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Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

The untold story of the remarkable woman behind England's greatest medieval king, Edward I

'... an important addition to the scholarship both of Edward I’s reign a​nd of medieval queenship. '

Dr Andrew Spencer, English Historical Review

'Beautifully written and impeccably researched, this should grace any history lover's bookshelves'

Tracy Borman's Book of the Year 2014

Eleanor of Castile cover



Eleanor of Castile, Edward I's adored queen, died in 1290  - aged just forty nine.

Throughout his reign she had deliberately kept in the shadows, hiding her very considerable abilities, and her influence in political affairs, from all save their closest circle of friends.

After nearly seven and a quarter centuries she is finally celebrated in a full length biography which tells the story of  her remarkable life - and the devotion which caused her husband to commemorate her in unprecedented style.  

Eleanor had a fascinating childhood, which perfectly equipped her to be the partner of the King who was both England's greatest medieval warrior king and its most distinguished legal and administrative reformer.  But her life thereafter was even more gripping.

She refused to go into safe exile during the Barons' Revolt of 1258-1265 - and was taken prisoner after Edward was captured at the Battle of Lewes.  For a year her fate, and that of Edward, hung in the balance; but their young children both died.  Once Edward was once again free, she and he went on crusade, during which time he survived an assassination attempt, which Eleanor may well have witnessed.

Throughout Edward's reign Eleanor travelled at his side, bearing him at least sixteen children of whom only six survived to adulthood.  

But, as this book reveals, Eleanor's role in Edward's kingship was not limited to bearing him company and bearing his children.  She took charge of the job of making the Queens of England independently solvent, building a massive property empire which she oversaw with close personal attention.  At the same time she influenced Edward's military and political actions in a myriad of ways....

"a thought-provoking portrait of a quietly remarkable queen.... [Eleanor] is convincingly characterized as more intellectual, more literary and possibly more intelligent than her imposing husband; a woman of hard-nosed business acumen who was also possessed of an unshowy integrity."

Helen Castor, Times Literary Supplement

The Reviews

This is the first full-length narrative biography of an intriguing and complex queen. In this fascinating study, Sara Cockerill does full justice to Eleanor of Castile, devoted wife, stateswoman, patron of letters, garden enthusiast and acquisitive landlord. In telling an intriguing story, she provides many new insights and explanations.

Professor Michael Prestwich, author of "Edward I"


A compelling and intricately researched biography that brings one of history’s most fascinating, influential yet neglected queens out of the shadows.

Tracy Borman, author of  "Matilda, Queen of the Conqueror" and "Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII's most faithful servant"


A brilliant new life of a lost Plantagenet queen. Sara Cockerill writes with scholarship and verve, bringing alive the medieval world, and shedding new light on one of the most surprising powers behind England's medieval throne.

Dan Jones, bestselling author of "The Plantagenets"

"Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen ...  a nuanced portrait of a remarkable woman ... a thoughtful biography of an influential and dynamic medieval queen well worth reading that avoids overreaching its conclusions or sensationalizing its subject."

Arlene Sindelar, The Medieval Review


"The task of bringing one of history’s undeservedly neglected queens to life would be a daunting challenge for any historian, and yet it is one that Sara Cockerill, a barrister by trade, has managed splendidly....Eleanor of Castile has long been regarded as holding a limited role with little influence on the court or her husband, King Edward I. Cockerill challenges this assertion by highlighting the importance of Eleanor’s economic activities and examining her role as a landlady in her own right. ...This biography is a delightfully written introduction to those unfamiliar with Eleanor, and sufficiently detailed to appeal to enthusiasts of the period."

Fiona McMillan


"This terrific book recounts Eleanor's life - an amazing life, captured to perfection and told to us by the brilliant Sara Cockerill - this is a major study of a hugely important and fascinating Queen of England"


"It is often stated that writing a biography of a medieval person, particularly a woman, is impossible and that any effort will descend into quasi-fiction, littered with more than its fair share of "must haves" and "presumably would haves". In her new book, Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen, Sara Cockerill disproves this assertion splendidly. ...[it] is a compelling and exhaustive look at one of England's most fascinating queens and a beautiful example of a medieval biography."

Gareth Russell, auther of "The Emperors: How Europe's Rulers were destroyed by the First World War"


And: Tracy Borman's Book of the Year 2014!

What made me write about Eleanor of Castile?

I was reading Michael Prestwich's brilliant biography of Edward I and noticed that he remarked on the fact that the character of Edward's reign changes after the death of Eleanor.  The coincidence struck me as rather odd, because the natural inference would be that she had something to do with this, and yet everything I'd ever read about Eleanor suggested that she was an extremely quiet, retiring, supportive queen - a bit of a sap, in fact.

So I decided to do a bit of digging, and the picture which I uncovered, once I started reading what had been written about Eleanor herself, was so staggeringly different to what I had understood that I just kept on.

Ultimately it struck me as a shocking thing that such a fascinating, forceful, woman as Eleanor should be either forgotten or misrepresented by history, that I decided to try my hand at producing a biography of her myself.

This is the result.  I've lived with Eleanor for years now, and have come to admire and like her enormously.  I hope that you will, too.

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