A.D. 1290. The death of Queen Eleanor of Castile
A correction of an historical error.
By William Stevenson.
|Iter of Edward I and Queen Eleanor in A.D. 1290.|
THE death of Queen Eleanor, the first consort of our great King Edward I, is one of the most striking and picturesque incidents in the mediaeval history of this county.
Like other details of history which have been passed under review by learned men, it is one that will bear reexamining, especially so as time in his march leaves new lights behind. It is only in our day that we have established indisputable right to the scene of her death in the Harby of our county, a right which has been disputed, owing to the fact that manors or villages of the same name exist in the neighbouring counties of Lincoln and Leicester. This question has been set at rest by a learned essay on the subject from the pen of my eldest son, W. H. Stevenson, M.A., Oxon (English Historical Review of 1888, p. 315).
The historical error I wish to correct was committed by the late Rev. Joseph Hunter, F.S.A., in his lengthy notice on the death of this queen in the 29th Vol. of "The Archaeologia," p. 167. Mr. Hunter found documentary proof of the king being in attendance on his dying queen at Harby from the 20th to the 28th of November, 1290. He found further evidence, which I have not been able to confirm, that the king was at Harby full eleven weeks before, viz. on the 11th September. He accepted this as the Harby of the queen's death, and built upon it the theory that the king and queen on their progress north, being at Northampton late in August, were soon after parted, the queen going direct to Harby, in our county, and the king joining her there on September 11th. This learned man had not the benefit of the full Iter of this king before and after this date. Had he possessed it, he would have found him on Septr. 5th and 6th at Rockingham, in Northamptonshire; on the 7th and 8th, and possibly the 9th, at Longthorp, otherwise Torpel, a manor of the queen's, leased for life, February 14th, 1284, to Gilbert Peeche; on the 10th at Greetham, in Rutlandshire; and on the 11th and 12th at Nottingham. Now, it is clear that the king, riding from Greetham to Nottingham on the 11th, would pass through Harby, in Leicestershire, and that he was not then at Harby, in the far east of our county, and here lies Mr. Hunter's error. We have no evidence of the king arriving at Harby in our county until the 20th November, and there is no evidence that the queen ever left his side from the time of their visit at Northampton late in August until the day of her death. This being the case, we can with confidence assume the queeen's route as identical with the known Iter of the king and fill in an otherwise blank page of our county history. From the 13th to 17th September they were at Newstead Priory; on the following day at Rufford Abbey;1 on the 19th to 22nd at Clipston Palace; on the 23rd to 26th at Dronfield, Bolsover Castle, Tideswell, and Chapel-en-le-Frith; on the 27th to October 6th, and possibly October 7th, at Macclesfield; on the 8th to the 12th returning by Ashford, Chesterfield, and Langwith to Clipston, where they tarried until November 11; on the 12th they were again at Rufford Abbey, where the king made a grant to the queen of the lands, &c, of a prisoner in London (Calr. Pat. Rolls, 1281-1292, p. 394).
A curious point arises here which Mr. Hunter associates with Harby in Notts. As above stated, they were at Rufford Abbey on the 18th September, and again on this date (November 12th) an interval of twenty-four days. At the earliest of these dates a Henry de Montepessulano (Mont-pellier, in ihe North of France, the great medical university of that time), evidently the court physician, who went, we find, oversea with the king in April four years previously, was paid one mark (13/4) for syrup and other medicine bought at Lincoln for the queen's use. This may or may not prove that Her Majesty was indisposed at the date of the first visit to Rufford; but the inference is strong that she was seriously indisposed at the second visit, twenty-four days later, for on the morning of the 13th a progress eastward towards Lincoln was commenced to Laxton or Lexington, one of the greatest baronial strongholds in the county, the residence of Adam de Everingham, who about this time enjoyed the right possessed by his Norman ancestors of the custody of the forests of the king in Notts, and Derbyshire. Adam de Everingham had fought for the king in the Scotch wars, and would be well known to His Majesty, for he had been knighted by him. Here they stayed four or five days; on the 19th we find them at Marnham, the ancient manor of the Chaworths before they moved to Wiverton; at Marnham on the following day they would cross the river Trent by the ancient ferry and arrive at Harby. This ferry has in our day been recently closed.
Mr. Hunter says: "The king remained in the immediate neighbourhood," possibly meaning Clipston Palace, "until November 20, and then went to her" (the queen) "and was present at her death on November 28th." If news were conveyed to the king at Clipston that his queen was in a dying state, we can scarcely conceive he would be tarrying nine days on the way to Harby, a distance of less than twenty miles. His slow progress is far more in consonance with the view that the queen, sick almost to death, was being carried by slow stages on a litter towards Lincoln. The above Iter, upon which so much depends, and which is perfect almost to a day, has never before been published; it has been framed by me from evidence afforded by the "Calendars of the Patent Rolls," and from an office copy in the Public Record Office, London, which no doubt embraces the Close Rolls and other records of this king. The fact of the king being at Chapel-en-le-Frith on September 26th is given on the authority of the Rev. Joseph Hunter.
It may not be out of place to continue this Iter a few more days, until the body of the queen arrived at Westminster Abbey:—November 29th to December 1st, three days, the king was possibly at Harby Manor House mourning the loss of his beloved queen. Hunter says: " He felt her death very deeply, and is said to have mourned for her all the rest of his life." It is certain that no instruments passed the Great Seal on those days. On December the 2nd and until the 4th he was at Lincoln, where her body was embalmed, and her internal parts buried beside the High Altar in that Cathedral; on the 5th he was at Brigg-Casterton, north of Stamford; for the three following days, viz. the 6th, 7th, and 8th, we lose all evidence, except that afforded by Camden, who said that an Eleanor cross formerly existed at Stamford, and the evidence furnished by the present existence of the beautiful cross at Geddington, Northamptonshire; on the 9th he was at the capital town of that county, near to which stands an Eleanor cross; for the following three days, viz. the 10th, 11th, and 12th, we have no evidence ; on the 13th he was at St. Albans, and the following day at London, to which fact Charing Cross, the last historical resting-place of the body of this great queen owes its origin.
Having roughly traced the outline of this faded picture, I may be excused if I place it in a better light. With the view of qualifying myself for the task, I have, so to speak, walked in the footsteps of this royal pair, by visiting every place recorded in the above Iter, partly by excursions with the members of this Society, but mainly with my youngest son, or a chance companion. I was deeply interested in the old-world appearance of the way from Rufford Abbey to Laxton, as I drove through the unenclosed or common cornfield of the township with the old windmill in its centre, the church, recently shrunk in size, and the effigies of the old lords and ladies of the manor, one of which (the only example now left in the county2) is sculptured in oak. Some of these effigies date back as far as this royal visit. Not the least remarkable objects of interest are the earthworks or remains of the once great castle dominated by an enormous mound, the old lords of which are now represented by the Suttons, of Kelham, though the manor is the property of Earl Manvers. It is lamentable that we know so little of this great stronghold of the hereditary custodians of the king's forests in this and the adjoining western county. Our local historians, so far as my knowledge extends, are entirely silent on the subject.
Marnham3 and the passing shadow of its old-time great ferry, the boats of which now lie rotting on the river bank, is a point of interest. The manor house of the high town, the old house of the knightly Chaworths, was destroyed about 1794, and a farmhouse now occupies its site. The low town, or church town, with its flood banks and its miles of low meadows by the side of the river Trent, are not without interest, which the worthy Rev. E. Cunningham, M.A., vicar, can heighten by tales of his ministry during the prevalence of great floods. Beyond the river is a green lane lined by tall aspen trees, the old route of Edward I to South Clifton4 (where I had welcome bed and board at the Jacobean sign of the Red Lion). Harby, an old-time hamlet or chapel-of-ease ecclesiastically attached to Carlton, is a small place, the very last one would associate with a great historic event. The prime object of my visit was to discover the moated site of the old manor house in which Queen Eleanor died, and to enquire if there was any truth in Gough's statement that an Eleanor cross formerly existed there. I found no evidence whatever of this author's assertion. (Gough's "Camden," vol. ii. p. 405.)
On the principle that you are never very far from an old manor site if you make for the village church, this became the place of my next errand. I found the church a smart new building, erected a few years ago mainly at the cost of the late Geo. Freeth, Esq., whose memory is preserved in the beautiful eastern window. The font is the only detail that is contemporary with Queen Eleanor. On the steps of the altar are the arms of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and in the centre is a modern brass plate, on which is engraved: "Here reposed the body of Queen Eleanor." There is a modern statue of Queen Eleanor on the outer wall of the church, said to be carefully copied from her effigy in Westminster Abbey. The former chapel, rebuilt like a barn in 1820, was somewhat more to the south than the present fabric; but both sites and a large part of the cemetery are within the moated area of the old manor house. The north-west angle of the earthworks is discernible in the grass field to the west of the church; the other lines have long since been obliterated. The northern ditch evidently passed through the northern part of the churchyard, which, on digging graves, is found to be made-ground, with many loose stones therein. The Rev. A. Fraser, M.A., is the vicar. This gentleman, whose residence is hard by, and who takes deep interest in all that pertains to the great historic event of which I write, I found to be a brother of Alderman E. H. Fraser, who has so ably filled the civic chair of ancient Nottingham.
