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Bisham Priory as depicted in the Earldom of Salisbury Roll 1463Bisham Priory
Montacute Mausoleum

The manor of Bisham, anciently Bisteham or Bustleham, in Berkshire was given by William the Conqueror to Henry De Ferrers, whose grandson, Robert, Earl Ferrers, gave it, in the reign of King Stephen to the Knights Templars, who are said to have had a preceptory there. After the suppression of that order, it was successively in the possession of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, Hugh Le Despenser and Eubulo L'Estrange. In 1335, it was granted, by King Edward III, to William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, who, two years afterwards, procured a Royal licence for the founding of a priory at Bisham, endowing it with lands of £300 per annum. It did not become an abbey until shortly before the dissolution.

Within the walls of this convent were interred William, Earl of Salisbury, son of the founder, who distinguished himself at the battle of Poitiers; John, Earl of Salisbury, who, confederating against King Henry IV, was slain at Cirencester in 1401; Thomas, Earl of Salisbury, the famous hero of Henry V's reign, who lost his life at the Siege of Orleans in 1428; Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, who was beheaded at Pontefract in 1460, for his adherence to the House of York; Richard Neville, the great Earl of Warwick & Salisbury, and his brother John, Marquis of Montague, who both fell at the Battle of Barnet in 1470; and the unfortunate Prince Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of the Duke of Clarence, who, bred from his cradle in prison, was beheaded in 1499 for attempting to taste the sweets of liberty. Most of the above-mentioned illustrious characters had splendid monuments in the conventual church; but these were all destroyed after the dissolution of the abbey, without regard to the rank or famed exploits of the deceased -  not even excepting the tomb of Salisbury, "the mirror of all martial men, who in thirteen battles overcame and first trained Henry V to the wars."

According to tradition, when the founder, was going to the Crusades, he came with all his train for last prayers at the abbey he had founded; and his daughter, then at the convent at Marlow, came hither with all her nuns to meet him. A squire who had been in love with her before, seized the opportunity for elopement and they escaped in a boat, but were retaken at Marlow. She was sent back to her convent and he was shut up in the tower, whence he tried to escape by means of a rope, which he made from his clothes torn into shreds. The rope broke and he was dreadfully injured and was taken into the abbey, where he afterwards became a monk.

The monuments of the Salisburys are said to have been removed to the  hall of the manor at the dissolution, but they couldnít have stayed there long. Only one has survived (see below). The following were buried at Bisham Priory:

  • William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury & 3rd Baron Montacute, d. 1344 &

  • Katherine, his wife & daughter of Sir William Grandisson

  • William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury, d. 1397

  • William, d. 1379/83, son of William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury

  • John Montacute, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, d. 1400 &

  • Maud, his wife & daughter of Sir Adam Francis

  • Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury, d. 1428 & his two wives. He and his three-tier monument (as described in his will) can be seen depicted in Bisham Churchís east window.

  • Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, d. 1460 & His effigial monument, for some unknown reason, can be seen preserved in Burghfield Parish Church.

  • Alice, d. 1462, his wife & daughter of Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury.

  • Sir Thomas, d. 1460, son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury

  • John Neville, d. 1471, Marquis of Montague & Earl of Northumberland

  • Richard Neville "Warwick the Kingmaker", d. 1471, 6th Earl of Salisbury & 16th Earl of Warwick

  • Prince Edward, 8th Earl of Salisbury & 18th Earl of Warwick, d. 1499, son of Prince George, Duke of Clarence

  • Arthur Pole, son of Richard Pole & Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, apparently d.1535.

Edited from John Timbs & Alexander Gunn's "Abbeys, Castles & Ancient Halls of England & Wales" (1872) 

    © Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.