Longsword by David Pilling

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Wedding day

Today is the anniversary of the marriage of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, married at the monastery of Las Huelgos, Burgos, on 1st November 1254. Edward was 15, Eleanor just 12.

 Theirs was one of the more successful royal partnerships. Over the course of their 36-year marriage the couple produced 16 children, though only 6 lived to adulthood. The sheer number of stillborn and infant deaths may have induced a certain emotional detachment in the parents: for instance, they made no effort to visit their 6-year old son Henry as he lay dying at Guildford in 1274. Of their adult children, the longest-lived was Margaret, Duchess of Brabant, who achieved the grand old age of 58.

Eleanor was unpopular in England. She didn't bother to learn English and amassed a fortune by buying up cheap or encumbered manors and squeezing maximum profits out of them. This made Eleanor very rich and the English very annoyed. As a popular rhyme had it: "The king desires to get our gold, The queen our manors fair to hold..."

When Eleanor died in 1290, aged 49, the annalist of Dunstable recorded her passing with a terseness that spoke volumes: "A Spaniard by birth. She acquired many fine manors."

One person at least adored the Queen. Edward, extreme in all his passions, clearly loved Eleanor with deathless intensity. After her death in 1290, aged 49, he said thus of his late wife in a letter to the abbot of Cluny in France: "My harp is turned to mourning. In life I loved her dearly, in death I cannot cease to love." 

Edward seems to have been paraphrasing Job 30:31, a modern translation of which reads thus and may give an insight into his state of mind:

'When I hoped for good, evil came,
When I looked for light, then came darkness.
The churning inside me never stops,
Days of suffering confront me.
I go about blackened, but not by the sun,
I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
I have become a brother of jackals,
A companion of owls,
My skin grows black and peels.
My body burns with fever,
My lyre is turned to mourning,
And my flute accompanies those who weep.'

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