Queen Eleanor of Castile
Queen of England, 1272-1290
Eleanor of Castile, who married King Edward I of England, was never content to play the part of a passive queen. For thirty-six years she was an active queen-consort to her equally strong-minded husband.
Daughter of King Ferdinand III of Castile, teen-aged Eleanor married Edward in 1254,
whereupon Castile yielded to Edward's father, King Henry III, its claims to the disputed French territory of Gascony.
For eighteen years Eleanor was queen-in-waiting, for Henry III did not die until 1272. She accompanied her husband on diplomatic missions and military excursions. She went with him on Crusade from 1270 to 1273. When criticized for such an unwomanly adventure, she said: "Nothing must part them whom God has joined, and the way to heaven is as near if not nearer from Syria as from England or my native Spain." Though the Crusade was not very productive militarily, it was for the royal family: during those three years Eleanor bore Edward two children.
Edward acceded in 1272. As queen of a hot-tempered king, Eleanor has been credited with calming Edward and with offering sound advice, which he often acted on. They were a devoted couple. During their thirty-six years of marriage she bore him sixteen children. Of these six survived to adulthood, including Edward's successor, Edward II.
Eleanor loved fine clothes, elegant possessions and land. She acquired vast estates during her queenship, while Edward was searching for new ways to squeeze revenues out of his subjects. Hence the popular bit of doggerel:
The king desires to get our gold,
The queen, our manors fair to hold.
When she died, Edward was disconsolate. He wrote of a wife "whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love." As a memorial he erected twelve monumental crosses, each marking a stopping-place of the procession that bore her body from Nottingham to London. The last of these "Eleanor crosses" was at Charing Cross in London. Several of them still stand.
As seen in her effigies, Eleanor was a graceful, majestic queen. She clasps a scepter. Her expression is calm and self-assured, as befits a queen who never doubted her regal status.
Learn more about Queen Eleanor of Castile:
Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest, by Agnes Strickland. Vol. 1. London, 1851.
Eleanor of Castile, by John Carmi Parsons. St. Martin's Press, New York, 1995.
The Court and Household of Eleanor of Castile in 1290, by John Carmi Parsons. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, 1977.
The Queens of England, by Barbara Softly. Stein and Day, Briarcliff Manor, 1976.