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The day of Eleanor's death

November 28, 2014

By 28 November 1290 Eleanor had been ill at Harby, just outside Lincoln, for over a week. All about her knew that death was close.  The wardrobe records had disclosed a few days earlier that she was bedridden and that Edward had sent for his close friend Robert Tybetot.  And then they fell silent.

On the 28th a messenger rushed off to Lincoln to buy ingredients for medicines – very possibly painkillers to ease her last few hours, because no-one now doubted that her end was near.  But late on 28 November 1290 Eleanor died, with Edward at her side throughout her last few hours.  She had received the sacrament of the dying and, perhaps with problems disclosed by her recent property inspections in mind, she had charged Edward to institute an inquiry into the running of her properties and make amends to those unjustly treated.

Two records of the event remain in writing.  The first is the bleak note in her wardrobe book: “Decessus Regine”.

The second is a heartrending letter from Edward to the Archbishop of York, dated the very day of her death:

 

"Edward, … to the venerable father in God. …John, Archbishop of York, … 

Irreverent Death, which deigns to spare no person, has afflicted our heart with a profound grief, and has tuned our harp to sorrow. On this Tuesday before the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, misfortune has taken from this world the Lady Eleanor, Queen of England, our consort, who has been joined to us from our youth. Reflecting therefore that since, by the ordinance of the Most High, who is no respecter of persons, no one on this earth is able to avoid walking that path, nothing could be more advisable than to make provision for the quiet of her soul, and the souls of others piously sleeping; for while they cannot now assist themselves, they may be helped by the pious prayers of others. We therefore request and require you, father, that you will, so far as you are able, cause and procure the celebration of masses for the good of her soul, and of the office for the dead and with all other beneficial prayers, in York cathedral and in the other churches and places of religion throughout your diocese.” 

 

We know the result of this letter: less than six months after Eleanor's death the Archbishop of York reported that over 47,000 masses had already been said for her and a forty days exemption from penance had already been granted there for anyone who said the Paternoster and Ave Maria for the Queen.

One other piece of business required immediate attention: Edward immediately granted a right of free warren to the owner of the house where Eleanor died, Richard de Weston and to one William de Huggeford and their heirs. Plainly even in the moment of his loss, Edward wished to express his gratitude to the people who had looked after Eleanor in her final days.

Having done these immdiate tasks the King returned to his grief. For three days there is no record of any business being transacted by him. Instead we may suppose he began to plan the magnificent funeral procession with which he was about to honour Eleanor, and which I propose to follow in this blog over the next few weeks.

 

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