The Eleanor Crosses are a collection of 12 crosses commissioned by King Edward I as a memorial to his beloved wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile, who passed away over 700 years ago. Named in her honour, these crosses are scattered throughout the UK, with only three of the original structures remaining standing today.
In this article, readers will learn about the history of the Eleanor Crosses, the story behind their creation, and where to find them. Join us on a journey of discovery as we explore the architectural wonder and beautiful love story behind these historic structures.
- 1 What Are the Eleanor Crosses?
- 2 The History of the Eleanor Cross
- 3 Where to Find the Eleanor Crosses
- 4 The Eleanor Crosses: Practical Information
- The Eleanor Crosses were commissioned by King Edward I as a memorial to his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile.
- Only three of the original 12 crosses remain standing today.
- This article will provide readers with an overview of the history of the Eleanor Crosses, their significance, and where to find them.
What Are the Eleanor Crosses?
The Eleanor Crosses are a set of twelve tall stone memorials that commemorate the memory of Queen Eleanor of Castile, who was the wife of King Edward I. She passed away on November 28, 1290, in the town of Harby in Nottinghamshire.
The Final Journey
King Edward I built the twelve crosses to mark the progress of Queen Eleanor’s final journey from Harby to Westminster, where she was laid to rest. The crosses were built in the same style as those created to mark the funeral procession of Louis IX in France two decades earlier.
Each cross was erected to mark a nightly resting place for the body along the route from Harby to Westminster. The King and his royal council had already planned the scheme to mark each stopover location with a memorial cross as they travelled. Each area was also blessed, which was deemed very important at that time.
The crosses were situated in prominent positions, usually at significant junctions or crossroads near where Queen Eleanor rested overnight. The procession passed the exact spot where each memorial was erected, linking them all together.
The crosses used complex geometry to combine heraldic decoration, painted inscriptions, lifesize sculptures of Eleanor, and ornate detailing in the gothic style. Each memorial was capped with the actual cross and stood at least 13 meters tall.
The History of the Eleanor Cross
The Death of Queen Eleanor
Queen Eleanor, born to the Castilian King Ferdinand III and his second wife, Jeanne, in the early 1240s, met Edward in the autumn of 1254 and married the future English King at Burgos when she was only 13 years old. After more than 30 years of marriage and giving birth to over 15 children, only six of whom outlived her, Eleanor’s health began to decline. In November 1290, while on a journey northwards, the royal party stopped at Harby in Nottinghamshire, where the Queen passed away on Tuesday, 28th November, leaving King Edward I grief-stricken and unable to move for three days.
The Funeral Procession
After the King’s grief subsided enough for him to consider moving on, he and his council moved slowly southwards back towards London. The first stop was at Lincoln, where the Queen’s entrails were removed to enable the body to be embalmed and buried in a tomb at Lincoln Cathedral. Here, a beautifully painted chest tomb, capped with a bronze effigy of the late Queen, was created to house her remains. Her heart and body continued southwards, separately. The procession made further stops across the following eleven nights as it wound its way towards London, battling adverse weather conditions and heavy floods that required significant detours to ford rivers and streams which hadn’t broken their banks. Edward and his advisors selected the locations for each memorial at each stopping point. Finally, Eleanor re-entered London through the northern gate of Bishopsgate before travelling westward down London’s busiest street, Cheapside. On Saturday, 17th December 1290, the procession continued, interring the heart at London’s Blackfriars before the body continued to its final resting place at Westminster Abbey.
Building and Destruction
King Edward I commissioned some of the Kingdom’s finest architects and stonemasons to complete his vision of a chain of memorials to the memory of his beloved wife. Mainly built between 1291 and 1294, the final three at Grantham, Stamford, and Geddington were completed around 1295. During the English Civil War in the 1640s, most crosses were destroyed by forces loyal to Oliver Cromwell. Three crosses survived the civil war, each of which remains today. However, the religious symbolism of the cross that capped the original beautiful designs was removed from each one.
