Tenplate:Eleanor Castile Leon (1)

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Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 28 November, 1290) was the first Queen consort of Edward I of England.




Eleanor was born in Castile, Spain, daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile, King of Castile and Leon and his second wife, Jeanne de Dammartin, the French-born Countess of Ponthieu in Picardy. Her Castilian name, Leonor, became Alienor or Alianor in England, and Eleanor in modern English. She was the second of five children born to Fernando and Jeanne. Her elder brother Fernando was born in 1239/40, her younger brother Louis in 1242/43; two sons born after Louis died young. For the ceremonies in 1291 marking the first anniversary of Eleanor's death, 49 candlebearers were paid to walk in the public procession to commemorate each year of her life. This would date her birth to the year 1241.

Prospective bride to Theobald II of Navarre

Eleanor's marriage in 1254 to the future Edward I of England was not the first marriage her family planned for her. The kings of Castile had long claimed to be paramount lords of the Kingdom of Navarre in the Pyrenees], and from 1250 Ferdinand III and his heir, Eleanor's half-brother Alfonso X of Castile, hoped she would marry Theobald II of Navarre. To avoid Castilian control, Margaret of Bourbon (mother to Theobald II) in 1252 allied with James I of Aragon instead, and as part of that treaty solemnly promised that Theobald would never marry Eleanor.


In 1252, Alfonso X resurrected flimsy ancestral claims to the duchy of Gascony, in the south of Aquitaine, last possession of the Kingdom of England in France. Henry III of England swiftly countered Alfonso's claims. Early in 1254 the two kings began to negotiate; after haggling over the financial provision for Eleanor, Henry and Alfonso agreed she would marry Henry's son Edward, and Alfonso would transfer his Gascon claims to Edward.

The young couple married at Burgos in Castile on 1 November 1254. Henry III took pride in resolving the Gascon crisis so decisively, but his English subjects feared that the marriage would bring Eleanor's kinfolk and countrymen to live off Henry's ruinous generosity. Several of her relatives did come to England soon after her marriage. She was too young to stop them or prevent Henry III paying for them, but she was blamed anyway and her marriage was unpopular.

Second Barons' War

There is little record of Eleanor's life in England until the 1260s, when the Second Barons' War, a civil war between Henry III and his barons, divided the kingdom. During this period Eleanor supported Edward's interests, importing archers from her mother's county of Ponthieu in France. Later rumors that she sought more troops from Castile led to her removal from Windsor Castle in June 1264 after the Battle of Lewes; Edward was imprisoned and she was kept at Westminster. After Edward and Henry's army defeated the baronial army at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, Edward took a major role in reforming the government and Eleanor rose to prominence at his side.


By 1270, the kingdom was pacified and Edward and Eleanor left to join his uncle Louis IX of France on the Eighth Crusade. Louis died at Carthage before they arrived, however, and after they spent the winter in Sicily, the couple went on to Acre in Palestine, where they arrived in May 1271.

The crusade was militarily unsuccessful, but Baibars of the Bahri dynasty was worried enough by Edward's presence at Acre that an assassination attempt was made on the English heir in June 1272. He was wounded in the arm by a dagger that was thought to be poisoned. The wound soon became seriously inflamed, and an English surgeon saved him by cutting away the diseased flesh, but only after Eleanor was led from his bed, "weeping and wailing."

Later storytellers embellished this incident, claiming Eleanor sucked poison from the wound, but this fanciful tale has no foundation. They left Palestine in September 1272 and heard of Henry III's death (16 November 1272) in Sicily that December. Edward and Eleanor returned to England and were crowned together on 19 August, 1274.

Queen consort of England

Arranged royal marriages in the Middle Ages were not always happy, but available evidence indicates that Eleanor and Edward were devoted to each other. They were rarely apart; she accompanied him on military campaigns in Wales, famously giving birth to their son Edward on 25 April, 1284 amid the construction of Caernarfon Castle.

Their household records witness incidents that imply a comfortable, even humorous, relationship. Each year on Easter Monday, Edward let Eleanor's ladies trap him in his bed and paid them a token ransom so he could go to her bedroom on the first day after Lent; so important was this custom to him that in 1291, on the first Easter Monday after Eleanor's death, he gave her ladies the money he would have given them had she been alive. Edward disliked ceremonies and in 1290 refused to attend the marriage of Earl Marshal Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk; Eleanor thoughtfully (or resignedly) paid minstrels to play for him while he sat alone during the wedding.

