A short while ago I wrote about Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey and then her first husband, William of Blois (youngest son of King Stephen). So, I think it’s about time I finished the story by looking at Isabel’s second husband, Hamelin Plantagenet, the other 4th Earl of Surrey.
The illegitimate son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, Hamelin was born sometime around 1130, when Geoffrey was estranged from his wife, Empress Matilda. His mother was, possibly, Adelaide of Angers, though this is by no means certain. Geoffrey had a second illegitimate child, Emma, who was possibly Hamelin’s full sister. Emma married the Welsh prince, Davydd ap Owain of Gwynedd. Geoffrey of Anjou was the second husband to Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England and would be the mother of the future Henry II, Hamelin’s half-brother.
Hamelin was incredibly loyal to Henry and his marriage to an heiress was reward for his support, whilst at the same time giving him position and influence within England. Hamelin and Isabel married in April 1164, Hamelin even taking the de Warenne surname after the marriage; Isabel’s trousseau cost an impressive £41 10s 8d.
Hamelin became Earl of Surrey by right of his wife, though was more habitually called Earl Warenne. In some references, he is named as the 5th Earl of Surrey and in others the 4th: this confusion arises from the fact that the earldom belonged to his wife, Isabel, and her two husbands both held the earldom, sometimes being numbered the 4th and 5th earls to avoid confusion. They were, in fact, both, the 4th Earl of Surrey.
Hamelin supported his brother the king in the contest of wills that Henry was engaged in with his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. When Henry called for the archbishop to appear at a great council at Northampton Castle on 12 October 1164, to answer to the charges laid against him, Hamelin was at the trial and spoke in support of his brother. Indeed, the new earl and the archbishop appear to have started a war of words; Hamelin defended Henry’s dignity and called Becket a traitor. The archbishop’s retort was ‘Were I a knight instead of a priest, my fist would prove you a liar!’ Ironically, it is thought that Hamelin’s denunciation of Becket was motivated by the injury caused to the royal family in Becket’s refusal to allow Henry’s brother, William – Hamelin’s half-brother – to marry Isabel de Warenne; who was now Hamelin’s wife.
Hamelin’s animosity to Becket was not to survive the archbishop’s martyrdom and he actively participated in the cult that grew up around Thomas Becket after his violent death. In later life, the earl claimed that the cloth covering Becket’s tomb had cured his blindness, caused by a cataract, in one eye.
Hamelin was an influential and active member of the English barony. He supported Henry against his sons’ rebellion in 1173, and formed part of the entourage which escorted Princess Joanna (daughter of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine) to Sicily for her marriage to King William. Joanna’s escort was ordered not to return home until they had seen ‘the King of Sicily and Joanna crowned in wedlock’.
Hamelin remained close to the crown even after Henry’s death, supporting his nephew, Richard I. Hamelin was among the earls present at Richard’s first coronation in September 1189; and carried one of the three swords at his second coronation in April 1194.
During Richard’s absence on Crusade, Hamelin sided with the Regent, William Longchamp, against the intrigues of Richard’s brother John. Hamelin held great store in the rule of law, attested by the legend on his seal, ‘pro lege, per lege’. This adherence to the law explains Hamelin’s support for Longchamp against that of his own nephew, John, and even as the justiciar’s overzealous actions alienated others. Hamelin was one of only two magnates entrusted with the collection and storage of the king’s ransom, when he was held captive by Duke Leopold of Austria, appointed by Eleanor of Aquitaine; ; the other was William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel.
Hamelin’s involvement with the court continued into the reign of King John; he was present at John’s coronation and at Lincoln when William, King of Scots, gave his oath of homage in November 1200.
Away from court, Hamelin appears to have been an avid builder; he built a cylindrical keep at his manor of Mortemer in Normandy. He then constructed a larger and improved version, using all the latest techniques of castle design, at his manor of Conisbrough, South Yorkshire. He may also have been the one to build Peel Castle at Thorne, a hunting lodge which had a 3-sided donjon that was of smaller, but similar, design to Conisbrough.
He was also involved in a famous dispute with Hugh, abbot of Cluny, over the appointment of a new prior to Lewes priory. Abbot Hugh was known as a man of great piety and honour; he had been prior of Lewes but was elected as abbot of Reading in 1186 and became abbot of Cluny in 1199. In 1200, Abbot Hugh appointed one Alexander to the vacant position of prior of Lewes but Hamelin refused to accept the nomination. In establishing the priory at Lewes, the abbots of Cluny had apparently reserved the right to appoint the prior, and to admit all monks seeking entry into the order; however, Hamelin claimed that the patronage of the priory belonged to him, and it was his right to appoint the prior.
The dispute dragged on. It was only after intervention from King John that agreement was eventually reached whereby, should the position of prior become vacant, the earl and the monks should send representatives to the abbot, who would nominate two candidates, of whom the earl’s proctors should choose one to be appointed prior.
Hamelin and Isabel had four surviving children. Their son and heir, William, would become the 5th Earl of Surrey and married Matilda, daughter of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent of England during the minority of Henry III. There were also three daughters, Ela, Isabel and Matilda.
Ela married twice, firstly to a Robert de Newburn, of whom nothing else is known, and secondly to William Fitzwilliam of Sprotborough, a village just a few miles from Conisbrough. Isabel was married, firstly, to Robert de Lascy, who died in 1193, and secondly, no later than the spring of 1196, to Gilbert de Laigle, Lord of Pevensey.
Matilda, or Maud, married Henry, Count of Eu, who died around 1190; by Henry, she was the mother of Alice de Lusignan, who struggled to maintain her inheritance during the reign of King John. Matilda then married Henry d’Estouteville, a Norman lord. However, it was once thought that Matilda was the daughter of Hamelin by an earlier relationship, due to the supposed death date of Matilda’s husband, Henry, Count of Eu. This was due to the mistaken belief that Henry had died in 1172, which would mean that Matilda could not have been a daughter of the marriage of Isabel and Hamelin, who were married in 1164, as she would have been too young to have married and borne children with Henry. The Chronicle of the Counts of Eu records Henry’s death as 1183, which also appears to be an error as Henry was assessed for scutage for Wales at Michaelmas 1190; with this later death date it was entirely possible, and indeed likely, that Matilda was the legitimate daughter of both Hamelin and Countess Isabel.
One of the daughters – although it is not clear which – bore an illegitimate son, Richard Fitzroy, Baron Chilham, who was born, possibly, around 1190, by her cousin, John (the future King John).
Hamelin spent a lot of time and money on Conisbrough Castle, which took almost 10 years to complete, and it appears to have been a favourite family residence. King John visited him there in 1201, and two of Hamelin’s daughters married landowners from the nearby manors of Tickhill and Sprotborough. His son, William de Wareene, the 5th earl, would complete the castle rebuilding the curtain wall in stone.
Hamelin died on 7th May 1202, in his early 70s and was buried in the chapter house at Lewes Priory, in Sussex; Isabel died the following year and was buried alongside him.
Further reading: East Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, edited by William Farrer & Charles Travis Clay; Britain’s Royal Families and Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir; The Plantagenets: the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones.
Photos: The de Warenne arms, Conisbrough Castle, Peel Castle and Lewes Priory ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.
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Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, Amazon, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.
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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly