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Eleanor Crosses














Eleanor of Castile (c1240 - 1290 (50)) was the Queen Consort of the (most) powerful Plantagenet King Edward 1 of England ("Longshanks") (1239 - 1272 - 1307 (68)).  They were married as teenagers in October 1254 at the Cistercian Royal Abbey & Nunnery of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas, Burgos in Northern Spain and she had at least 15 children, most of whom died in childhood.   She was crowned with Edward in Westminater Abbey on Sunday 19 August 1274, not long after they had returned from one of the tail end crusades in 1270-72.


Eleanor of Castile was not your historically important figure, and indeed not that popular because of her insatiable desire to "buy" land without actually paying for it (though as a balance it was she, or rather her estate, and not her grieving king, who paid for her three tombs and 12 crosses). 


However, she left more visible and long lasting marks on England than other Queen Eleanors - her mother in-law Queen Eleanor of Provence (1217 - 1291 (73)) wife of Henry III (1207-1216-1272 (65)), and great great grandmother (and also great grandmother in-law - the continentals managed to slip in an extra generation), the amazing Queen Eleanor (Duchess of Aquitaine) (1122 - 1204 (82)) wife of King Henry II (1133-1154-1189 (56)) - because Queen Eleanor of Castile is the Eleanor of "Eleanor Crosses" fame.



Eleanor Cross, Geddington





Eleanor Crosses were stone crosses on large sculptured plinths (all with different designs) erected by command of Eleanor's grieving King Edward I (but paid for by her estate) at each of the overnight stops of her 1290 funeral procession from Harby  (near Lincoln) where she died, to Westminster. 


The stopping places were Lincoln (where her visceria were dropped off), Grantham, Stamford, GEDDINGTON, HARDINGSTONE (Northampton), Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, WALTHAM, West Cheap (= Cheapside), and Charing.  Crosses are still to be found at the places written in capital letters, the one at Geddington being by far the best preserved, most accessible and attractively situated.  Geddington was the only cross that had a triangular cross section, and this gave it a more elegant appearance than others like the octagonal affair at Hardingstone.


The Charing Cross cross (located in what is now Trafalgar Square) was demolished in 1647 on the orders of parliament.  A brass plaque marks its location.  It was (is?) the reference point for "distance to London" measures used on signposts.  The ever industrious Victorians built a replica cross (restored in 2010) near Charing Cross Station. 



Hardingstone Cross - Photo from Seyiaku


Hardingstone is not that far away from Geddington (a day's medieval funeral cortege progress away to be precise) but the cross is difficult to find being as how it is not in the village of Hardingstone itself but on the bank above the fast / no stopping dual carriageway drag "The Nene Valley Way" with no obvious access (probably need to get at it from the grounds of Delapré Abbey which is behind it).  Informed pub intelligence in the village revealed to team Paradox that the cross lost its top during a low flying incident in WW II, but others say it happened a few hundred years earlier before the Battle of Northampton on 10 July 1460, and pub intelligence completely fell over when it came to how to find her. 


If you are touring a bit further north, there is an exact copy of the Hardingstone Cross which was built in 1895 on a deserted country road near Sledmere, East Yorkshire.


The Waltham Cross (now pretty much entirely a replica) stands in the middle of a molto ordinario English post war shopping centre in the middle of the drab town of the same name which does not merit a visit (though the Norman nave of nearby Waltham Abbey and its little green man should not be missed).  The V & A has what is left of the original Waltham statues.


The remaining crosses were disappeared by O.Cromwell and others (including English Weather) over the centuries.  Some bits and pieces are in museums, including the British Museum (London), the Museum of London (Barbican) and the V & A.


The cross at Charing was located in today's Trafalgar Square.  There is a replica in the courtyard in front of Charing Cross Station.



Eleanor's tomb (effigy below and below) can be found in Westminster Abbey.  The bronze effigy was made by master William Torel, who actually made two - one for Westminster (body less heart) and one for Lincoln Cathedral (entrails, called a visceral tomb).  The original Lincoln bronze and tomb has gone (though it has has been replaced with a good copy), but the surviving Westminster bronze, cast in one piece, is now one of the earliest large scale bronzes in England.  It is recorded that 350 gold florins were purchased from the merchants of Lucca for the gilding. The tomb for Eleanor's heart was in Blackfriars but no longer exists. 



This photo comes from "Edward I - A Great and Terrible King" by Marc Morris - see right


Link to Westminster Abbey website - tombs of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile










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Vaguely "gilded" plaster cast copy of Eleanor's Westminster Abbey tomb effigy in the V & A.




Lincoln Cathedral - reconstruction of the visceral tomb and (gildingless) effigy of Queen Eleanor of Castile.

The coats of arms are England, Ponthieu and Leon-Castile.  Eleanor was the daughter of the first King to rule over both Leon and Castile.

She was also the great great grandaughter of her husband Edward's great grandmother - Eleanor of Aquitaine.



2011 photo of the gisant of Queen Eleanor of Castile in Lincoln Cathedral





Link to Geddington Village web pages




Opportunity for a pub lunch at The Star Inn, in the shadow of the Middle Ages.  This is far and away the best preserved, most accessible and attractively located of the three remaining Eleanor Crosses.

It was the only Eleanor Cross based on a triangular cross section.  It would for many years have been brightly painted.






Our thanks to Pam Hopkins for this snow-soft atmospheric view of Geddington in February 2009.







Beautiful detailing, including on this side the arms of Ponthieu and the lions and castles of Leon-Castile.  Eleanor's father Ferdinando was the first King of both Leon and Castile, and her mother was Countess of Ponthieu (in France) - a title that Eleanor inherited.  She was the great great grandaughter of her husband Edward's great grandmother - Eleanor of Aquitaine.




Leon Castile and England




There is also an interesting looking parish church (Saint Mary Magdalene, behind the camera position) but it's mostly locked.


Link to Geddington Village web pages









Arms of England and Leon-Castile



The Eleanor Cross at Waltham sits stoically in the middle of the molto ordanario and  molto molto drab shopping centre of Waltham Cross.  Hardly any of it is original, but in 2009 the remains of the original statues were in Room 24 of the V & A.


Nearby is Waltham Abbey.  In March 1540 this became the last abbey in England to be closed by Thomas Cromwell (the inventor of Parish Registers) and his boss Henry VIII.  The abbey church's original magnificent Norman nave, built as a "Becket penance", has survived as part of a parish church, and is well worth a visit.  Remember also to look for the "hidden" green man!









This life sized copy of the Hardingstone Cross (c1291) sits incongruously by a road near Sledmere in Yorkshire.   It was built there in 1895

and now doubles as a war memorial.  Enthusiastic Victorians built at least 3 other Eleanor Cross copies in the 1890s.  A recently restored Victorian period memorial in Ilam (Staffordshire Peak District) is based on the Hardingstone Eleanor Cross.  



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