Queen Eleanor’s Crosses

For 350 years the Queen’s Cross was a prominent landmark close to the Great North Road near Stamford. Until destroyed by Cromwellian forces in 1645, it stood to the south west of the road on higher ground then known then as Anemone Hill between Stamford and Great Casterton.

This was one of 12 “Eleanor Crosses” erected by a disconsolate Edward I after his wife died in 1290.

Edward had married Eleanor, daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile, in 1254. Their marriage was politically unpopular yet notably successful in personal terms, and the couple had 16 children. Eleanor accompanied Edward on a crusade, is reputed to have saved his life at the siege of Acre in 1272, and was travelling north with him to fight the Scotts in November 1290. Eleanor was 45 when she died following a fever. After three days of mourning at Harby, she was taken to Lincoln where her body was embalmed. Her viscera were sent for burial in the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral.

The cortege set off from Lincoln to London passing through Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone (Northampton), Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham, and Westcheap. This 160 mile circuitous route may reflect the wish to visit places of significance to the couple – but probably also reflects the difficult condition of Ermine Street through Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire at this time of year.

At Westminster she was buried at the feet of her father in law, Henry III. Her heart travelled with the body and was buried in the abbey church at Blackfriars.

Edward requested that Richard Crundale, his master mason, provide a basic design for a cross to be erected in 12 of the 15 resting places. Of the 12 crosses erected, only 3 remain – Geddington, Northampton and Waltham Cross. (The cross at Charing Cross is in fact a replica.)

Each cross had a flight of steps and was built in three stages, the first stage consisting of 3, 6 or 8 sides bearing carved heraldic shields of England, Castille, Leon and Ponthieu.The second stage was a platform upon which stood as many statues of Eleanor as there were sides. A tabernacle encased each statue to give the impression of a shrine. The third stage continued the column and was surmounted by a cross.

There are no contemporary descriptions of the Stamford cross but the base was excavated by local antiquary, William Stukeley, vicar of All Saints in 1745. He had long suspected that a tumulus on the Casterton Road marked the base of the cross, and when the turnpike surveyor began digging in the area for roadstone, he was able to excavate the foundations. His reports describe the base as having 6 or 8 sides, and a number of decorated stone fragments were removed.

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