Now that a Duchess is once again set to provide the world’s magazines with something more to gush over, it might be appropriate to consider one of her ancestor’s attempts at doing the same thing. Queen Eleanor of Castile was married (at 13 or 14) to King Edward I. By all accounts it was a love match. Edward’s grief after her death was legendary. The year after she was married in 1255 she gave birth to her first child. And for the next 29 years, when she wasn’t following her husband on crusades and progresses around the kingdom, she was either pregnant, giving birth or grieving over lost children.

We know of 16 children that she gave birth to, and it is a testament to her perseverance if nothing else, that she survived as well she did.
The following is a list of her children that are known to history:
1. An anonymous girl, died at birth.
2. Catherine, died between the ages of 1 to 3 years
3. Daughter Joan, died at six months
4. Son John, died at five years
5. Son Henry, died at six years
6. Daughter Eleanor, died at 29
7. An anonymous child, died at five months
8. Daughter Joan, died at 35
9. Son Alphonso, died at 10
10. Daughter Mary, died at 58
11. Child Berengaria, died at two years
12. Anonymous daughter, died at birth
13. Daughter Mary, died at 53
14. Anonymous son, died at birth
15. Daughter Elizabeth, died at 34
16. A son, Edward who lived long enough to become Edward II, only to be murdered by his wife and her lover Roger some 20 years after his coronation. Eleanor did not live to see this as she died when he was six.

Eleanor died on 28 November 1290 aged 49 in the northern English city of Lincoln. King Edward accompanied her body from there to Westminster Abbey for most of the way. At every point along the way where the funeral procession stopped for the night, he erected a cross in her name. Of the 13 crosses only three survive and none of them are complete.

Edward remarried 10 years later and the first child of that union was named Eleanor in her honour.

When you read this litany of despair and grief and you consider that each of these children was cared for and pampered by nurses, doctors, cooks and servants. It’s hard to imagine what life for an ordinary woman of the time was like.

Fortunately, the Royal Duchesses and most other women in the Western world don’t have to face such awful torment and loss.

(c) 2019 Paul Hannah


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