nice clear photograph of said creature (2nd image)!


  1. Ms. Quigley, you Rock Totally, Great post, and now I have another curse to use, with no deficiency of targets. Thanks!

  2. I just found out resently he was my ancestor....

  3. The perpetrator was rumored to be Hugh de Burgh, wasn't it over the Earldom of Salisbury? Read somewhere (but can't find now) that when Longspee went missing during a war, de Burgh tried to force marriage to Longspee's wife Ela (who held the title)trying to convince her that Longspee was dead. She held out and Longspee returned, but abruptly fell ill and died. Hence the poison rumor. But smart Ela became a nun, her son and heir died in war, so she retained the title until her death.


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