Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290)

Relation to me: 20th Great Grandmother


Eleanor was the first queen consort of King Edward I of England. She married him as part of a political deal to affirm sovereignty over Gascony. The marriage was known to be a particularly close one, unusual for this time period. She would travel extensively with her husband, including on the 8th Crusade. When he was wounded at Acre, while on the Crusade, a popular story was created about Eleanor saving his life by sucking the poison from his wound. This story has long been discredited though. When Eleanor died, near Lincoln, Edward had famously ordered a stone cross to be erected at each of the stopping places on their journey to London, ending at Charing Cross.

She was better-educated than most medieval queens. Eleanor would exert a strong cultural influence on the nation. She was a keen patron of literature and encouraged the use of tapestries, carpets and tableware in Spanish styles, as well as innovative garden designs. She was also a successful businesswoman and was endowed with her own fortune as the Countess of Ponthieu.


Early Life

Eleanor was born in Burgos to Ferdinand III of Castile and Joan, the Countess of Ponthieu. Her Castilian name was Leonor, which became Alienor or Alianor when she arrived in England, and then Eleanor in modern English. She was named after her paternal great-grandmother, Eleanor of England. She was the second of five children that were born to Ferdinand and Joan. She had an older brother, Ferdinand who was born in 1239 and a younger brother, Louis who was born in 1242. Her parents had two other sons that were born after Louis, but they died.

Ceremonies that were held in 1291, marked the first anniversary of Eleanor’s death. Forty-nine candle-bearers were paid to walk in a public procession. Since it was a custom to have one candle for each year of the deceased’s life, the forty-nine were hired to carry candles, making her birth year being in 1241. Since her parents were away from one another for thirteen months while King Ferdinand was away on campaign in Andalusia, he would return to the north of Spain only in 1241, Eleanor had probably been born towards the end of that year.

The courts of both her father and half-brother, Alfonso X of Castile, were known for their literary atmosphere. Both of the kings had also encouraged extensive education of the royal children. It’s therefore likely that Eleanor was educated to the standard set much higher than the norm, a likelihood which is reinforced by her later literary activities as queen. When her father passed away in 1252, Eleanor was at his deathbed.



Before Eleanor married the future King Edward I of England in 1254, she was a prospective bride of another man. The kings of Castile had long made a tenuous claim to be the paramount lords of the Kingdom of Navarre in the Pyrenees. In 1252, Ferdinand III’s heir, Eleanor’s half-brother Alfonso X of Castile, had hoped that she’d marry Theobald II of Navarre. To avoid Castilian control, Margaret of Bourbon, the mother and regent to Theobald II, in August of 1253 would ally with James I of Aragon instead. As part of the treaty, it was promised that Theobald would never marry Eleanor.

During 1252, Alfonso X brought about another ancestral claim. This time to the duchy of Gascony, in the south of Aquitaine, the last possession of the Kings of England in France. He would claim that this area formed part of the dowry of Eleanor of England. Henry III of England quickly countered Alfonso’s claims with both diplomatic and military moves. In the early part of 1254, the two kings began negotiations. Once haggling over financial provision for Eleanor, Henry and Alfonso agreed that Eleanor would marry Henry’s son Edward. Alfonso would transfer his Gascon claims to Edward once they were married. Henry was so anxious for the marriage to take place that he willingly abandoned the elaborate preparations that had already been made for Edward’s knighting in England. It was also agreed that Alfonso would knight Edward before the wedding would take place.

The Monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos, Spain

Young Eleanor and Edward were married at the monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos on the 1st of November 1254. They were also second cousins once removed, as Edward’s grandfather, King John of England, and Eleanor’s great-grandmother, Eleanor of England, were son and daughter of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. After their marriage they had spent almost a year in Gascony, with Edward ruling as the lord of Aquitaine. At this time, Eleanor, aged thirteen and a half, almost certainly gave birth to her first child, a short lived daughter, at this location. Eleanor then traveled to England, alone, in the late summer of 1255. Edward would follow her a few months later.