Where to Find the Eleanor Crosses
The Eleanor Crosses were built in memory of Queen Eleanor of Castile, the wife of King Edward I. She died in 1290 and her husband ordered the construction of 12 crosses to mark the route taken by her funeral procession from Lincoln to London. While only three original crosses remain standing, it is still possible to visit the sites of all 12 memorials.
Charing Cross, from which the station takes its name, was the site of the original cross, which was destroyed in 1647 by Parliamentarians. However, a grand reproduction of the cross was built in 1865 outside the station’s main entrance. Visitors to London can easily find this cross.
The second London-based Eleanor Cross stood in front of the Church of St Peter at the crossroads between Bread Street and Wood Street. Although this memorial cost £300, around three times more than most others outside London, it was demolished in 1643 during the English Civil War. Today, nothing remains of the original cross.
The nearest original cross to London can be found in Waltham Cross town centre, just off Junction 26 of the M25. The cross was restored in the 1950s, and the original statues of Eleanor now reside in the care of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Visitors can easily access this site from London.
A few hundred yards from St Albans Abbey stands Market Cross, which marks the location of the Eleanor Cross that stood in the city. Eleanor knew St Albans well, having a property in the nearby hamlet of Kings Langley. Visitors to the area can easily visit this site.
Eleanor’s body rested at Dunstable Priory on her journey southwards. The memorial stood at the A505 Watling Street and Luton Road crossroads, where the Natwest Bank now stands. Unfortunately, the Eleanor cross in Dunstable is long gone, but visitors can still find a rather sorry-looking statue of Queen Eleanor in the precinct that bears her name.
Queen Eleanor rested in the abbey church at Woburn Abbey, and while the actual site of the cross is unknown, many historians believe it was likely to have stood at the crossroads where the village’s war memorial now resides. Visitors to the area can explore this site.
Due to treacherous weather conditions, the procession had an unplanned stop in this village, just north of Milton Keynes. The Eleanor cross in Stony is long gone but was thought to have stood near 157 High Street, now residential housing. Visitors to the area can still appreciate the historical significance of this location.
The second original cross stands in the small village of Hardingstone, as Eleanor’s body rested overnight at Delapre Abbey. The cross was lovingly renovated in 2019, although the cross at the top of the memorial is missing. Visitors can explore this site and appreciate the restoration work.
The third and best-preserved cross stands at the junction of West Street, Grafton Road, and Bridge Street in the Northamptonshire village of Geddington, near Kettering. Sat on a hexagonal base, three statues of Queen Eleanor look out from a triangular tower across the junction. Unfortunately, the cross is missing, likely destroyed during the English Civil War. Visitors can still appreciate the beauty and historical significance of this site.
Another cross, the precise location of which has been lost to the annals of history, was erected just outside Stamford on the Great North Road, now Casterton Road. In 2009, a replica was built in Stamford’s sheep market. Visitors to Stamford can appreciate the replica and imagine the original cross in its historical context.
The first stop on the procession route was in the town of Grantham, and the cross was erected by St Peters Hill on the High Street in 1294. Unfortunately, this memorial was also lost to the English Civil War. However, a plaque commemorating the cross was unveiled in 2015 on the Guildhall nearby. Visitors to the area can still appreciate the historical significance of this site.
A small section of one of the statues of Eleanor was discovered in the grounds of Lincoln Castle, forming part of a footbridge. Unfortunately, the original site is unknown, although historians believe it would have been near the junction of Fosse Way and Ermine Street. Visitors to Lincoln can appreciate the historical significance of this site and imagine the original cross in its historical context.
The Eleanor Crosses: Practical Information
Visitors can see three remaining Eleanor Crosses for free. The easiest to find is the Charing Cross, located outside the station facing Trafalgar Square in central London. Waltham Cross is another option, just a 45-minute train ride from London Liverpool Street or a short drive off the M25 and A10. Unfortunately, many of the other crosses were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces during the English Civil War.