A love match?

That Edward remained single until he wed Marguerite of France in 1299 is often cited to prove he cherished Eleanor's memory. In fact he considered a second marriage as early as 1293, but this does not mean he did not mourn Eleanor. Eloquent testimony is found in his letter to the abbot of Cluny in France (January 1291), seeking prayers for the soul of the wife "whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love." But only one of Eleanor's sons survived childhood and, even before she died, Edward worried over the succession: if that son died, their daughters' husbands might cause a succession war. Despite personal grief, Edward faced his duty and married again. He delighted in the sons his new wife bore, but attended memorial services for Eleanor to the end of his life, Marguerite at his side on at least one occasion.


Eleanor is warmly remembered by history as the queen who inspired the Eleanor crosses, but she was not so loved in her own time. The English saw her as a greedy foreigner. Walter of Guisborough preserves the following poem:

"The king desires to get our gold/the queen, our manors fair to hold..."

John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury warned Eleanor that her activities in the land market caused rumor and scandal across the realm. Eleanor's often aggressive acquisition of lands was an unusual degree of economic activity for any medieval noblewoman, let alone a queen: between 1274 and 1290 she acquired estates worth above Ł2500 yearly. In fact, Edward initiated this process and his ministers helped her. He wanted the queen to hold lands sufficient for her financial needs without drawing on funds needed for government. One of his methods to help Eleanor acquire land was to give her debts Christian landlords owed Jewish moneylenders; she then foreclosed on lands pledged for the debts. Association with the unpopular moneylenders further blighted her reputation.

Peckham also warned of the outcry against her officials' demands upon her tenants. On her deathbed, Eleanor asked Edward to name justices to examine the officials' actions and make reparations. The proceedings from this inquest reveal a pattern of ruthless exactions, often without the queen's knowledge. She righted a number of such wrongs when she heard of them, but not often enough to prevent a third warning from Pecham that many in England thought she urged Edward to rule harshly. In fact Edward allowed her little political influence, but her officials' demands were ascribed to her imagined personal severity, which was used to explain the king's administrative strictness. In other words, the queen was made to wear the king's unpopular mask. It was always safer to blame a foreign-born queen than to criticize a "good" king, and easier to believe he was misled by a meddling wife. Eleanor was neither the first queen nor the last to be blamed for a king's actions, but in her case the unsavory conduct of her own administration made it even easier to shift such blame to her.

Limited political influence

Contemporary evidence shows clearly 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. Otherwise she merely bestowed gifts on 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 did not send English knights to Castile; he sent only knights from Gascony. In England, Eleanor did mediate disputes of a minor nature, but only with the help of ranking members of Edward's entourage. Edward was prepared to stop her if he felt she had gone too far in any of her activities, and expected his ministers to do likewise.

If she was allowed no effective official role, Eleanor was an intelligent woman and found satisfying outlets for her energies. She was an active patroness of vernacular literature, with scribes and an illuminator in her household to copy books for her. Some of these were apparently vernacular romances and saints' lives, but Eleanor's tastes ranged widely. The number and variety of new works written for her show that her interests were sophisticated. On Crusade in 1272, she had De Re Militari by Vegetius translated for Edward. After she succeeded her mother as countess of Ponthieu in 1279, a romance was written for her about the life of a supposed 9th century count of Ponthieu. In the 1280s, Archbishop Peckham wrote a work for her to explain what angels were and what they did. In January 1286 she thanked the abbot of Cerne for lending her a book--possibly the treatise on chess known to have been written at Cerne in the late thirteenth century--and her accounts reveal her in 1290 corresponding with an Oxford master about one of her books.

The queen was a devoted patron of Dominican Order friars, founding several priories in England and supporting their work at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. Not surprisingly, Eleanor's piety was of an intellectual stamp; apart from her religious foundations she was not given to good works, and she left it to her chaplains to distribute alms for her. She patronized many relatives, though given foreigners' unpopularity in England and the criticism of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence's generosity to them, she was cautious as queen to choose which cousins to support. Rather than marry her male cousins to English heiresses, which would put English wealth in foreign hands, she arranged marriages for her female cousins to English barons. Edward strongly supported these endeavors.


In the autumn of 1290, news reached Edward that Margaret of Scotland (Margaret, the Maid of Norway), heiress of Scotland, had died. He had just held a parliament at Clipstone in Nottinghamshire, and continued to linger in those parts, presumably to await news of further developments in Scotland. Eleanor followed him at a leisurely pace as she had just given birth to a child; she was also unwell with a feverish illness that was first reported in 1287. After the couple left Clipstone they traveled slowly toward the city of Lincoln, a destination Eleanor would never reach.

