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The tragic 19 August 1284

August 19, 2014

On 19 August 1284 Edward I and Eleanor of Castile were at the emerging castle of Caernarfon, doubtless celebrating the tenth anniversary of their splendid coronation.  Everything was as good as it could possibly be.  They had returned to England as triumphant crusaders and had emphatically added to their laurels by the conquest of Wales.  They had just celebrated that victory with a marvellous tournament with Arthurian overtones at Nefyn, and explored the Lleyn peninsula.  Good marriages were in the pipeline for their bevy of daughters, and since April, they even had an heir and a spare: their promising eldest son, Alphonso, had been supplemented by baby Edward.

What they didn't know as they celebrated was that on that same day Alphonso, nearing his eleventh birthday, had died at Windsor Castle.

Indubitably this was a massive blow to his parents - Alphonso, born on the way home from crusade, had seen more of them than any of his siblings, and was just starting to emerge into public view.  He had, for example, presented the Crown of the Welsh princes (also known as the reputed crown of King Arthur) at Westminster Abbey. He appeared to share interests with both of his parents - hunting, and reading are evidenced in the Alphonso Psalter which Eleanor commissioned for his planned marriage.

For England it may have been a still greater blow.  Alphonso seems to have impressed the dour Archbishop Pecham, who called him "the hope of us all".  His replacement, Edward of Caernarfon, the future Edward II was singularly unsuited to kingship, as the tumultuous history of his reign shows.

Alphonso, who might have earned the epithet "Wise", which his godfather and namesake is often given, remains instead a lost chance - possibly pictured here playing, in the psalter ...

Image copyright British Library.  The full psalter can be viewed online at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_24686

 

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