Geddington - the first surviving cross
These days Geddington is a charming small village, whose nearest train station is Kettering. In the C13 it was the site of a substantial royal hunting lodge. The term hunting lodge can be a little deceptive, though. There were extensive kennels, and a mews for some of the royal falcons. The dogs were fed a diet which cost more than most poor people’s daily food. The house itself featured separate chapels for King and Queen, both wainscoted, painted green and spangled with gold. There was a great hall with decorative windows, and smart chambers for both King and Queen, modernised by Henry III. It was big enough that Henry II held a Great Council here in 1188 and prestigious enough that Richard I met the King of Scotland here in 1194. It had been a favoured stop for the hunting mad Eleanor and Edward, who had stopped here repeatedly on journeys north, spending nearly two weeks there in December 1274, and returning to it in 1275 and 1279 as well as earlier in 1290. Its popularity was doubtless helped by the fact that it was close to a number of Eleanor’s key owned or dower properties in the area: the route would pass her dower properties of Apethorpe and Rockingham and finish near her Market Harborough group of properties.
It is likely that this latter point is the key to the stop at Geddington, for the fact that the cortege headed in this direction, more or less along the line of the modern A43, and did not continue down Ermine Street, to which it later returned before the entry into London has long been seen as an oddity. Revictualling, flooding and even a quarrel with the Abbot of Peterborough have all been advanced as explanations. But the most likely explanation is that since the funeral procession was a personal tribute, it was deliberately routed through places which had resonances for Edward and Eleanor, and close to as many of her properties as possible. Geddington was both. It may be significant that after so many happy visits here, Edward would never visit it again, and it was allowed to sink into disrepair.
Eleanor’s body will have lain in the church of St Mary Magdalene, a Saxon church still in the process of modernisation in 1290. The parish priest was the delightfully named Galf de Gropes. (honestly!)
As with the earlier crosses, no records survive of the planning and costs of this cross, but crucially the cross remains, more or less intact, and it has not been subject to the heavy restorations/improvements/vandalism which have beset the other surviving crosses.
All the crosses have three layers, and all appear to be around 40 foot, less the crosses, which all have lost. But the Geddington Cross is unique. Waltham and Hardingstone noticeably resemble each other; Geddington is utterly different. Like Waltham it has a hexagonal base and bears three images of Eleanor; but the base is much smaller in footprint. Unlike Waltham it rises to be triangular in the second layer, which means that the images do not have a clear field of view, but hide from their admirers.
Perhaps the key feature is its liberal use of “stone lacework” (of which roses form a major part) – this is used as a highlight elsewhere. On Geddington it is the main fabric of the first layer. So Eleanor’s coats of arms, in the top half of the first layer, sit proud of a soaring column of this intricate lacework, and the columns of repeated decoration draw the eye upwards, to the shields and on to the images of Eleanor in the second layer.
Those images are usually considered inferior in quality to those of the other surviving crosses both in anatomical treatment and in the handling of the draperies. Each image of the Queen (here wearing a headdress under her crown) is set in a gabled recess and is somewhat hard to see for the supportive column which stands in front of her. The top layer is a slender spire with finials adorned with oak leaves and flowers.
The next record of the cortege comes on Friday 8 December at Northampton. It seems likely that the royal party stayed in the congenial surroundings of Geddington from 6th to the morning of the 8th while preparations were made for the next stage of the journey.
So a short pause in the tour for the next two days. The journey south will recommence on 8 December ….