Her condition worsened when they reached the village of Harby, Nottinghamshire, less than 10 miles from Lincoln, Lincolnshire. The journey was abandoned, and the queen was lodged in the house of Richard de Weston, the foundations of which can still be seen near Harby's parish church. After piously receiving the Church's last rites, she died there on the evening of the 28th of November 1290, aged 49 and after 36 years of marriage. Edward was at her bedside to hear her final requests.

Procession, burial and monuments

Edward followed her body to burial in Westminster Abbey, and erected memorial crosses at the site of each overnight stop between Lincoln and Westminster. Based on crosses in France marking Louis IX's funeral procession, these artistically significant monuments enhanced the image of Edward's kingship as well as witnessing his grief. The "Eleanor crosses" stood at Lincoln, Lincolnshire, Grantham, Stamford, Lincolnshire, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Bedfordshire, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham Cross, Westcheap, and Charing - only 3 survive, none in its entirety. The finest is that at Geddington. All 3 have lost the crosses "of immense height" that originally surmounted them; only the lower stages remain. The Waltham cross has been heavily restored and to prevent further deterioration, its original statues of the queen are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Waltham and Northampton crosses have been moved to locations different from their original sites. The monument now known as "Charing Cross" in London, at the tube station of that name, is an early 20th century fabrication, created to advertise a nearby hotel. Today, the original Charing cross' site would be in Trafalgar Square.

After embalming, which in the thirteenth century involved evisceration, Eleanor's viscera were buried in Lincoln Cathedral, and Edward placed a duplicate of the Westminster tomb there. The Lincoln tomb's original stone chest survives; its effigy was destroyed in the 17th century and replaced with a 19th-century copy. (On the outside of Lincoln Cathedral are two prominent statues often identified as Edward and Eleanor, but these images were heavily restored in the 19th century and probably were not originally intended to depict the couple [1])

The queen's heart was taken with the body to London and was buried in the Dominican priory of Blackfriars in London. The accounts of her executors show that the monument constructed there to commemorate her heart burial was richly elaborate, including wall paintings as well as an angelic statue in metal that apparently stood under a carved stone canopy. It was destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Eleanor's funeral took place in Westminster Abbey on 17 December 1290. Her body was placed in a grave near the high altar that had originally contained the coffin of Edward the Confessor and, more recently, that of King Henry III until his remains were removed to his new tomb in 1290. Eleanor's body remained in this grave until the completion of her own tomb. She probably ordered that tomb before her death. It consists of a marble chest with carved moldings and shields (originally painted) of the arms of England, Castile, and Ponthieu. The chest is surmounted by William Torel's superb gilt-bronze effigy, showing Eleanor in the same pose as the image on her great seal.


Eleanor of Castile's queenship is significant in English history for the evolution of a stable financial system for the king's wife, and for the honing this process gave the queen-consort's prerogatives. The estates Eleanor assembled became the nucleus for dower assignments made to later queens of England into the 15th century, and her involvement in this process solidly established a queen-consort's freedom to engage in such transactions. Few later queens exerted themselves in economic activity to the extent Eleanor did, but their ability to do so rested on the precedents settled in her lifetime.

Historical reputation

Despite her unpopularity in her own day, Eleanor of Castile has had a positive reputation since the 16th century. The antiquarian William Camden first published in England the tale that Eleanor saved Edward's life at Acre by sucking his wound. Camden then went on to ascribe construction of the Eleanor crosses to Edward's grief at the loss of an heroic wife who selflessly risked her own life to save his. Historians in the 17th century and the 18th century parrotted Camden, and in the 19th century the self-styled historian Agnes Strickland used Camden to paint the rosiest of all pictures of Eleanor. None of these writers used contemporary chronicles or records that could provide accurate information about Eleanor's life.

Such documents became widely available only in the late 19th century, and even when historians began to cite them to suggest that Eleanor was not the perfect queen Strickland praised, many rejected the correction. Only since 1945 have historians studied queenship in its own right and regarded medieval queens as worthy of attention. These decades produced a sizeable body of historical work that allows Eleanor's life to be scrutinized in the terms of her own day, not of the 17th or 19th centuries.

