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 Eleanor of Castile

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Melisende
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PostSubject: Eleanor of Castile   Sat Nov 01, 2008 2:30 pm

Eleanor of Castile and the "Eleanor Crosses"

"whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love"


Eleanor of Castile, daughter of King Ferdinand III of Castile (d.1252) was the wife and Queen of King Edward I of England (d.1307).

When the couple were married (1254), Eleanor brought a number of valuable lands with her – including territories of Ponthieu and Montreuil and claims to Gascony. Theirs, despite being a marriage arranged for political purposes, was an unusually happy marriage and 16 children were born unto them.

Eleanor accompany Edward on many his military campaigns – on Crusade (1270 – 1272), which according to legend she sucked the poison from a wound Edward received and thus saved his life; and on his campaigns north against the Scots.

It was whilst Edward was campaigning against the Scots (a task which would consume most of his later years) that he asked Eleanor to join him. However, Eleanor fell ill on the journey north - she wouldn't join Edward.

Eleanor died at Harby (28th November 1290). Edward was inconsolable in his grief. He ordered her body embalmed, and her viscera (entrails) buried at Lincoln Cathedral. Then, in what could only have been a most somber procession, led by Edward I himself, Eleanor’s body began her journey to Westminster Abbey.

At each place where the procession stopped for the night, Edward had built a memorial cross in her honour. There were 12 “Eleanor Crosses” - Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham, Westcheap, and Charing. In addition, Edward ordered that two wax candles were to burn beside her tomb – they were finally extinguished at the time of the Reformation.

The Crosses were erected over a period of three years (1291 – 1294) and follow the same style and form. They consist of three tiers – the upper tier consists of the cross and shaft; the middle tier is adorned with a statue of Queen Eleanor; and the lower tier is decorated with the arms of England, Leon, Castile and Ponthieu. The Crosses were originally brightly coloured, gilded, adorned with glass, and painted to look like enamel. In fact, they resembled precious jewelled reliquaries rather than solid stone structures. It was not the intention of the Crosses to make Eleanor appear as a saint; rather they were a memorial to her memory. Three men were responsible for the design and construction: Roger of Crundale, Master Alexander of Abingdon, and the senior royal mason Richard of Crundale.

The Crosses heralded a new period in the reign of Edward I – that of increased royal patronage. In the years following Eleanor’s death, Edward’s focus turned away from military events and focused on the religious. The Royal Palace, Westminster Abbey and St.Stephen’s Chapel received his attention.

Today only the crosses at Waltham Cross (Hertfordshire), Geddington, and Hardingstone (both Northamptonshire) remain – the majority of the Crosses were destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiers (1660).

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