Hamelin was an illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou born in approximately 1129, so half-brother of Henry II. He was married by order of the king to Isabella de Warenne, in her own right Countess of Surrey. She was the only surviving child of the third earl who’d died whilst he was on crusade. He first husband was the fourth earl. It just so happened that Isabelle’s husband was King Stephen’s son William of Blois – a real strategy to bring all that lovely land and loot into the family orbit. William must have been quite happy with the arrangement because he didn’t bat an eyelid when his father disinherits shim and made Henry Fitzempress, the son of his cousin Matilda, the heir to the throne and in so doing brought the years of anarchy and civil war to a conclusion. William who was several years younger than Isabel served Henry II until his death in 1159.
Henry II cast his eyes over all of Isabel’s considerable charms (that’ll be all those Yorkshire estates) and decided that they ought to be kept in the family. Enter Hamelin. After the marriage, in 1164, he was recognized as Earl of Warenne – or the fifth Earl of Surrey. Hamelin, unusually, took the name of his wealthy bride. Hamelin remained loyal throughout his life to his brother even though ultimately he did not agree with the end that befell Thomas Becket especially as he came to believe in the archbishop’s saintliness. He was supposed to have been cured of an eye problem by the cleric. He went with his niece Joan to Sicily when she married its king and his nephew, Richard the Lionheart, recognised his uncle’s trustworthiness when he became co-regent with William Longchamp whilst Richard was away on crusade and then found himself having to count the gold in order to ransom his nephew from the clutches of his enemies.
The de Warenne’s held lands across Yorkshire and it was Hamelin who built Conisborough Castle near Doncaster around about 1180.
His eldest son, William went on to marry William Marshal’s daughter Matilda who was at that time the widow of Hugh Bigod. One of Hamelin and Isabella’s daughter apparently got a little too close for comfort to her royal cousin Prince John, who had a reputation for liking the ladies, and bore him a child.
Sybilla of Conversano, daughter of Geoffrey of Brindisi, was rather younger than her husband – Robert, Duke of Normandy a.k.a. Curthose pictured left. Chroniclers waxed lyrical about her intelligence, virtue and her beauty. She is even purported to have sucked the poison from a poisoned arrow, or something of that ilk, that had wounded and threatened to kill her stout spouse. I note that his effigy makes him fetchingly lean as well as demonstrating a pressing need to avail himself of the facilities…sorry, shouldn’t joke. The crossed legs are a reminder of the fact that Robert has been on crusade.
Apparently he met her on his way to the First Crusade. Obviously she made quite an impression on him because he married her on the way home. Clearly being a Duke meant you couldn’t sit around at home admiring your beautiful young bride and besides which he was a bit peeved because he’d already missed out on the English crown to his younger brother William Rufus. Whilst he’d been away William had a nasty accident with an arrow and his even younger brother Henry had snitched the crown to become King Henry I. Robert had already tried to take the crown from William and now he felt honour bound to have a go at the next brother (I should imagine the royal nursery was a cheery place during their infancies!)
Sybilla proved herself to be an effective agent on her husand’s behalf in his absence. Robert of Torigny even said that she did a better job than the Duke. What more could a Duke want of a wife? Just one thing – sons. Sybilla duly obliged and produced William known as Clito which translates as something similar to ‘Atheling’ or ‘heir.’
A few months later, in 1103, she died at Rouen. There’s nothing like a happy ending and this is nothing like a happy ending. History does not know what carried Sybilla off. William of Malmesbury blamed a midwife for binding her breasts too tightly. It could just have likely been a complication of childbirth but rumour was quick to blame Robert’s mistress. Robert of Torigny who was clearly one of Sybilla’s fans blamed the mistress as did the Orderic Vitalis who pointed a finger at Agnes Gifford who’d been widowed for about a year and was looking for another spouse – if she had arranged for her arrival to exit stage left she was to be sadly disappointed as Robert found himself rather occupied with keeping his kingdom for himself.
The County History of Hampshire declares that:
Mary, daughter of King Stephen, became abbess here (of Romsey) about 1160, and it was her uncle, Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester (1129-71), who was probably the builder of the greater part of Romsey Abbey as it now stands. Abbess Mary in 1160 left her monastery to become the wife of Matthew, son of Theodoric, Earl of Flanders. By him she had two daughters, but was afterwards separated from her husband. According to Matthew Paris this separation was brought about by the censure of the Church, and she returned in penitence to Romsey.
The Victorian writer of the County History was being a tad on the coy side in his description of Mary’s departure from Romsey. She was abducted by her distant cousin Matthew who was also a cousin of Henry II. She’d been a nun for over a decade, and had been the abbess since 1155, when her brother, William of Boulogne, died. He’d been married to Isabella de Warenne who ended up married to Henry II’s illegitimate half-brother Hamlyn. Unfortunately Mary’s other brother Eustace was also dead. This meant that the abbess became a very wealthy countess and it’s a well-known fact that being an unmarried countess makes you fair game even, apparently, if you’re living a cloistered life at the time.
Pope Alexander III was not amused. Letters were exchanged. Meanwhile Matthew became the Count of Boulogne and two daughters, Ida and Mathilde, were born from the union. Mary was eventually able to return to the monastic life when the Catholic Church annulled her marriage.
Once again history does not provide us with the complete truth of proceedings let alone Mary’s view of events and it certainly doesn’t provide us with a picture of the unfortunate abbess for which reason this post has an image of Mary’s father King Stephen. Mary’s mother was Mathilde of Boulogne from when the title that caused all the problems originated.