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Unpicking the route - and mythical crosses

December 3, 2014

(The Beaumond Cross in Newark.  Image Richard Croft for Geograph.org.uk)

For today’s tour stop I’m going to deal with the obscurity which long clouded the funeral procession, and the other locations posited for stops along the way.

For the truth is that while the route of the procession now seems fairly clear, this was for a long time not the case.  The locations of the King, and hence the cortege, are only rarely recorded in the chronicles.  Generally, where the crosses have disappeared, we are reliant on a piece of business having been recorded in the Close Rolls, the Patent Rolls or the Fine Rolls done in a particular location on a particular day or by odd mentions in the wardrobe accounts.  These sources were for many years far from accessible, and early historians of Eleanor were dependent on scraps of information.

Thus Gough, the author of the earliest itinerary for Edward I, had gaps more or less repeatedly from Lincoln to Northampton.  He and the Cross historian Stukeley both then theorised that the route of the procession ran from Lincoln along the Fosse Way to Newark and Leicester, before moving across to Stamford.  This confusion was added to by WH Stevenson.  His work of 1899 first cleared upan issue between the two Harbys visited during the course of summer and autumn; the Rev Joseph Hunter had earlier identified the Harby visited in September with the one at which Eleanor died, and therefore suggested she had remained there for months while Edward toured the Peak district.  BUt at the same time Stevenson added his views in favour Newark and then Grantham as “Cross stops”. Newark, he felt was a necessary stop in terms of the distance between Lincoln and Grantham, and it also offered very good hospitality for the cortege, being a major centre of the Bishops of Lincoln.

(Stevenson's map from http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/articles/tts/tts1899/eleanor1.htm copyright AP Nicholson)

Based on these powerful C19 voices, a tradition grew up that the cross known as the Beaumond Cross in Newark  either is the Eleanor Cross or is a successor to the Eleanor Cross.  However the Beaumond Cross has none of the hallmarks of an Eleanor cross; each of the surviving and attested crosses can be traced as having at least images of Eleanor, and usually also depictions of her arms.  All the surviving crosses boast three layers beneath the lost crosses; one more than on St Louis’ Montjoie memorial crosses.

By contrast the Beaumond Cross is, in essence, a plain cross.  It has a tapering shaft of about thirteen feet or so, delicately tapering from a diameter of about eighteen inches at the base to some twelve inches at the top.  At the top is an ornamental octagonal capital, with niches containing small seated figures. There is also a niche at the base which featured a saintly figure.  What is more, it can be documented as existing from no later than 1367.  It cannot therefore realistically be seen as a replacement for a lost Eleanor Cross. 

More possible is the theory, hinted at by Stevenson in a later article, that the cross may have been raised in honour of Eleanor, but not as part of the funeral procession.  Rather it may be a tribute to her from the Bishop of Lincoln who attended her death bed, participated in the procession, and conducted the Lincoln and Westminster services.  Another possibility, suggested by John Carmi Parsons, was that it was a tribute from the Earl and Countess of Lincoln, her close friends.

Once Newark is removed from the agenda, there is no case to be made for Leicester as a cross site. 

The first crosses, all of which are now lost – apart from the faintest traces which I will discuss as we get to each one - proceeded thus: Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford

 

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