10 May, 2008

Eleanor of Castile

Here's a post on the mother Edward II barely knew. Much of the information comes from John Carmi Parsons, who knows more about Eleanor than anyone else on the planet - see especially his biography of her, Eleanor of Castile, and his posts in the archives of soc.genealogy.medieval.

Eleanor was born as doña Leonor de Castilla, twelfth of the fifteen children of King Fernando III of Castile and León, by his second wife Jeanne de Dammartin, countess of Ponthieu. Her date of birth is often given as 1244, following Agnes Strickland, in her Lives of the Queens of England (volume 2, 1841), who states that Eleanor was "about ten" at the time of her marriage in the autumn of 1254. But Strickland cites no primary source for this statement, and in fact, Eleanor was older than that.

In his work De Rebus Hispaniae Libri IX, finished on 31 March 1243, don Juan Ximenez de Rada, Fernando III's chancellor and archbishop of Toledo, gives the names of Fernando and Jeanne's three children: Fernando, Eleanor (Leonor) and Luis, in that order of birth. If Eleanor had a younger brother born before 31 March 1243, she can't have been born any later than early 1242, and in fact, the likeliest date of her birth is late 1241. Fernando III and Jeanne were apart from the beginning of 1240 to February 1241 (Fernando was on military campaign).

Eleanor died on 28 November 1290. Edward I paid for forty-nine candle-bearers during her funeral. Why forty-nine, and not fifty? This implies that she was forty-nine at the time of her death, or close to it, and thirteen or almost when she married the future Edward I on or around 1 November 1254 - certainly not ten.

Eleanor's elder brother Fernando (1238/39 to circa 1264) and younger brother Luis (1242/43 to circa 1276) lived to marry and have children. Her youngest brothers Ximen and Juan, born about 1244 and 1246, died in infancy. Eleanor was the only one of Jeanne de Dammartin's five children to outlive her, and duly inherited the county of Ponthieu on her mother's death in 1279. In 1290, it passed to her six-year-old son, the future Edward II.

Eleanor bore at least fourteen, and perhaps sixteen, children. Historians and genealogists have made a right mess of them, adding children who never existed - Alice, confused with Alfonso, a name contemporary English scribes struggled with and often spelt in very odd ways; Juliana, never mentioned before about 1600; Blanche and Beatrice, supposedly the younger siblings of Edward II, who never existed (Edward was certainly Eleanor's youngest child); and getting the dates of birth and death of some of the others wrong. For example, Eleanor's eldest surviving daughter Eleanor, countess of Bar, was born in 1269, not 1264 as often stated, as this entry in the Patent Rolls proves. Eleanor's third surviving daughter Margaret, duchess of Brabant, is often said to have died in 1318, but she was certainly still alive in 1333, when she sent a letter to her nephew Edward III.

Later historians portrayed Eleanor as a noble, virtuous, and just queen beloved of her subjects. For example, Thomas Costain in his The Three Edwards 1272-1377 says: "Edward's queen was greatly loved in the country...[there was] a warmth and sweetness about her which won all hearts...She was generous and thoughtful in the extreme..." However, the mother of all idealised depictions of Eleanor is to be found in Strickland's Lives of the Queens of England: "What heart, however, does not warm at the name of Eleanora of Castile?...Foreigner as she was, Eleanora of Castile entirely won the love and goodwill of her subjects..."

Strickland's work is a masterpiece of Victorian moralising, which divides the queens of England into the 'good ones', such as Eleanor of Castile and Philippa of Hainault, and the 'bad ones', such as Eleanor of Provence and Isabella of France. Poor Isabella is condemned thusly: "Since the days of the fair and false Elfrida, of Saxon celebrity, no Queen of England has left so dark a stain on the annals of female royalty, as the consort of Edward II, Isabella of France...Now [1326] the evil nature of Isabella of France blazed out in full view." Isabella was many things, but she sure as heck wasn't evil!

