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Chere Reine or Charing?

December 16, 2014

On 16 December it was St Pauls’ turn to celebrate mass, followed by the Dominicans at Blackfriars, and then the body was carried to Westminster.  There Eleanor’s body would have rested either in the Chapel of the palace, or more likely at the priory of St Mary Rounceval at Charing at the junction of modern Northumberland Road and Whitehall.

This final cross is the best known, and carries with it the most misconceptions.  Everyone reading this will probably know the three main ones.  First, Charing was not so called after Eleanor as “Chère Reine”.  Charing was an area of London which can be proved to have had existed for some time before Eleanor’s bier rested there.  Its name probably derives from the Saxon “cierre” which means to turn, as it fronted onto a bend in the river Thames. (And incidentally there is no evidence for Edward calling Eleanor Chère reine – he tended to call her “Karissima Consors” – dearest consort  - and they both used the relevant words for companion). Secondly it did not stand where the modern version stands, but where the equestrian statue of Charles I is located, on the south side of Trafalgar Square (opposite the site of St Mary Rounceval). 

Thirdly the cross one sees today is not the original, but a replica placed there as an advertisement for the newly built Charing Cross Hotel designed by John Middleton Barry.

One may ask why a cross was needed here, so close to Westminster.  The answer in my view lies in the very personal nature of the tribute: Charing was the site of the royal mews for the couple’s beloved hunting birds.  Eleanor had beautified it with a remarkable fountain in the Spanish style and it was plainly a place close to her heart.

As for the Cross, made under the supervision of Richard and then Roger of Crundale, it seems to have taken a huge time to create, with the payments preceding and outlasting the payments for all the other crosses: the entry  “Charing” in Eleanor’s executors’ accounts is almost a running joke!  The total construction cost exceeded £700, of which the majority was labour cost.  The cross was often later said to be constructed of marble, and certainly some payments for Purbeck marble can be identified, but was probably actually constructed in part at least of  Caen stone, polished to look like marble and only part faced with marble.  The cross is reputed to have been based on an octagonal design with eight images of the queen.  The drawings which survive (Agas and Wynegaerde) suggest that it was either octagonal with four images or hexagonal with three images.

Later, more detailed, drawings are completely speculative.

Charing Cross was not as unpopular as Cheapside, probably because of the lack of obviously religious imagery.  Like the other crosses, though, it was rather scruffy by the late C16, when it was described as being “defaced by antiquitie”.  It was condemned by the same vote of Parliament as the Cheapside Cross, but there was no similar head of steam for its destruction.  It therefore survived until  1647, and its final removal was greeted with something of regret by Londoners, who joked that the lawyers would never be able to find the courts at Westminster now that the Cross was no longer there to guide them.

 

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