The second eyewitness account: St Albans
A similar state of affairs pertains at the next stop, St Albans, home to one of England’s premier abbeys, and one with close links to the royal court. It was from here that Matthew Paris wrote, with material which often indicates very good sources close to the throne.
St Albans was also the town closest to one of Eleanor’s favourite properties, Langley (now Kings Langley), where she had made many improvements to the house and garden, and where the nursery wing of the Court was most frequently to be found. St Albans would therefore offer an opportunity for the staff of that establishment, who knew Eleanor very well, to pay their final respects.
Despite the upheavals which the monastery was undergoing, with its change of Abbot, the inhabitants put on a splendid show, as the chronicler recounts:
“When the body … approached St Albans all the convent, solemnly dressed in albs and copes, went out to meet it at the church of St Michael on the edge of the town. From there it processed to the presbytery and was laid before the high altar. That whole night it was honoured by the entire abbey with assiduous devotion, with divine office and holy vigils. In each of the towns and places where the body rested the lord King ordered the construction of a cross of wondrous height on which cross the Queen’s likeness was depicted, in praise of the crucified Lord and of the queen’s memory, so that her soul should be prayed for by those who passed by.”
Other memorials of Eleanor continued in St Albans: the abbey founded a yearly service in 1294 and in 1305 Edward II asked the abbot to take in John le Parker, a servant of Eleanor’s from her nearby manor of Langley, who wished to spend his last days in prayer for the Queen’s soul.
The Cross itself was the last of the John de Bello group, which we have followed from Northampton. It seems to have been a substantial cross, costing roughly £100 and being described as “verie stately” in 1596. But the Cross suffered a similar fate to most of the others. It was probably substantially demolished in 1643 by the Roundheads. Stukeley shows its location on a plan dated 1721, but it seems likely that this simply represents the location of the base, which is recorded as being demolished to make way for the Market Cross in 1701. The Clock Tower is on approximtely the site of the Cross.
Yet, again, the cross is not entirely forgotten. A plaque has been placed on the Clock Tower to mark the location of the Cross.