Unfortunately, this rosy picture of Eleanor of Castile is very wide of the mark. In fact, she was widely disliked in her own lifetime, viewed as greedy and grasping and willing to use quasi-legal methods to get hold of any lands she fancied. As this contemporary rhyme put it, Le Roy cuvayte nos deneres/Et la Rayne nos beaus maners ('the king covets our money/and the queen our lovely manors'). John Carmi Parsons' biography of Eleanor has a great chapter on opinions and depictions of her from her own lifetime until today, if anyone's interested in reading more on the subject.

Edward I and Eleanor left England for Gascony in May 1286 and didn't return until August 1289, that is, from when Edward of Caernarfon was two years and one month old to when he was five and four months. Fifteen months later, Eleanor was dead, and in the meantime, little Edward had barely seen her anyway. Devoted to each other Edward I and Eleanor undoubtedly were, but they were no great shakes as parents; on learning that their eldest son John, and his father Henry III, were dead, Edward is said to have lamented that he could have more sons, but he'd never have another father. (You could argue that this remark came back to bite him on the behind when three of his four sons died in childhood, and the only survivor, Edward II, proved to be manifestly unsuited to his position.) When their second son Henry was dying in the autumn of 1274, Edward and Eleanor didn't bother to ride thirty miles to see him - although Eleanor's Wikipedia page - scroll down to near the end - tries to justify this and their all-round performance as parents. (Unconvincingly, in my opinion, though you may disagree.)

Losing his mother very young was something Edward II had in common with Piers Gaveston, whose mother Claramonde de Marsan died in 1286 or 1287, when Piers was about four or five. Incidentally, there's no truth to the often-repeated story that Claramonde was burned alive as a witch; it was invented in the sixteenth century.

It's doubtful that Edward had many, if any, happy memories of his mother. I sometimes wonder what he thought of her, how much he knew of his Spanish origins, if he could speak any Castilian, if he took pride in his Spanish ancestry...

13 comments:

Lady D. said...

Yet another personality distorted by the lens of history. Poor Ed, no wonder he turned out like he did!

By the way, did I actually see with my own eyes you defending Isabella???? LOL! Alianore - I really think you need to go and have a lie down hehe!

Good post though - I didn't know much about the woman and now I have a better idea. I liked the rhyme by the way - and I actually translated it before you gave the english version - I'm on a roll!

Anerje said...

Thanks Alianore for the latest blog. Almost 3 years is such a long time for Ed's parents not to see him - I doubt whether he could really remember anything of her.

I didn't know much about Eleanor either - and I must confess to spending raininy afternoons in the local library in the reference section reading Strickland's 'Lives of the Queens of England' - but I was only about 13! I quickly realised she was indeed writing from the view of a moralising Victorian!

Alianore said...

Lady D: *goes to lie down in darkened room with cloth over her face*. What came over me there?? :-) No, seriously, for all my issues (for want of a better word) with Isa, I really think it's a dreadful exaggeration to call her 'evil'.

Wow, you really are on a roll with the Anglo-Norman! Fancy translating lots of Rot Parl for me? *grins*

Anerje: if you feel like taking a nostalgic look at Strickland again, the whole thing is available to read on Google Books, as it's long out of copyright. I do rather like it, actually - the attitudes are so funny, but there is quite a bit of good info.

Gabriele C. said...

...viewed as greedy and grasping and willing to use quasi-legal methods to get hold of any lands she fancied.

That sounds awfully familiar. :)

Ok dear chroniclers and historians, make up your mind here: either, land grabbing is fine and then both Eleanor and Isabella are saints, or it's evil, and then both are greedy witches. *grin*

Kate Plantagenet said...

Alianore what would keep Ed I and Eleanor out of England for such a long time?

*hopes that doesn't sound stupid* ;)

Alianore said...

That sounds awfully familiar. :)

My thoughts exactly, Gabriele. :)

Kate: noooo, of course that doesn't sound stupid! They spent the time in Gascony, an English possession. As far as I remember, Edward I spent a lot of time negotiating between the king of Aragon on one hand, and the Pope and the king of France on the other (don't quote me, though! ;)

Mipp said...