Henry III took great pride in resolving the Gascon crisis so decisively, but the English subjects had feared that the marriage of Edward and Eleanor would bring her kinfolk and countrymen to live off Henry’s ruinous generosity. A few of her relatives did come with her to England, but after she was married. She was too young to stop them or to prevent King Henry III from supporting them, but she ended up getting blamed anyhow, leading to her marriage to soon become unpopular. Eleanor’s mother had been spurned in her marriage to Henry III, and her great-grandmother, Alys of France, the Countess of Vexin, had also been spurned in marriage to Richard I of England as well.

The presence of more English, French and Norman soldiers of fortune and opportunists in the recently reconquered Seville and Cordoba Moorish Kingdoms, would be increased. Thanks to an alliance between the royal houses, until the advent of the later Hundred Year War, where it would be symptomatic of extended hostilities between the French and the England for peninsular support.


Second Barons’ War

There isn’t much more about Eleanor’s life in England until the 1260s, when the Second Barons’ War between Henry III and his barons, had divided the kingdom. At about the same time, Eleanor actively supported Edward’s interests. She would import archers from her mother’s county of Ponthieu in France. It’s not true, however, that she was sent to France to escape danger during the war. She was in England throughout the struggle and held Windsor Castle and baronial prisoners for Edward. Rumors that she had been seeking fresh troops from Castile led to the baronial leader, Simon de Montfort, to order her removal from Windsor Castle in June of 1264. After the royalist army was defeated at the Battle of Lewes, Edward was captured at Lewes and imprisoned. Eleanor would take a major role in reforming the government. She’d raise to prominence at his side. Eleanor’s position was greatly improved in July of 1268 when, after, she had given birth to three short-lived daughters, gave birth to a son, John, and after him had another boy, Henry, in the spring of 1268. In June of the following year she would have another daughter, Eleanor.


The Crusade

By 1270, the kingdom was somewhat at peace and Edward and Eleanor had left to join his uncle, Louis IX of France, on the 8th Crusade. Louis died at Carthage, before arriving though. Once they spent the winter in Sicily, the couple went on to Acre in Palestine. They would arrive there in May of 1271 and Eleanor would give birth to a daughter, “Joan of Acre” for which she was named for her birthplace.

The crusade was militarily successful, but Baibars of the Bahri Dynasty was worried enough by Edward’s presence at Acre that an assassination attempt on the English heir would occur in June of 1272. He was wounded in the arm by a dagger that was thought to have been poisoned. The wound soon became seriously infected and a surgeon saved him by cutting away the diseased flesh, only after Eleanor was led from his bed, “weeping and wailing”. Storytellers would later embellish this incident, claiming that Eleanor sucked the poison from his wound, thereby saving his life. However, this fanciful tale has no foundation.

In September of 1272, they would leave Palestine and Sicily in that December once they learned of Henry III’s death on November 16th 1272. After a quick trip to Gascony, where their next child, Alphonso; named after Eleanor’s half-brother Alfonso X, was born. Edward and Eleanor then returned to England, where they were crowned together on the 19th of August 1274.


Eleanor, Queen Consort of England

During the middle ages, arranged royal marriages were not always happy ones. Available evidence indicates that Eleanor and Edward’s were devoted to each other. Edward is among a handful of medieval English kings that was not known for having extramarital affairs, or fathering children outside of wedlock. The couple were rarely apart, Eleanor

Caernarfon Castle in Wales

would accompany Edward on military campaigns in Wales. She was famous for giving birth to their son, Edward on the 25th of April 1284 at Caernarfon Castle, either in a temporary dwelling that was put up for her amid the construction works; or in the partially constructed Eagle Tower.

There household records witness incidents that imply a comfortable, even at times humorous, relationship. Each year on Easter Monday, Edward I would let Eleanor’s ladies trap him in his bed and paid them a token ransom so he could go to Eleanor’s bedroom on the first day of Lent. This custom became so important, that in 1291, on the first Easter Monday after Eleanor’s death, Edward gave her ladies the money that he would have given the if she had still been alive.

