Queen Eleanor was the wife of Edward I. She lived from 1250 (when she was born the daughter of Ferdinand III, King of Castille and Leon) and died on 28 November 1297, in her forty-seventh year. She was well-loved by her English subjects, who called her "Eleanor the Faithful." The people of England often disliked foreign queens, but Eleanor was an exception, apparently because of the deep affection between her and the king. In her will, she was generous to all who served her in life.
She died in the house of a gentleman of the court named WESTON in his home in Harby, Nottinghamshire, while her husband was hunting in Sherwood Forest.
Her husband was griefstricken. He had her body placed in a coffin, and filled it with aromatic spices. See lay in state in Lincoln cathedral. On the way back to London, the cortege rested its first night at the Priory of St. Catherine, close to Lincoln. Edward decided to erect a stone cross at every place where her body rested for a night. He also had the work done by local stone carvers, for the reputation of English stone carvers could not be surpassed.
These monuments to Eleanor were not crosses in the traditional sense, but were monument pillars containing various effigies of the queen and saints. They came to be called "crosses" because they were placed at cross-roads, in the hopes that prayers would be offered for the queen's soul. Eleanor Crosses, as they came to be called, were set up in twelve locations (the list is not inclusive):
- Swine Green, opposite the priory in Lincoln. Carved by Richard de STOW. A tomb was also built in the Angel Choir in Lincoln Cathedral to hold the viscera of the queen.
- St. Peter's Hill, Grantham.
- Hardingstone, near Northampton.
Unfortunately, little remains of each cross. Sometimes only the elaborate base can be identified. The stone was soft and susceptible to the elements. Many were destroyed during the Civil War by parliamentary forces. Some were destroyed because those monuments had statues to saints and popes, regarded by the people as "catholic", which the Protestants perceived as "idols". The Eleanor Cross at Geddington still survives.
The cost of the Eleanor Crosses has been placed at 50,000 pounds, an amount that would be several millions of present day currency. Scholars believe the funds came from Eleanor's personal estate, indicating that she was quite wealthy of her own accord.
Roads, in the times of King Edward I, were not built or maintained by the state. The Romans had been the last roadbuilders. And, although many Roman roads were still in use, many of the medieval roads were dirt tracks formed by locals moving goods between villages and towns. There were no signposts, no maps.
The above is based on a section of Thomas B. COSTAN's book, "The Three Edwards," 1958, Doubleday & Co., New York, and the article "Eleanor's Crosses," by Jim HARGAN, in British Heritage, March 2005 edition.