Here's a repost from plantagenesta; I endeavored to find some tidbits that might shed a bit of light on Leonor (yes, I prefer her Spanish name) and what sort of woman she was.

Leonor was the only daughter of Fernando III, king of Castile, by his second queen, Jeanne of Ponthieu. Jeanne had originally planned to marry Henry III, the future father of Edward I, but that union was quashed by Louis IX of France and his mother, Blanche. Dowager Queen Blanche had been born a Castilian infanta, and she conspired with her sister, Berenguela, to have Jeanne married instead to Berenguela's widower son, Fernando III. Jeanne and Fernando married in October 1237, and Henry III instead married Eleanor of Provence.

Jeanne was reputedly beautiful, as well as highborn and quite a bit younger than her husband, a dangerous combination, but seems to have been a dutiful wife. She followed Fernando about on his military campaigns and gave him five children, three surviving: Fernando in 1238, Leonor in 1241, and Luis in 1243. Leonor and her siblings probably grew up in Seville, and she is reported to have been by her father's side when Fernando died there in May 1252. The Castilian court was among the most cultured and literary in Europe, and Leonor seems to have acquired a taste for the finer things in life. She had many books, ranging from martial works to theological to romances.

According to Matthew Paris, Leonor's chambers were decorated with hangings and tapestries in the "Spanish" fashion, and adorned with colored glass windows and brightly colored candles so that "the place looked more like the inside of a church". Leonor seems to have loved gardens, and had them built at Caervarvon, Conway, and King's Langley, the latter designed by a gardener from Aragon (Women, Art and Patronage from Henry III to Edward III: 1216-1377, Loveday). She also seems to have enjoyed the foods of her homeland, as she ordered olive oil, pomegranates, figs, lemons, oranges, and all manner of fruits from Castilian ships. For a queen so beloved by future generations, Leonor was not wildly popular in her own time. The English resented her for her extravagance and avarice, for her protection of Castilians in England, and the promotion of her many relatives. All the Plantagenet kings and their Norman predecessors had married either French women or British women, and a queen from a place so exotic and faraway as Castile seems to have alienated the English. Leonor was always seen as a foreigner.

Whatever her faults as a queen, she can hardly have been criticized for her devotion as a wife. Edward's magnificent monuments to Leonor after her death are famous, but there's plenty of evidence they were close during their marriage. They had a great number of children, and seem to have been constantly in one another's company. They narrowed escaped death in Gascony in 1287, when a bolt of lightning shot through the window right between Edward and Leonor as they conversed on a couch. In January 1291, Edward sent a letter to the abbot of Cluny and mentions the recently deceased Leonor, "whom living we deeply cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love." There was a tradition on Easter morning, when Leonor's ladies would catch Edward in bed and he would have to pay them a ransom to be allowed to join his wife for the first time after Lent. On Easter 1291, when Leonor had been dead a few months, he still paid her ladies the ransom, though he had no wife to return to, perhaps a sign Edward was not quite ready to part with that memory.

It is true that Edward and Leonor seem to have been more devoted to one another than to their scads of children. As for the sons prior to Edward II, there was much public grief at the death of the handsome eldest son, John, who died just past his sixth birthday in 1271. At that time his two-year-old brother Henry became heir. Henry spent a lot of time in the household of his grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, the widowed queen of Henry III, but he was a sickly boy who died in 1274, aged six. I don't know as much about the other son, Alphonso, who was an infant when Henry died, except that he played with toy castles and a miniature seige engine (Edward I, Prestwich, p. 127). Alphonso died in 1284, aged ten. Archbishop Peckam sent a letter to Edward I expressing his regret at the demise of "the child who was the hope of us all" but Edward's response, if any, was not recorded. He doesn't seem to have grieved as much for his dead children as for his dead queen; he gave no alms on the anniversaries of their deaths and had no masses sung for them.