Edward hated ceremonies. In 1290, he had refused to attend the marriage of the Earl of Marshal, Roger Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk. Eleanor thoughtfully; or resignedly, paid minstrels to play for him while he sat along during the wedding. The idea of Edward remaining single until he married his second wife, Marguerite of France in 1299. This is often cited to prove he cherished her memory. In fact, Edward considered a second marriage in as early as 1293, but this doesn’t mean he didn’t mourn her. Eloquent testimony is found in Edward’s letter to the Abbott of Cluny in France in January of 1291, seeking his prayers for the soul of his wife, “whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love.” In her memory, he ordered the construction of twelve elaborate stone crosses. Today only three survive, though not intact. They were constructed between 1291 and 1294, marking the route of her funeral procession between Lincoln and London.

Only one of her four sons would survive childhood. Even before she died, Edward had worried over the succession. If Edward would have died, their daughters’ husbands may cause a succession war. Despite his personal grief, Edward faced his duty and married again. He delighted in the sons his new wife bore to him, but would attend memorial services for Eleanor until the end of his life, with Marguerite at his side for at least one of these occasions.


Her Popularity

Eleanor is warmly remembered by history, as the queen who inspired the Eleanor Crosses. In her own time though, she was not loved, her reputation was primarily as a keen businesswoman. Walter of Guisborough preserves a contemporary poem:

“The king desires to get our gold/the queen, our manors fair to hold…”

and the only other chronicler to comment on her echoes him:

“A Spaniard, by birth, who acquired many fine manors.”

Her acquisition of lands was an unusual degree of economic activity for any medieval noblewoman, let alone a queen, and level of her activity by any standard. From 1274 until 1290, she acquired estates worth above 2500 pounds a year. In fact, it was her husband who initiated this process and his ministers would help her. He wanted the queen to hold lands that were sufficient enough for her financial needs, without drawing on money that was needed for the government. One of Edward’s methods to help her acquire land was to give her the debts of Christian landlords that were owed to Jewish moneylenders. In exchange for canceling the debts, Eleanor received the lands that were pledged for the debts. The debtors were often glad to rid themselves of the debts, and profited from the favor Eleanor showed them afterwards. She would grant many of them, for life, lands that were worth as much as estates that they had surrendered to her. Some of them would also become household knights.

There is, however, very clear evidence that her property dealing had made her widely unpopular. John Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, warned Eleanor that her activities in land market and her association with highly unpopular moneylenders caused outcry, gossip, rumors and scandal across the whole realm. Given that the chroniclers’ passages that are quoted above, accusation is indeed borne out by contemporary writers. Peckham had also warned her of complaints against her officials’ demands upon her tenants. Eleanor must have been aware the truth of such reports, since, on her deathbed, she had asked Edward to name justices to examine her officials’ actions and make reparations. The surviving proceedings from this inquest reveal a pattern of ruthless exaction, often, but not always, without Eleanor’s knowledge. Her executors’ financial accounts record the payments of reparations to many of those who brought actions before the judicial proceedings in 1291.

During her lifetime, Eleanor had righted such wrongs when she had heard of them that her deathbed request of Edward indicates that she knew, suspected, or feared, that her officials had perpetrated many more transgressions than were ever reported to her.

Two other letters from Peckham, moreover, show some had thought she urged her husband to rule harshly and she could be a severe woman, who didn’t take lightly if anyone crossed her. It was because of this that he warned a convent of nuns that “if they knew what was good for them, they would accede to the queen’s wishes and accept into their house a woman the convent had refused, but whose vocation Eleanor had decided to sponsor.” Record evidence from the king’s administrations shows Hugh Despenser “the Elder” who agreed to allow the queen to hold one of his manors for a term of years in order to clear his debt to her. He thought it was well to demand official assurances from the King’s Exchequer that the manor would be restored to him as soon as the queen had recovered the exact amount of debt. Thus, the evidence tends unavoidably to the conclusion that Eleanor was not greatly loved outside of her own circle. It’s only with a chronicle written at St. Albans in 1307, that we find the first positive remarks of Eleanor. It is hard to avoid the impression that the chronicler was writing to flatter her son, Edward II, who would succeed his father in 1307. It’s not likely that impressive succession of “Eleanor Crosses” that Edward had constructed after her death was intended to improve the late queen’s image.


