In 1290, Eleanor, Edward I’s Queen died at Harby near Lincoln from a fever. The King, heartbroken and in mourning accompanied Eleanor’s body (minus her internal organs which were interred at Lincoln) on its slow procession to London for burial at Westminster Abbey.
In commemoration of his late Queen, Edward had twelve memorial crosses erected at the points where the body had rested each night on its journey south. The cortege’s progress had been slow, being ‘dictated by the royal houses and monasteries where the king could spend the night’ (Aslet, p.323). The resulting twelve crosses were the work of different designers and masons and were not uniform in style or size. It is safe to assume that the grandest of the twelve were at Cheapside and Charing Cross in London if only because the accounts from the time indicate that these were the most expensive constructions (Alexander and Binski, p.362). Some speculation is necessary when discussing the Eleanor Crosses because, of the twelve that were built in the 1290s, only three – at Waltham Cross, Hardingstone and Geddington (below) survive today. The monument now outside Charing Cross station, incidentally, is Victorian; it is not a replica of the thirteenth century cross, nor is it at the site of the original.
In 1290, Geddington, home to royal hunting lodge, was the third halt, after Grantham and Stamford, on the journey to London. Today, this fine memorial looks just as it did when this engraving was published in 1805 (you can see the full item description here). Moreover, apart from some natural weathering, the cross looks the same as it did when it was built around 725 years ago.
Geddington’s longevity and relative intactness is all the more impressive when viewed against the privations visited upon some of its fellow crosses. The monuments at Charing Cross and Cheapside were both destroyed in a bout of Puritanical fervour (under an ordinance from the Parliamentary Committee for the Demolition of Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry) during the 1640s. In the early eighteenth century, the Eleanor Cross at St Albans, following years of neglect, was demolished. Later in the same century, the example at Waltham Cross was adorned with road signs.
That the Eleanor Crosses have suffered the all too common traits of carelessness and wilful destruction is irrefutable. That the cross at Geddington still stands, both as a memorial to a Queen and as a tangible link to another age, is therefore a reason to celebration. That this monument, ‘one of the most sophisticated pieces of architecture…from the Middle Ages’ (Aslet, ibid) remains in near original condition is truly a reason to rejoice.
References and Further Reading
Alexander, J and Binski, P, Eds. (1987), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, Royal Academy
Aslet, C (2005), Landmarks of Britain, Hodder and Stoughton