Alphonso, Earl of Chester

Prince Alfonso is one of history’s ‘what ifs?’  He is a son of King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.  The couple had fourteen children though many did not survive infancy.  Alfonso was born on the 24 November 1273 in Bayonne (Gascony) as his parents journeyed home from crusade upon receiving the news that King Henry III was dead.  This made Alfonso the third male child of the couple to have survived into infancy and then childhood.


Sadly when his parents arrived home they discovered that his older brother Prince John had died in August 1271.  He was just six years old.  A year after Alfonso’s birth his remaining brother Henry also died.  Like John, he was six years old. Both died from unspecified illness.

So, Alfonso, named after Eleanor’s family, was heir to the throne.  Apparently he was lively, quick and intelligent.  His father created him Earl of Chester and planned a marriage that would enhance an English alliance against the French.  The illuminated page in this blog comes from the so-called Alphonso Psalter which was commissioned when Alphonso was to have been married to Margaret, daughter of Florent V, Count of Holland.  The coats of arms at the bottom of the page show the union of the two families.

The psalter is beautiful. It contains fantastical creatures such as griffins and mermaids as well as scenes from everyday life and biblical characters – like this letter depicting King David playing his harp.  Work soon came to a halt though.

On August 19 1284 the ten-year-old heir to the throne died at Windsor Castle.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

The psalter is in the British Library.  It was eventually completed thirteen years later when Alfonso’s sister Elizabeth married John I of Holland and Zealand – the brother of the girl Alphonso was to have married.

And as for the English crown?  Well, Edward I had only one more male heir – Edward of Caernarfon who is known in popular history as the king murdered with a red-hot poker.