Yorkshire’s Little Prince

Æthelread II (known to history as the Æthelread Unready)

It may come as no surprise that very few royals have been born in Yorkshire over the years. There was Ӕlfgifu of York, the first wife of Ӕthelred II (known to history as Ӕthelred the Unready). Ӕlfgifu was the daughter of the earl of Northumbria and the marriage was intended to strengthen the links between the north and south of England. Ӕlfgifu was the mother of, among others, Edmund II Ironside, and therefore the great-grandmother of Margaret of Wessex, (St Margaret) Queen of Scots as the wife of Malcolm III Canmor. Ӕlfgifu died before April 1002 when Ӕthelred II married his second wife, Emma of Normandy.

Another royal with links to Yorkshire was Henry I. The youngest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, Henry was the only king of England born in Yorkshire. Henry was born in Selby in the summer of 1068, whilst his father was in Yorkshire, stamping out rebellion and pursuing his Harrying of the North. He would seize the throne in 1100 following the death of his older brother, William II Rufus, in a hunting accident in the New Forest. In the same year, Henry would marry Edith of Scotland, who changed her name to Matilda on her marriage. As the daughter of Malcolm III and St Margaret, Edith/Matilda was herself a descendant of Ӕthelred II and Ӕlfgifu of York.

There is one other medieval royal born in Yorkshire, a little prince who spent his entire – though tragically short – life in our great county. William of Hatfield.

I read a book recently that mistakenly said William of Hatfield was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. I was amazed that the author wasn’t aware that he was actually born at the royal hunting lodge of Hatfield, near Doncaster. I thought everyone knew this! Then I realised that most people, when talking about royals and Hatfield, would automatically think of the Hertfordshire Hatfield. It was, after all, where Queen Elizabeth I was living when she was told that she was queen of England. It makes sense that most people would think of that Hatfield first.

But I’m a Yorkshire lass and, as I say, we don’t get many royals born up our way. So, I suppose, when we do, we know about them.

Monument to William of Hatfield, York Minster

William of Hatfield was the fourth child and second son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The king and queen were keeping Christmas at the manor of Hatfield, in the old West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1336, when Prince William was born. Hatfield was situated in the midst of the royal hunting grounds of Hatfield Chase and was close to the Earl Warenne’s hunting lodge of Peel Castle, Thorne. The young prince was baptised by William Melton, Archbishop of York, but died soon afterwards. After his death, the little prince’s body was transported a little further north, to York. On 10 February 1337, William was buried in York Minster, the church in which his parents had been married in January 1328. His short life memorialised by an elaborate tomb surmounted with his effigy and located in the north quire aisle of the Minster, though the site of his grave is now lost.

In 1345, the tragic little prince’s story was caught up in the marital affairs of John de Warenne, 7th and last earl of Warenne and Surrey. John had been married to a granddaughter of King Edward I, Joan of Bar, in 1306, when John was 20 years old and Joan a girl of 10. The marriage was a disaster, with John having a number of affairs and spending many years trying to obtain a divorce. In pursuit of this divorce, and in the hope of finally being able to marry his mistress of the time, Isabella Holland, John claimed that he had had an affair before marrying Joan, with his wife’s maternal aunt Mary of Woodstock, when he was 19 and Mary 27 years of age. This was indeed a drastic claim, as Mary had been a nun since she was about 7 years old, and it was probably born out of desperation; John was becoming increasingly infirm and still had no heir to succeed him. It was a last-ditch attempt to marry Isabella and have legitimate children. It failed, though the earl’s confession was presented to Pope Clement VI who,

on 15 May, 1345, issued a mandate to the Bishop of S. Asaph to absolve John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey and Stratherne, Lord of Bromfeld and Yale, from excommunication, which he has incurred by inter-marrying with Joan, daughter of Henry, Count de Barre, whose mother’s sister, Mary, he had carnally known. A penance is to be enjoined; and as to the marriage, canonical action is to be taken.