Limited Political Influence

Traditionally it has been argued that Eleanor had no impact on the political history of Edward’s reign, even in diplomatic matters her role was minor, though Edward did heed her advice on the age at which their daughters could marry any foreign rulers. It’s also been said that she merely gave gifts, those that usually were provided by Edward, to visiting princes or envoys. Edward always honored his obligations to Alfonso X, but even when Alfonso’s need was desperate in the early 1280s. Edward didn’t send English knights to Castile and he sent only knights from Gascony, which was closer to Castile.

More recently research has indicated that Eleanor might have played a role in Edward’s counsels, but she didn’t exercise power overtly, except on the occasion where she was appointed to mediate disputes of and between nobles in England and Gascony. Some of Edward’s legislation, for example the Statute of Jewry and his approach to Welsh resettlement show some similarities to Castilian approaches. His military strategies also appear to have been influenced by the work of Vegetius, of which Eleanor had directed his attention to. Edward was, however, clearly prepared to resist her demands, or to stop her if he had felt that she was going too far in any of her activities, and that he expected his ministers to restrain her if her actions threatened to inconvenience important people in his realm. This had happened on one occasion, when Robert Burnell, the Chancellor, assured the Bishop of Winchester, from whom the queen was demanding a sum of money from the bishop that owed her, that he would speak with the queen and that the business would end happily for the bishop.


Eleanor’s Cultural Influence

If she was allowed no overt role, Eleanor was a highly intelligent and cultured woman, and she would find other satisfying outlets for her energies. Eleanor was an active patroness of literature, maintaining the only royal scriptorium known to have existed at the time in Northern Europe, with scribes and at least one illuminator to copy books for her. Some works that were produced were apparently vernacular romances and saints’ lives. Her tastes ranged far more widely than that, and were not limited to products of her own writing office. A number and variety of new works written for her show her interests were broad and sophisticated. During 1260, Eleanor commissioned the production of the “Douce Apocalypse”, and she has been credibly linked to the “Trinity Apocalypse”, though there is question of whether she commissioned it, or just simply owned an apocalypse that influenced its production, this still an ongoing debate today.

During 1272, while on crusade, Eleanor had De Re Militari by Vegetius translated for Edward. Just seven years later, after she succeeded her mother as the Countess of Ponthieu, a romance was written for her about the life of a supposed 9th Century County of Ponthieu. She would also commission an Arthurian romance with a Northumbrian theme, possibly for the marriage of Northumbrian Lord, John de Vescy, who had married a close friend and relation of hers, during this time.

In the 1280s, Archbishop Peckham wrote a theological work for her, to explain what angels were and what they did. She almost certainly commissioned the Alphonso Psalter, which is now in the British Library, and was also suspected to have commissioned the Bird Psalter, which also bears the arms of Alphonso and his prospective wife. In January of 1286, she thanked the Abbot of Cerne for lending her a book, possibly a treatise on chess that was known to have been written in Cerne in the late 13th century. Eleanor’s accounts reveal in 1290, her corresponding with the Oxford Master about one of her books. There’s also evidence that suggests she exchanged books with her brother, Alphonso X.

Relevant evidence suggests that Eleanor was not fluent in English, but was accustomed to read, and so presumably to think and speak, in French, the language of her mother’s, which she would have been familiar with from childhood, despite having spent her early years in Spain. In this, she was luckier than most medieval European queens. Many of them would arrive in their husband’s realms to face the need to learn a new language. The English court was still functionally bilingual, in large part through the long succession of its queens, who were mostly from French-speaking lands.

