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.
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.