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A day of reflection: Monday 18 December

December 18, 2014

After the exertions of the funeral procession, and the overwhelming main funeral at the Abbey, 18 December was a day of peace for Eleanor’s family and friends.

A few very minor pieces of business were done – provision made for a verderer for the forest of Ayshlee and an order for dower to be assigned to Maud, the widow of one John le Daggerewerthe who had agreed not to remarry without the King’s licence.  But there was also bits of business nearer to home – the appointment of William de Haustede – son of Eleanor’s favourite lady Margerie de Haustede and her husband, Eleanor’s knight Robert - to the living of Rolvenden in Kent.  William had formerly been a sumpterer in her household.  And there was also a piece of business surely picked up en route – the exemption of a man at Stamford from service on juries, assizes or recognisances for a year “on proof that he is not master of himself” (the mind boggles slightly …)

Otherwise it is tempting to suppose that Eleanor’s family paid a more private farewell at her grave in Westminster, and met with the talented workmen who would soon be put in charge of the unprecedented tribute which Edward had already indicated was to be made, in the form of the crosses.

This, therefore may be a good place to draw together a few thoughts about the crosses.  They are a series of 12, of which numbers 4, 5 and 10 survive.  It seems tolerably clear that all of them originally featured two things: iterations of Eleanor’s arms of Castile, Leon and Ponthieu and statues of Eleanor.

We know nothing about the first three crosses, but there is no report of them as particularly impressive or stately. By contrast the London Crosses evoked praise for their magnificence.  There is a sense that the breadth and elaboration of the crosses increased as the journey progressed.  This reflects the fact that it seems likely that the crosses were prepared essentially by three teams: Lincoln to Geddington (4 crosses, records lost), Hardingstone to St Albans (5 crosses, John de Bello/William of Ireland,  who were royal B team artisans), Waltham and London (3 crosses, Crundales/De Leger/Abingdon, who were royal A team artisans)

Looking at the crosses, it seems likely that there were approved sketches or designs featuring layer 1 with arms, layer 2 with statues, layer 3 with final gabling and a cross on top, which each team then incorporated into their own designs.  In the early crosses, as in Geddington, Eleanor may have been wearing a veil over her hair.  Likely reasons for this are to evoke the mourning of the early stages of the procession, or a recognition that the artistic C team were not up to dealing well with her hair.  One of the statue designs, with straight falling draperies, a sceptre and a hand to the cloak tie appears on all three crosses and echoes Eleanor’s seal, her tomb image, and very likely her appearance on the procession.  But there are others (again in slightly differing form on each cross) which evoke a live woman stepping forward and on the point of speech, or attentively listening.  They suggest that Eleanor may have posed for sketches during her life – as she met with Torel to plan her tomb.

One final detail I find particularly haunting.  Although the crosses look to be very different heights, this is an optical illusion, created by the differing base widths – the broader base making the cross appear shorter.  However in fact all are, minus their crosses, around 40 foot tall.  Eleanor was, on her death, 49 years old, and was preceded to her grave by a procession of 49 candles.  There is a real possibility that Edward had on another occasion marked Eleanor’s 44th birthday by an event where he created 44 knights. Is it not likely that the monuments, when complete with their crosses, were planned to be 49 foot high, in reference to Eleanor’s age?

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