While on a visit to St. Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire in 1275, the people of the town begged for her help in withstanding the abbot’s exaction from them. However, one of her courtiers had to act as a translator before she could respond to the plea for assistance. All of the literary works noted above are in French, as are the bulk of her surviving letters. Since Peckham wrote his letters and his angelic treatise for her in French, she was presumably well-known to prefer that language.

In the domestic sphere, Eleanor popularized the use of tapestries and carpets. The use of hangings and especially floor coverings was noted as a Spanish extravagance on her arrival in London. She would also promote the use of fine tableware, elegantly decorated knives and even forks, though it remains uncertain whether the latter were used as personal eating utensils; or as serving pieces from common bowls or platters. She had also had a considerable influence on the development of the garden designs in royal estates. Extensive spending on gardens is evidenced at her properties and in most places she stayed, including the use of water features. These would have a common Castilian garden design feature, which was owed to Islamic influences in Spain. The picturesque Gloriette at Leeds Castle had been developed during her ownership of the castle.

Queen Eleanor was a devoted patron of the Dominican Order friars, founding several priories in England, and supporting their work at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. Not surprisingly, then, Eleanor’s piety was of an intellectual stamp. Apart from her religious foundations she was not known for good works, she left it to her chaplains to distribute alms for her. Her level of charitable giving was, however, considerable.

She patronized many of her relatives, though given foreigners’ unpopularity in England and the criticism of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence’s generosity towards them. She was cautious as a queen made sure to choose carefully which of her cousins she would support. Rather than marrying her male cousins to English heiresses, which would put the English wealth in foreign hands, she arranged marriages for her female cousins to English barons. Edward had strongly supported her in these endeavors, which provided him and his family, as well as Eleanor herself when she reached potential widowhood, with expanded network of potential supporters. In some cases, her marriage projects for her lady cousins provided Edward, as well as her father-in-law, Henry III, with opportunities to sustain healthy relations with other realms. The marriage of her kinswoman Marguerite of Guines to the Earl of Ulster, one of the more influential English noblemen in Ireland, not only had given Edward a new family connection in the area, but also with Scotland. He got this connection because Marguerite’s cousin, Marie de Coucy, was the mother of Edward’s brother-in-law, Alexander III. The Earliest of Eleanor’s recorded marriage projects had linked one of her Chatelheraut cousins with a member of the Lusignan family. Henry III’s highly favored maternal relatives. Not only did this strengthen the king’s ties with that family, but also created a new tie between the English king and a powerful family in Poitou, on Gascony’s northern flank.


Eleanor’s Death

Presumably, Eleanor was a healthy woman for most of her life. She had survived at least sixteen pregnancies, which doesn’t suggest that she was a frail woman. Shortly after the birth of her final child however, financial accounts from Edward’s household and her own, begin to record frequent payments for medicines for the use of the queen. The nature of the medicines are not specified, therefore impossible to know what ailments that were bothering her, until later in 1287. While Eleanor was in Gascony with Edward, a letter was sent to England from a member of the royal entourage that stated that the queen had double quartan fever. This fever pattern has led to the suggestions that she was suffering from a strain of malaria. The disease is not fatal in itself, but it does leave its victims weak and vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Among other complications, the liver and spleen eventually become enlarged, brittle and highly susceptible to injury, which may end up leading to death, caused by internal bleeding. There is also a possibility that she had inherited the Castilian royal family’s theorized tendency for cardiac problems.

From the time of their return from Gascony, Eleanor showed signs that she was aware that her death was not far away and so arrangements were made for the marriage of two of her daughters, Margaret and Joanna. Negotiations for the marriage of young Edward of Caernarfon to Margaret, the Maid of Norway and heiress of Scotland were also hurried along. During the summer of 1290, a tour towards the north through Eleanor’s properties was commenced, but went on at a much slower pace than usual. The Autumn Parliament was convened in Clipstone, rather than in London and Eleanor’s children were summoned to visit her in Clipstone, despite warnings that traveling may endanger their health. Following the conclusion of parliament, Eleanor and Edward set out a short distance from Clipstone to Lincoln. By this time, Eleanor was traveling less than eight miles a day.

