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The final step - Eleanor's heart burial at Blackfriars

December 19, 2014


It was on 19 December that Eleanor’s heart was buried at the Dominicans’ priory in London – the site now known as Blackfriars.

The Dominicans’ who probably played a significant part in Eleanor’s education were very close to her heart.  She was a foundress of the Blackfriars priory, as well as those at Chichester and Rhuddlan, and she gave liberally to them elsewhere.  She appears to have been personally close to their English provincial prior, the distinguished theologian and future Archbishop of Dublin, William of Hothum, who refused preferment to remain in the royal household in Eleanor’s last years.

Further, her first child, Anonyma 1, was buried in the house of the Dominicans in Bordeaux, and young Henry was buried with the Dominicans at Guildford.  The hearts of her close friend and cousin by marriage John de Vescy, and her best known and probably best loved son Alphonso were to be inhumed with hers at Blackfriars.

Eleanor had made preparations for this event.  In mid February 1290 her household records note a sum paid to prepare a chapel at Blackfriars “where the Queen’s heart is to be buried”.

The nature of the tomb at Blackfriars is unclear and has been considerably debated.  It stood on the north side of the choir, in a chapel or in the Lady Chapel. From the traces in the documents, it appears clear that it was a smaller monument than those at Lincoln or Westminster, more in the nature of a reliquary than a full tomb and it featured three metal images made by William of Suffolk.  There was also a figure of an angel holding a representation of the queen’s heart.  This was made by Adam the Goldsmith.  The heart tomb was surrounded by some decorated stonework, the products of  Alexander of Abingdon’s artistry.  It also featured paintings by the same artist as provided the London tomb painting (William de Dunolmia), and given the amount of wax and metal ordered for the image it is likely that the tomb was, if not full size, certainly not small.  There was a crest (possibly again Eleanor’s arms) carved by one William de Hoo above the tomb, and in keeping with Eleanor’s love of wall hangings, there was a cloth painted to hang above the Queen’s heart.  Sadly no clear picture emerges from this, partly because heart tombs seem to have been quite varied in styles. 

Parsons has suggested parallels with Aymer de Valence’s heart tomb at Winchester, and that of Thibaut of Champagne at Provins. 

My own guess is that given other Capetian influences discerned so far, St Louis’ lost heart tomb would have been the inspiration.  Another possibility which seems to offer parallels is the viscera tomb of Isabelle of Aragon at Cosenza which features three relief figures beneath a tracery arcade above an altar.

Thus Eleanor of Castile’s funeral came finally to an end.  Edward I retired to Ashridge in Surrey, where his uncle Richard of Cornwall had founded a hermitage. Apart from sealing a few writs, silence falls until 4 January when Edward picked up his pen to write to the Abbot of Cluny of his loss – a letter I shall post on the appropriate day.


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