On the death of his long time wife, Eleanor of Castile, at Harby in Nottinghamshire, close to the city of Lincoln, in 1290, King Edward I, commonly known as Edward Longshanks due to his tall statue for the time, was grief stricken and distraught and spoke of his “Queen of Good Memory” as he referred to her thus: “whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love”.
Edward married, a prearranged marriage, Eleanor when she was 13 in 1254 and over the next 36 years the couple appear to have grown very close, a closeness that produced 16 off-spring. Of the 16 children only five lived to adulthood with the 16th being the only son so to do. By virtue of this he became Edward II. Unlike most medieval kings Edward I had no known bastard children or mistresses.
Very little is known of Eleanor, women of the day, even Queens, were not considered to be terribly important.
On her death Edward had Eleanor’s body embalmed and dissected at the Priory of St Catherine with her viscera (stomach and guts) buried in Lincoln and the rest of her body returned to London.
The lavish procession took twelve days to reach London and at each place the body stopped overnight Edward had a memorial cross built in her honour– the 12 Eleanor Crosses. While the crosses were a mark of Edward’s love and respect for his wife they were also undoubtedly erected to encourage his subjects to pray for Eleanor’s soul. The final stop for the cortege prior to reaching London’s Westminster Abbey, where the remainder of Eleanor, excluding her heart, was buried, was the then hamlet of Charing. Here a final cross was erected. For those intrigued, Eleanor’s heart is buried in Blackfriars’ monastery, also in London.
The Eleanor Cross (pictured) at Charing Cross Railway Station is not the original Eleanor Cross of Charing but rather a much-embellished replica of the original. Nor is the replica actually at Charing. The real Charing is a few hundred metre’s from Charing Cross Railway Station in Trafalgar Square at the point where Whitehall enters the south of the Square. It was here that the final Eleanor Cross was originally constructed at the location which is nowadays most generally accepted as being the centre of London (see my separate review – Centre of Empire and London – for more details on the ongoing significance of this location).
While the original Eleanor Cross at Charing was not as elaborate as the current replica it was the most elaborate of those built. While the other crosses were built of cheaper stone this one was built in marble and was much larger and grander than the others. The original cross was destroyed on the orders of Parliament during the English Civil War in 1647. The current equestrian statue of Charles I replaced the cross in 1675.
The Victorian Gothic design replica cross outside Charing Cross station is 70 feet high and was built in 1865 by the South Eastern Railway Company when they built the railway station and hotel. While based on drawing and fragments of the original cross, held by the Museum of London, the current cross is rather more ornate. It is of Portland stone, Mansfield and Aberdeen granite and was designed by the station/hotels architect, EM Barry, perhaps better known for his work at Covent Garden.
Of the twelve original Eleanor Crosses only three remain – those located at Geddington, Hardingstone and Walthan Cross.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to London. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Platform 9 ¾ – Kings Cross Station – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – London…as much of life as the world can show.