Eleanor’s final stop was at the village of Harby in Nottinghamshire, less than seven miles from Lincoln, but the journey would be abandoned. The queen was lodged in the house of Richard de Weston, the foundations which can still be seen near Harby’s parish church still today. After piously receiving the Church’s last rites, Eleanor died at the home on the evening of the 28th of November 1290. She was just forty-nine years old and had been married for thirty-six years. Her husband was at her bedside to hear her final requests. Three days after her death, the machinery of government came to a halt and no writs were sealed.


Procession, Burial, and Monuments for Eleanor

The queen’s embalmed body was borne in great state from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey, starting in the heartland of Eleanor’s properties and being accompanied for most of the way by her husband and a substantial cortege of mourners. Edward gave orders that memorial crosses be erected at the place of each overnight stop they made with her from

One of the Eleanor Crosses

Lincoln to Westminster. Based on crosses in France, marking Louis IX’s funeral processions, these artistically significant monuments enhanced the image of Edward’s kingship as well as witnessing his grief. The “Eleanor Crosses” used to stand at Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingston, near Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham, Westcheap and Charing. Today, only three of the crosses still survive, none are in their entirety, but the best preserved is at Geddington. All of the surviving crosses have lost their crosses “of immense height” that had originally surmounted them, making it only the lower stages that still remain. The Waltham cross has been greatly restored, in order to prevent further deterioration, its original statues of the queen are now in Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

A monument, now known as “Charing Cross” in London, that lies in front of the railway station of that same name was built in 1865 to publicize the railway hotel at Charing station. The original Charing Cross was at the top of Whitehall, on the south side of Trafalgar Square, but it was destroyed in 1647, then later replaced by the statue of Charles I.

In the 13th Century, embalming involved the evisceration and a separate burial of the heart and the body. This was not unusual, but Eleanor was afforded the more unusual “triple” burial. This had involved a separate burial of the viscera, heart, and body. Her viscera was buried at Lincoln Cathedral, where Edward placed a duplicate of her Westminster tomb. The tomb’s original stone chest survives. It’s effigy was destroyed during the 17th Century, and has been replaced with a 19th Century copy. On the outside of the Lincoln Cathedral are two statues that are often identified as Edward and Eleanor, but these images were heavily restored. They were given new heads in the 19th Century, and probably are not originally intended to depict the couple.

Eleanor’s heart was buried in the Dominican Priory at Blackfriars in London, along with the heart of her son Alphonso. Accounts of her executors show that the monument constructed there to commemorate her heart burial was richly elaborate. It would include wall paintings as well as an angelic statue in metal that had apparently stood under a carved stone canopy. During the 16th century, this monument was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Tomb of Eleanor of Castile at Westminster Abbey

The funeral for Eleanor had taken place in Westminster Abbey on the 17th of December 1290. Her body was placed in a grave near the high altar, which had originally contained the coffin of Edward the Confessor. More recently, than Edward being placed there, it was occupied by King Henry III, until his remains were removed to his new tomb in 1290. Eleanor’s body would remain in the grave until the completion of her own tomb. She had probably ordered her own tomb before she passed away. The tomb consists of a marble chest with carved moldings and shields that were originally painted with the arms of England, Castile and Ponthieu. The chest is is-surmounted by William’s Torel’s superb gilt-bronze effigy, showing her in the same pose as an image on her great seal.

When Eleanor’s husband, Edward, remarried a decade after she had passed away, he and his second wife, Margaret of France, would have a baby girl. Their only daughter together was named Eleanor, to honor his first wife, showing how much he loved his wife, and that Margaret recognized and respected his feelings.