It was no doubt an accident that brought King Edward and Queen Eleanor to this little out-of-the-way village, and made them the guests of Richard de Weston, at that time the lord of the manor. The Westons were doubtless a Notts, family, taking their name from Weston, near Tuxford. Roger de Weston gave up to the monks of Blyth his claim to the church there, and Sir Richard de Weston followed his example (Throsby's "Thoroton," III. 181). We know but little of this gentleman, and regret that he omitted to record the passing events of this royal visit in a diary. He had free warren granted over his lands at Harby on the 19 Ed. I., which agrees with the king's visit, for the 19th year of his reign commenced the day after his arrival at Harby. Possibly all that is known of Richard de Weston is the following: In the published Records of the City of Nottingham (Vol. I. p. 47) this name occurs as being borne by one of the coroners of the county prior to February, 1265. On July 24, 1286, the king, by letters patent, appointed him on a commission to deliver Nottingham gaol of Robert de Reseby, or Reresby, and Ralph de Butterley, who, as stated in a subsequent reference, were in custody there for trespass against the king's peace. Some short time after the death of the queen he was again appointed by the king one of the justices to deliver the gaol at Nottingham. This would refer to the county gaol. In this capacity he had before him the following batch of prisoners:—Richard de Thistleton, John Bozun, William de Sibethorp, Robert le Barker, of Retford, and Robert le Fevre, of Car Colston. We have no record of their crime, but it appears Richard de Weston committed an irregularity in connection with the record of the case, for which he was convicted at Nottingham. Here is the king's pardon for his crime5:—
"June 4, 1292. Pardon to Richard de Weston, lately one of the justices appointed to deliver the gaol at Nottingham, for the salvation of the soul of Eleanor, the late queen consort, who died in his house at Herthby (Harby), for making a false record on the delivery of (here follows the names of the above prisoners), whereof he was convicted before the king at Nottingham." (Calr. Pat. Rolls, Edw. I, 1292-1301, p. 19.)
Richard de Weston was evidently connected with the law, for on 6th April, 1295, he was, according to the Patent Rolls, appointed one of the attorneys for Nicholas de Alvedelegh, who was going to Wales on the king's service.
1. The Rev. Joseph Hunter says: "King at Rufford
on 19th." Discrepancies like these are of no moment, as writs might
be attested at Rufford in the morning and at Clipston in the evening.
2. Our county, down to the commencement of this century, possessed another example of mediaeval effigies in wood. This was a figure reposing in a niche in the church of St. Mary, at Radcliffe-on-Trent. This the loyal inhabitants removed, when news of one of Wellington's victories in the Peninsula reached the village, and in their wild excitement dressed up to represent Napoleon Bonaparte and burnt as his effigy. (White's History, &c, 1864, p. 470.)
3. Formerly called Marnham-Chaworth. Thomas de Chaworth, 1249, had suit against Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, about toll of passengers crossing the ferry. In 1256 he had market and fair and free-warren granted here. In 1290 he was fined for obstructing the passage of boats on the river Trent by the construction of a weir. Before the Chaworths' time the monks of Worksop had grant of free passage over this ferry.
4. North Clifton is a mile distant. The inhabitants lormerly had free passage across Marnham ferry, no doubt a compromise with the riparian owners, the Chaworths and the Bishop of Lincoln, for which privilege they paid every Christmas an acknowledgment of a prime loaf. This free passage no doubt extended to the Vicar of Clifton, who also had to entertain the ferryman and his dog at Christmas with good dinners from which the parson's dog was excluded. (White's History, &c„ 1864, p. 415.)
5. Edward I returned from France August, 1289, where he had been for three years. He met with complaints about wrongdoings on the part of his judges, most of whom he discharged. Pines, imprisonments, and disgracements followed. One of them took sanctuary and fled the realm. (Foss1 Judges, Vol. III, pp. 38-40.)