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For her who we loved dearly in life, I beg your prayers in death

January 4, 2015

On 4 January 1291, with Parliament assembling near the priory at Ashridge founded by his cousin Edmund of Cornwall, where he had sought refuge in his grief, Edward I took up his pen again, with Eleanor still in his thoughts.

 

Immediately after her death he had sent a letter to the Archbishop of York seeking his prayers for Eleanor.  Similar letters appear to have been sent to other English bishops at the same time, judging from the entry in the wardrobe book.

 

As he emerged from his formal period of griving he composed another letter, this time to the Abbot of Cluny in France.  

The letter (very freely translated, owing to Edward's someone Henry Jamesean sentence construction) ran thus:

 

"I write to tell you, with great grief of mind, that this last November 28, God, the creator and director of all things,  who in his providence from the depths of heaven ordains, disposes and calls back his subjects and creatures, has summoned back to himself our most serene consort Eleanor, formerly Queen of England and herself of royal lineage. 

 

Since then our Consort, who we loved dearly in life, and whom we cannot cease to love now she is dead, has been prayed for constantly, following the opinion of divine scripture which advises this so that the dead may be loosed from their bonds. 

 

So, dear Father, while we have already held the funeral of our Consort with all solemn devotion, celebrating her life with sung masses and other holy services, we have decided to implore your affectionate prayers. 

 

The Living God who carries away the spirit of Princes helps those specially recommended to him by the exercise by priors, Kings, clergy and others of their power to bring subjects into communion, almsgiving or other works of charity and goodwill. And by this means any stain which owing to any omission was not purged by her in person, may thanks to the fullness of God’s mercy be wiped away by the benefit of your precious prayers. 

 

We ask you therefore to let us know by letter what masses and other celebrations you may decree to be done for our aforesaid consort  - and how many of them - so that we may measure this, and more, send you appropriate thanks for the extent to which we shall for good reason be bound to your own goodness in performing this."

 

This letter therefore provides not just the source for the best known verbal tribute by Edward to Eleanor ("who we loved dearly in life, and who we cannot cease to love now she is dead") but also a clear testimony to Edward's true, if somewhat conventional, piety and the urgency with which he sought to smooth Eleanor's path even in death.  Plainly he sought that Eleanor become the most prayed for of Queens, and hence fast tracked to heaven ...

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