The evolution of her reputation is a case study in the maxim that each age creates its own history. If as a result she can no longer be seen as a paradigm of queenly virtue, her career can now be examined as the achievement of an intelligent and determined woman who was able to meet the challenges of an exceptionally demanding life.

Children of Queen Eleanor and King Edward I

  1. Daughter, stillborn in May 1255 in Bordeaux, France.
  2. Katherine, living June 17 1264, died September 5 1264 and buried at Westminster Abbey.
  3. Joan, born January 1265, buried at Westminster Abbey before September 7 1265.
  4. John, born July 13 1266, died August 3 1271 at Wallingford, in the custody of his granduncle, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Buried at Westminster Abbey.
  5. Henry, born before May 6 1268, died October 16, 1274.
  6. Eleanor, born ca. 18 June 1269 and died 29 August 1298. She was long betrothed to Alfonso III of Aragon, who died in 1291 before the marriage could take place, and in 1293 she married Count Henry III of Bar.
  7. Daughter, born after May 1271 in Palestine and died before September 1272.
  8. Joan of Acre. born at Acre 1272 and died April 7 1307. She married (1) Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford, (2) Ralph Morthermer, 1st Baron Monthermer.
  9. Alphonso, Earl of Chester, born 24 November 1273, died 19 August 1284, buried in Westminster Abbey.
  10. Margaret Plantagenet, born March 15 1275 and died after 1333. She married John II of Brabant.
  11. Berengaria, born 1 May 1276 and died before June 27 1278 buried in Westminster Abbey.
  12. Daughter, died shortly after birth, January 1278.
  13. Mary, born 11 March 1279 and died 29 May 1332 a nun in Amesbury, Wiltshire (England).
  14. A son, born in 1280 or 1281, who died very shortly after birth.
  15. Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, born August 1281 at Rhuddlan, died 5 May 1316. She married (1) John I, Count of Holland, (2) Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford & 3rd Earl of Essex.
  16. Edward II of England, also known as Edward of Caernarvon, born 25 April 1284 at Caernarvon died 21 September 1327. He married Isabella of France.

Eleanor as a mother

It has been suggested that Eleanor and Edward were more devoted to each other than to their children. As king and queen, however, it was impossible for them to spend much time in one place, and when they were very young, the children could not travel constantly with their parents. The children had a household staffed with attendants carefully chosen for competence and loyalty, with whom the parents corresponded regularly. The children lived in this comfortable establishment until they were about seven years old; then they began to accompany their parents for important occasions, and by their teens they were with the king and queen much of the time. In 1290, Eleanor sent one of her scribes to join this household, presumably to share in her children's education, and in 1306 Edward sharply scolded the woman in charge of his children because she had not kept him informed of their health.

Two incidents cited to imply Eleanor's lack of interest in her children are easily explained in the contexts of royal childrearing in general, and of particular events surrounding Edward and Eleanor's family. When their six-year-old son Henry lay dying at Guildford in 1274, neither parent made the short journey from London to see him; but he was tended by Edward's mother Eleanor of Provence, who had raised the boy during the four years his parents were on Crusade. The grandmother was thus at that moment more familiar to him than his parents, and the better able to comfort him in his illness. Since Henry was always sickly, the gravity of his illness was perhaps not realized until it was too late for his parents to reach him. Similarly, Edward and Eleanor allowed her mother Jeanne to raise their daughter Joan in Ponthieu (1274-78). This implies no parental lack of interest in the girl; the practice of fostering noble children in other households of sufficient dignity was not unknown and Jeanne was, of course, a dowager queen of Castile. Her household was thus safe and dignified, but it does appear that Edward and Eleanor had cause to regret their generosity in allowing Jeanne to foster young Joan. When the girl reached England in 1278, aged six, it turned out that she had been badly spoiled by her grandmother. She was spirited and often defiant throughout childhood, and in adulthood remained quite a handful for Edward.


  • Parsons, John Carmi. Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth Century England, 1995.
  • Parsons, John Carmi, "The Year of Eleanor of Castile's Birth and Her Children by Edward I," Mediaeval Studies 46 (1984): 245–265, esp. 246 n. 3.
  • Parsons, John Carmi, "'Que nos lactauit in infancia': The Impact of Childhood Care-givers on Plantagenet Family Relationships in the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries," in Women, Marriage, and Family in Medieval Christendom: Essays in Memory of Michael M. Sheehan, C.S.B, ed. Constance M. Rousseau and Joel T. Rosenthal (Kalamazoo, 1998), pp. 289-324.

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