Calendar of Papal Registers, Papal Letters (p. 116) quoted in Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey’, p. 245
Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire

No further action seems to have been taken with regards to the marriage. John and Joan would remain husband and wife until John’s death at Conisbrough Castle at the end of June, 1347. John’s penance, however, appears to have been the generous donation of the manor of Hatfield to Roche Abbey:

1345. November 22. Westminster. Whereas the King’s kinsman, John de Warenna, Earl of Surrey, holds the manor of Haytfield for life of the grant of Edward II, with successive remainders to Maud de Neyrford for life, to John de Warenna her son, in tail male, to Thomas his brother, in tail male, and to the heirs of the body of the said earl, and reversion to the said King and his heirs, as in the letters patent is more fully contained; the earl has now made petition that – Whereas the said Maud is dead, and John son of Maud and Thomas have taken the religious habit in the Order of the Brethren of the Hospital of S. John of Jerusalem in England, at Clerkenwell, he may have licence to grant for his life to the abbot and convent of Roche, the advowson of the church of Haytfield, held in chief, which church is extended, of the value of 70 marks yearly; and the King has assented to his petition. Also, as a further grace, the King has granted that the abbot and convent shall retain in frankalmoign the said advowson, which should revert to him on the death of the earl; and may appropriate the church whenever they deem it expedient to do so, to find thirteen monks as chaplains to celebrate divine service daily for ever in the abbey for the King, Queen Philippa, and their children, and for the earl; also for the soul of William, the King’s son, who lately died in the said manor; also the souls of the progenitors of the King and of the earl.

Calendar of Papal Registers, Papal Letters (p. 116) quoted in Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey’, p. 246

It is touching that John’s penance also served as a means for the king and queen to remember their infant son, William, who had been born in late 1336 at the manor of Hatfield, Doncaster, and died there in early 1337.

The motte of Peel Castle, Thorne, near Doncaster

William had been born six years after his older brother Edward, known to history as the Black Prince. Edward who was their father Edward III’s heir, until his death in 1376, a year before the king. As a consequence, Edward III was succeeded by the Black Prince’s only surviving son by his wife, Joan of Kent, Richard II. It was the usurpation of Henry IV, who seized the crown from King Richard in 1399, that caused the fatal rivalry of the royal houses of Lancaster and York. Had William survived to adulthood, the story of England in the 15th century could have been very different; the rival houses of Lancaster and York were both descended from sons of Edward III who were younger than William. Had he lived, the Wars of the Roses may never have happened….



Courtesy of Wikipedia, except Peel Castle and Roche Abbey, which are © Sharon Bennett Connolly


The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net; Fairbank, F. Royston, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of hisPossessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX, (1907), pp. 193–266; Historic England, ‘Peel Hill Motte and Bailey Castle, Thorne’, historicengland.org.uk; ‘Peel Hill Motte’, http://historyofthorne.com/peel_hill.html


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8 thoughts on “Yorkshire’s Little Prince

  1. Kim Platon 26/12/2021 / 13:58

    Thank you, Sharon. I enjoyed this.

    On Sat, Dec 11, 2021, 4:23 AM History… the interesting bits! wrote:

    > Sharon Bennett Connolly posted: ” Æthelread II (known to history as the > Æthelread Unready) It may come as no surprise that very few royals have > been born in Yorkshire over the years. There was Ӕlfgifu of York, the first > wife of Ӕthelred II (known to history as Ӕthelred the Unready). Ӕ” >


  2. Peggy M Baker 05/12/2022 / 13:30

    Very interesting! Any thoughts about Edward of Middleham, Richard III’s boy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 05/12/2022 / 13:33

      I wish I knew, Peggy. He could be at Middleham, but I think he’s probably somewhere in York Minster…


      • Peggy M Baker 05/12/2022 / 14:12

        Agreed on the Minster burial … but how about qualifying as a royal born in Yorkshire?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sharon Bennett Connolly 05/12/2022 / 14:14

        Ooh, yes indeed. Good point. Though he wasn’t technically a prince when he was born – not until his dad became king. But, yes, I did totally forget about him. My bad!


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