For the Love of Eleanor
Following the funeral of his wife Queen Eleanor Castile in Westminster Abbey on the 17th December 1290, King Edward 1 retreated to Ashridge, a religious house in Hertfordshire. From there he wrote to the Abbot of Cluny in France, referring to Queen Eleanor "whom in life we dearly cherished and whom in death we cannot cease to love".
Eleanor died, age 49, at Harby on the 28th November 1290. She fell ill at the autumn parliament at Clipstone Nottinghamshire probably from malarial fever she contracted in Gascony. It was decided to travel to Lincoln but on the 20th November the party was forced to stop at Harby at the home of Richard de Weston.
Much has been written about the the Queen's unpopularity and the reasons for this. It appears that King Edward primarily sought to make amends by carrying out Eleanor's dying wishes to reverse her injustices. Also to restore her reputation by ordering funeral arrangements unequalled in English history.
Eleanor's body was embalmed and the viscera entombed in the Angel Choir (Edward and Eleanor had presided over the consecration of this chapel 10 years earlier). The tomb that can be seen today is a relica the original having been destroyed in the 17th century.
A funeral procession set out from the West Door of Lincoln Cathedral on the 3rd December allowing monks to pray for her soul at each of the overnight stops. On arrival in London the procession stayed overnight at the Dominican Monastery at Blackfriars where her heart was entombed with the body of their first surviving son Alphonso who had died aged 10 and, finally to Westminster Abbey where the original tomb still exists in the St. Edward the Confessor Chapel.
In addition to the three tombs Edward commissioned twelve memorial crosses to be built where the body "rested". The primary purpose of these crosses was that they be sited at a place where the most number of people would pray for her soul passing through purgatory. To this end it was recorded by the Chronicler of Dunstable Priory that "rested" meant taking the body off the brier and placing it on the ground at the chosen site.
The site of the crosses are sometimes close to the place that the body laid overnight (e.g. Dunstable where the priory overlooked the central cross roads in the town and Geddington where the cross is in the middle of the village near to the church). Other crosses are some distance from the religious institution where the body laid overnight (e.g. Waltham Cross which is over one mile from the Abbey and Charing Cross which is 0.5 miles from Westminster Abbey.
It would be easy to assume that King Edward's reason for the lavish funeral arrangements was solely political, but we must come back to the scene described at the beginning of this section; King Edward spending Christmas alone in retreat at Ashridge. A King griefing for his Queen with whom he had been almost inseparable for 36 years of marriage.