Book Review: “Eleanor of Castile” by Jean Powrie

Powrie Eleanor of Castile

What a delightful and fun book this is. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on Eleanor of Castile and had this book on my shelf. The back cover of the book states this is not a conventional biography of Eleanor but deals more with her death, the burial of her remains and the journey of her cortege from the north of England to Westminster along with information on the Eleanor Crosses.

The book was published in 1990 and the first chapter is an overview of the life of Eleanor, giving what sparse facts we know of her. The chapter ends with her death in Harby. The next section of the book has chapters describing the cities where Eleanor’s body rested giving many details of the locations as they existed in the thirteenth century. Oftentimes there are maps. The author gives the route Eleanor’s corpse took from Harby to London recounting the possible roads chosen and how the cortege entered each locale. For every city there is a description of what gates, churches, cathedrals, friaries and abbeys existed at the time as well as any castles or other likely housing locations. Powrie tells us which church the body may have lain in and where the entourage probably lodged overnight. In most cases this was in a royal castle or a friary.

The most interesting aspect of this book is the narrative explaining all the features and qualities of the Eleanor Crosses, the monuments King Edward I built for his beloved wife at every location where her body rested on this long journey. These Crosses are not just a memorial to the Queen’s life and King Edward’s regard for Eleanor but a symbol of royal power. Powrie tells us of the Crosses that still exist and gives drawings or photos of their appearance and how they have been restored. There are many of the Crosses that no longer exist and there are explanations for what most likely happened to them. If there are any depictions from history or possible remnants of the Crosses there are illustrations. Any records of payments made to artisans for the creation of the Crosses are given in detail.

The book ends with information on Westminster Abbey and Eleanor and Edward’s tomb there across from Edward’s father King Henry III’s burial place, next to the shrine of King Edward the Confessor. This book is a pleasant surprise and filled with pertinent information on cities and buildings in medieval England. If you are interested in the subject, I would recommend it.