The Funeral Route
The road system in England in the 13th Century had not changed significantly since Roman times. The countryside was heavily forested and robbers were a constant problem. In winter the roads would have been muddy and rutted, often dangerously so.
Travellers journeying long distances in England would still rely on the old Roman Roads notably, Watling Street, The Icknield Way and, Ermine Street.
The West Doors of Lincoln Cathedral were opened on the 3rd December 1290 for the procession to start its epic journey to London and it was a daunting task that awaited them.
However at least Lincoln stood on Ermine Street a major Roman Road joining York with London and kept in a good repair as any at that time. It would have been raised by the Roman road builders to avoid the flooding prevalent due to lack of drainage.
Therefore at least the route was a simple process of following it into London. Except this is not what King Edward intended.
At Stamford the procession turned off Ermine Street and headed for Northampton joining up with Watling Street at Stony Stratford. At St Albans the procession left Watling Street and headed for Hertford and on to Waltham Abbey finally rejoining Ermine Street to enter London via Bishopsgate.
The reason for this route selection is unknown enabling it to be a cause of speculation by historians. Some advocate that Ermine Street passed too close to the Fens and was subject to flooding which demanded a detour. Others assert that the route was carefully planned so that it passed the places closely associated with Eleanor.
The known facts are:
- The first detour away from Ermine Street was to Grantham for the first overnight stop instead of the more convenient Ancaster. Eleanor was Dowager of Grantham (as she was of Stamford). This suggests that the intention of the route was to visit places of particular significance to Eleanor.
- Geddington was the site of a royal hunting lodge and Edward and Eleanor were there in the August before her death. Eleanor seemed particularly attached to Geddington.
- Edward and Eleanor had a suite of rooms at Northampton Castle. She was particularly fond of the Abbey of Delapre.
- It is unlikely that the journey took a route via Stony Stratford to avoid the Fens as Stony Stratford was a known flooding area in the winter.
- The only reason for leaving Watling Street to stay at Woburn can only be to get to The Cistercian Abbey as the procession had to return to Watling Street.
- Dunstable Priory, St Albans Abbey and Waltham Abbey were the great centres of learning and religion in the South of England.
These facts suggest that the route of the journey was not an haphazard affair dictated by weather conditions but a well planned route of great significance. Indeed, a religious endeavour to visit the major religious institutions of the day allowing for a vigil to be held.
To support this religious endeavour twelve crosses were built with the primary purpose of allowing the most number of people to pray for her soul as it past through purgatory according to the beliefs of the day.