Eleanor of Provence also seems to have raised some of Edward and Leonor's other children. Their daughter Eleanor lived with her grandmother, along with her brother Henry and cousin John of Brittany. Mary went to live with her at the convent of Amesbury in 1289, and took the veil. Joan spent much of her childhood in Ponthieu with her maternal grandmother, Jeanne of Ponthieu. John was living in the care of his uncle Richard of Cornwall when he died. Edward and Leonor had so many children, an average of one every year and a half to two years, and so many were stillborn or died young (in fact, their first child to survive to adulthood was Eleanor, their SIXTH child) that they may have learned very quickly not to become too attached to any of them. Their firstborn was a stillborn daughter born May 29 1255, when they'd been married only seven months, and Leonor was still only thirteen! (Eleanor of Castile, Parsons).

Kath said...

A bit unfair to paint Eleanor as a heartless mother, when one of her dying wishes was to be buried with her eldest son, Alfonso; or at least with his heart which she had had embalmed when he died to preserve it for just such an eventuality. All their children who died young were buried in the Confessor's chapel at Westminster, in the holiest place in the kingdom (and later moved), which I think hardly suggests indifference.

Ditto Edward (I) - although he was busy, you know, running a massive kingdom and negotiating important peace settlements among the rulers of Europe - he remained concerned for his young sons' education and welfare. There are two lucky survivals among the letters in the National Archives (UK) in which he instructs the guardians of Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund of Woodstock in how their religious education ought to proceed; and another - which I have always found very touching - in which he asks the boys themselves to take (nominal) charge of preparing a hunting logdge for his arrival on a paternal visit. It's not an example of *modern* parenting, but it is an example of him trying to model proper lordship to his two little lordlings. (The texts were published by Chaplais in EHR 77(1962): 79-86, if you want to read them.)

Edward & Eleanor may have failed Edward (II) as parents in some ways, but I don't think it's fair to accuse them of a general lack of concern because their behaviour didn't follow our rules...

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree with most of that, and didn't portray Eleanor as a 'heartless mother', I said she and Edward were 'no great shakes as parents'. Hardly the same thing, and I stand by what I said. Obviously I don't expect them to follow modern rules of parenting; I think by the standards of their own age, and the standards Edward I had himself grown up with thanks to his own loving and devoted parents, their behaviour tended more towards neglect than love. Eleanor of Provence was a loving, involved mother (and grandmother), and Eleanor of Castile wasn't, particularly. I didn't say anywhere that made her a bad person or that she should be harshly judged for it. I'm aware of and have read Edward I's letters to Thomas and Edmund, thanks. Shame he didn't - as far as we know - direct some of that love and concern towards his sons by his first marriage.

Kath said...

Ah yes: for some reason I tend to find myself given to flippant language on blog comments (why is that?), so the criticism probably sounded more strident than intended. Apologies.
The point I meant to make - which reading back I completely failed to articulate - was that the survival of evidence like the letters to the young princes is so uncommon and chance-dependent that it can't be assumed that Ed II was treated all that differently. Although having said that, if he wasn't especially interested in warfare, hunting, etc., I can kind of imagine his dad becoming a) fed up, and b) totally flummoxed by him. (In fact, it reminds me a bit of my dad's initial reaction when my brother said he wanted to become an artist...) But now I'm in the realms of sheer speculation!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you for the comment, Kath! Apologies if I sounded strident, too. :) Absolutely agree with you about the chance survival of letters, and of course we shouldn't infer evidence of absence from absence of evidence! I'd love to explore Ed II's relationship with his father more. It does seem to have been a difficult one in many ways, and I can't imagine that Ed I was - to say the least - thrilled about the personal qualities he saw in his heir.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kathryn for the information. I recently found Eleanor of Castile to be my several great grandmother. I had always know I was Scottish, French and English but had no idea about the Spanish family history. I look foreword to finding the rest of my Spanish royal descendants. God bless, Shelly Baker Chang.

Kathryn Warner said...

Most welcome, Shelly, and thanks for leaving a comment! Eleanor's father was King Fernando III of Castile and Leon (d. 1252), who I think I've written a post here about too, and her (French) mother was Jeanne de Dammartin, countess of Ponthieu (d. 1279). Jeanne's maternal grandmother was Alais of France, who was betrothed for many years to Richard Lionheart.