Eleanor’s Legacy

Eleanor of Castile’s queenship is a significant one in English history. It caused an evolution of a stable financial system for the king’s wife, and for honing this process, it gave the queen consort’s prerogatives. The estates Eleanor had assembled became a nucleus for dower assignments made to later queens of England into the 15th Century. Her involvement in this process, solidly established a queen-consort’s freedom to engage in such transactions. A few later queens would exert themselves in economic activity to the extent that Eleanor had, but their ability to do so rested on the precedents that were settled in Eleanor’s lifetime.


Eleanor as a Mother

It has been suggested that Eleanor and Edward were more devoted to one another than they were to their children. As king and queen, however, it was impossible for them to spend a lot of time in one place. When their children were very young, they couldn’t tolerate the rigors of constant travel with their parents. Their children had a household staffed with attendants that were carefully chosen for their competence and loyalty. Edward and Eleanor would correspond with these people regularly. The children would live in this comfortable establishment until they were about seven years old, then they started to accompany their parents, if at first it was only on important occasions. By the time that their children were teenagers, they were with the king and queen much more of the time.

During 1290, Eleanor had sent one of her scribes to join her children’s household, presumably to help with their education. She had also sent gifts to the children on a regular basis and arranged for the entire establishment to be moved closer to her when she was in Wales. In 1306, Edward sharply scolded Margerie de Haustede, Eleanor’s former lady-in-waiting, who was then in charge of his children, by his second wife, because Margerie hadn’t kept him well informed of their health. Edward had also issued regular and detailed instructions for the care and guidance of these children.

There are two incidents that are cited to imply Eleanor’s lack of interest in her children. These are easily explained in the contexts of medieval royal childbearing in general, and of particular events that surround Edward and Eleanor’s family. When their six-year-old son Henry was dying at Guilford in 1274, neither of his parents made the short journey from London to see him. Henry was tended to by Edward’s mother Eleanor of Provence, he lived with his grandmother while his parents were absent on crusade. Since he was barely two when they had left England in 1270, he couldn’t have had many substantial memories of them by the time they had returned to England in August of 1274, only a few weeks before his last illness and death. In other words, the dowager queen was a more familiar and comforting presence to her grandson, than his parents would have been. It was in all respects better that she tended to him on his deathbed. Furthermore, Eleanor was pregnant at the time of Henry’s final illness and death. Even given the limited 13th century understandings of contagions, the exposure to a sickroom may have been discouraged.

Similarly, Edward and Eleanor allowed her mother, Joan of Dammartin to raise their daughter, Joan of Acre in Ponthieu. This implies no parental lack of interest in the girl, as the practice of fostering noble children in other households of sufficient dignity wasn’t unknown. Eleanor’s mother, the dowager Queen of Castile’s household was safe and dignified, but it does not appear that Edward or Eleanor had cause to regret their generosity in letting Joan of Dammartin foster the young Joan. When she reached England in 1278, at the age of six, it turned out that she had been badly spoiled. She was spirited and at times defiant in childhood. In adulthood she remained a handful for her father. She would defy his plans for a prestigious second marriage for her, by secretly marrying one of her late first husband’s squires. When the marriage was revealed in 1297 when Joan was pregnant, Edward was enraged that his dignity had been insulted by her marriage to a commoner of no importance. When Joan was twenty-five, she reportedly defended her conduct to her father, by telling him that nobody saw anything wrong with a great earl marrying a poor woman, so there could be nothing wrong with a countess marrying a promising young man. Whether or not her retort had ultimately changed his mind, we don’t know, but Edward did restore to Joan all the lands that he had confiscated from her when he learned of her marriage, and also accepted her new husband as his son-in-law in good standing. Joan had marked her restoration to favor by having masses celebrating the soul of her mother.


4 thoughts on “Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290)”

  1. A very interesting account of the life of a Queen best known here (as you say) for the stone crosses erected in her memory. Also good to read about the more human side of Edward as a man, when he is mainly remembered for his harsh treatment of Scotland.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like seeing the more human side to people from the past that are so well known, it makes them more real and like you get to relate to them and see they were just people too…whether given a title or a commoner they were all equally human in the end. Some of their personalities I can relate to, like they’ve been passed down this far. Some of they interact among family members relate too.


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