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Prince William of Hatfield – York Minster’s only Royal tomb

You would think that Northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral and England’s second most important religious building would be home to a number of royal tombs, but this isn’t the case.

When Richard III’s remains were found beneath a car park in Leicester, there was an attempt by York to bury the last Yorkist monarch and the last king to be killed in battle at York Minster, but there was no way Leicester cathedral were going to give the opportunity up to bury him in the Midlands!

Only one King was ever born in Yorkshire and that was back in in 1068, two years after the Norman Conquest, when William the Conqueror was pursuing his Harrying of the North campaign. Whilst up in Yorkshire, William’s wife Matilda of Flanders gave birth to their son Henry in Selby.

Henry finally became King after his brother (William II) was killed in a hunting accident -becoming King Henry I. But when Henry I died in France (from eating too many lampreys apparently!) his body was brought back to England and he was buried in Reading Abbey.

So York Minster is left with just one royal tomb which is a little known Prince who was born in Yorkshire. The Tomb in the North Quire Aisle can often be missed but the tomb of Prince William of Hatfield is one of York Minster’s most important monuments.

So who was Prince William of Hatfield?

Firstly in case you are confused, the Hatfield we are talking about was Hatfiled near Doncaster and not the one in Hertfordshire where Queen Elizabeth I was told she was Queen of England.

Prince William was actually the second child of Edward III and his French wife Philippa of Hainault. They were taking Christmas in the Manor of Hatfield which then was in the old West Riding of Yorkshire. At the time there was a Royal hunting forest of Hatfield Chase which was one of the reasons Edward was in the area.

His son was actually born in December 1336 and baptised by William Melton the Archbishop of York. Sadly just 2 months later in February 1337 the young Prince died.

William has been born 6 years after his older brother Edward – a brave warrior who had many successes in battle against the French, gaining the nick name The Black Prince.

His body was taken to York Minster, where his parents had been married in 1328 and was buried beneath an understated tomb.

Image below right by Charles Alfred Stothard - 1876 Monumental Effigies of Great Britain

The strange thing about this tomb and its alabaster effigy is that although the boy was only a baby when he died, the tomb shows his effigy as an elegantly dressed young man.

During medieval times deceased children were rarely shown on tombs and no matter what age they died they would be shown as young adults. The idea was of showing what they might have been. Also during medieval times they liked to show what people believed was the perfect age of Christ that the blessed would attain in heaven.

The effigy is lying down and dates to a period when it was fashionable to show sculptured and painted recumbent figures in remembrance of the deceased.

There is a lion by his feet, one of the creatures on the English coat of arms and a symbol which features on many English royal tombs.

The red paint effect behind the niche shows gold broom branches. The reason for this is that broom featured on the family badge of the Plantagenets. The actual word plantagenet comes from plnata genista – the Latin for yellow bloom flower.

Either side of the tomb there is some heraldry, on one side the royal 3 lions relating to Edward III and the fleur de lys of France for Phillipa of Hainault.

The tomb has been moved a number of times over the years and has been at its present location in York Minster since 1979. It is actually thought from looking at old plans that the tomb has now come back to its original position.

So next time you visit York Minster, look out for York Minster’s only Royal tomb and pay your respects to the child prince.

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