6th March 1556 - Charles Lord Stourton is hung in Salisbury Market Square

Ghost Knight, by Cornela Funke

William Stourton was Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset. The Stourtons were an illustrious and privileged family. Botolph de Stourton had fiercely resisted William the Conqueror to the extent that the Norman had been forced to negotiate a settlement. Henry IV made Sir John Stourton a Lord in 1455. John Stourton’s great-great-grandson, Charles, was the seventh baron, and it was Charles who ‘sadly tarnished the family escutcheon[1]’.

Spoiler alert: If you’ve not read Cornelia Funke’s ‘Ghost Knight’ but you haven’t yet read it, you might want to ‘look away now’, as they say on the News[2]

In 1556, Stourton was found guilty of the murder of William and John Hartgill. William Hartgill was steward of the Stourton estate[3].

The Stourton’s had been quarreling with the Hartgills over land. It seems that Charles Stourton’s father, the sixth Baron, had been attempting to enclose land that was not his[4]. The Hartgills opposed him.

The Hartgills appealed to the Privy Council[5], who ruled in their favour.

After the death of the sixth Baron, the seventh Baron continued what had become a feud with the Hartgills. Stourton alleged they had been hunting on his land, and laid siege to William Hartgill at Kilmington church. Stourton shot Hartgill’s horse within sight of the old man.

John Hartgill had escaped to London and came back with the High Sheriff of Somerset and an order that Stourton should be arrested. He was taken to London and kept in the Fleet Prison.

On Stourton’s release he renewed the feud, physically attacking the Hartgills.

Stourton now came before the Star Chamber, another court, who found that “the matter appeared so heinously base on the Lord Stourton’s side, that he was fined in a certain sum, to be paid over to the Hartgills.[6]”.

Stourton arranged that he would compensate the Hartgills - fixing a meeting at Kilmington Church.

The meeting turned out to be an ambush. The Hartgills were imprisoned by Stourton and eventually murdered.

Stourton was tried and found guilty at Westminster Hall in London but executed in Salisbury Market Place. The Newgate Calendar says:

On the 2nd of March Lord Stourton and four of his servants rode from the Tower with Sir Robert Oxenbridge, the lieutenant, with certain of the guards, through London towards Salisbury. The first night they lay at Hounslow, the next day they went to Staines, thence to Basingstoke, and to Salisbury.

Lord Stourton was accordingly executed on the 6th of March, in the market place at Salisbury, and his four men in the country near the place where the murder was committed; and previous to his death he made great lamentation for his wilful and impious deeds[7].

Presumably because of Stourton’s social standing he was buried in Salisbury Cathedral. There is a legend that the silk noose was suspended over his tomb. The noose was removed in 1780, but its ghostly outline can still occasionally be seen[8].

Lord Stourton and Cornelia Funke’s Ghost Knight

Cornelia Funke made Lord Stourton one of the ghostly protagonists of her book ‘Ghost Knight’.

Cornelia Funke is perhaps most famous for her Inkheart trilogy. ‘Ghost Knight’ is a ghost story set in Salisbury.

Coincidentally, the other ghost-protagonist of the story, William Longspee, the ‘Ghost Knight’ himself, died on the 7th March, about 330 years earlier[9].

Image Credit

The picture is an advert for the excellent book ‘Ghost Knight’ by Cornelia Funke. The pic is an affiliate link to W H Smith, which means that if you click it and buy a copy I’ll get a commission.


[1] Walford, Edward, Tales of our great families, ‘The Bad Lord Stourton’, page 283. Link: Tales of our great families. 2d series : Walford, Edward, 1823-1897 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive

[2] Stourton is a significant character in Cornelia Funke’s book (which I’d recommend if you’re interested in Salisbury)

[3] Dorset Life Hinton St Mary

[4] This is what I understand from ‘Tales of Great Families’ as reference above

[5] The Privy Council in this context was acting like a court of law. It has other functions too

[6] Quoted in ‘Tales of our Great Families’


[8] The GhostHunter: Phantoms at Salisbury Cathedral

[9] 7th March 1226 – death of William Longspee « Salisbury, Wiltshire and Stonehenge