Espana Britannia: A Bitter-Sweet Relationship

Espana Britannia: A Bitter-Sweet Relationship

by Alistair Ward


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780856832246
Publisher: Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, Limited
Publication date: 09/28/2004
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Alistair Ward is a former English teacher.

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España Britannia

By Alistair Ward

Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd

Copyright © 2004 Alistair Ward
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85683-399-1


The Eleanor Crosses

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse,
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.

Traditional nursery rhyme

IN CENTRAL LONDON, only yards from the great square with the Spanish name, are a hotel, a station and a road that bear the name of Charing Cross. An imaginative reconstruction of the original thirteenth-century cross stands in the hotel and station forecourt. The original was the final of twelve crosses marking the night stops of the funeral cortège that carried the body of Queen Eleanor, the Spanish wife of Edward I, from Harby in Nottinghamshire to Westminster in 1290. The others were set up at Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham and Cheapside. In time such crosses came to be seen as symbols marking the centres of villages and market towns, and places never visited by the cortège sprouted them. One of these, Banbury, is immortalised in the old nursery rhyme. The cross at Sledmere in Yorkshire was built only in 1895, then converted to a war memorial in 1919. Of the originals, only three remain: at Geddington (the best example), Hardingstone and Waltham.

So who was this Spanish queen whose loss was so mourned that her warrior husband strove to ensure she would never be forgotten?

Eleanor was born in northern Spain in 1244 to King Ferdinand III of Castile and Joan of Ponthieu. Her father was a great crusader who united Castile and León and accelerated the pace of reconquest from the Moors. Soon after her birth she would have been taken south as her father moved his base to Andalusia. When he died in 1252, he was succeeded by Eleanor's half-brother Alfonso X. It would have been expedient for Eleanor to marry the English Edward, eldest son of Henry III. The English king's lands in Gascony were adjacent to Castile so marriage would secure the borders for both parties. It would also deal with her brother's spurious claim to that part of Aquitaine. The claim was based on the supposition that the English sovereign Henry II had pledged Gascony to Alfonso VIII of Castile as part of the deal that took Henry's daughter Eleanor to Castile as queen in 1170.

The marriage negotiations included an Anglo-Castilian treaty by which the kings of Castile and England became allies against all enemies. Edward was to be knighted and would assist in the Castilian struggle to reduce Navarre. Interestingly, for a time when the reconquest was not yet complete, Henry also agreed to assist Alfonso in an invasion of North Africa.

In October 1254 Prince Edward arrived in Burgos for the wedding. The venue was the monastery of Las Huelgas de Burgos, founded by Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England in 1187 as their future mausoleum. The ceremony most likely took place on 1 November. The groom was fifteen, his bride just ten. Later that month they travelled to Gascony where they spent a year before journeying to England the following October. It was an arranged marriage between two very young people from vastly different backgrounds but it was to last for thirty-six years and produce more children than the union of any other king and queen of England before or since.

During the next ten years, Henry III's inept rule provoked the barons to take government into their own hands. For a time Edward supported the rebels, led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Later he turned to support his father and was captured during the royal defeat at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, after which Eleanor fled to France. Edward escaped a year later to lead royalist forces back to victory at the Battle of Evesham in August 1265 and Eleanor returned to join her husband, who became effective ruler.

Edward was the archetypal medieval king. His tall and powerful physique gave him an advantage in tournaments in that age of chivalry. He hunted stag, practised falconry, patronised minstrels and heralds and played chess. But no knight's record was complete without a crusade. And so it was that, in August 1270, Eleanor left with her husband on the long and dangerous journey to the Holy Land. The Fifth Crusade did little to help the fortunes of Jerusalem. One of its few legacies was a tale that was long recounted as proof of Eleanor's selfless devotion to her husband. The story goes that, whilst in his chamber at Acre, Edward was visited by a Moslem who attacked him with a poisoned dagger. Edward fought back and killed the would-be assassin before Eleanor dutifully sucked the deadly poison from his wound. It is a nice story but unlikely to be true: it first appears in a work written by an Italian Dominican friar no less than a century and a half later. That he was from an order that Eleanor supported suggests ulterior motives for embellishing a less remarkable account of what actually happened.

Eleanor and Edward left the Holy Land in September 1272. In Sicily they received the dramatic news that they were king and queen, Henry III having passed away. England was stable enough for them not to rush home. Eleanor had good reason not to travel on: she was pregnant with her eighth child.

One of the frustrations of medieval history is the difficulty of establishing facts. How many children did Eleanor actually have? Most likely fourteen, but we have only twelve names – four boys, called John, Henry, Alfonso and Edward, and eight girls, Katherine, Joan (two), Eleanor, Margaret, Bernagaria, Mary and Elizabeth. It is possible that there were more. The tragedy is that only six lived to adulthood.

Four of Eleanor's children had already died when she gave birth to a boy in Aquitaine in November 1273. She invited her brother Alfonso X to the baptism in Bayonne. Amazingly for a child second in line to the English throne, he was given a very foreign name – Alfonso, after his godfather and uncle. When the baby's elder brother died the following year, he became first in line until his own untimely death at the age of ten. Eleanor must have suffered a great deal, both physically, during years of pregnancy and childbirth, and mentally, having to cope with the illness and death of so many of her children. It appears that she mourned Alfonso the most, decreeing that, when she died, his heart should be buried with her own.

Queen Eleanor and King Edward I arrived at Dover on 2 August 1274. Seventeen days later they were crowned in Westminster Abbey. Queen Eleanor was a sophisticated cosmopolitan woman who coped well with the cultural shock of thirteenth-century England. She owned and commissioned literary works and was very interested in education. She enjoyed embroidery and weaving, and kept dogs. Notably, she did not bring in Castilian relatives and hangers-on, but she did introduce carpets to England in 1255 and, apparently, the first merino sheep. There are also records of her purchasing olive oil, pomegranates, figs, oranges and lemons, either from abroad or directly from Castilian ships calling at English ports. She was obviously supportive of her husband but the notion that she had a calming influence on him is probably untrue. Like so many others, Eleanor had a reputation in death that differed considerably from that in life. As Edward's wife, many people in England denounced her as a foreign-born land-grabber who caused her husband to rule harshly. Such a view would have been aggravated by her not speaking English, if that was indeed the case. She and her husband both had French mothers, and French was spoken at court. Unless you planned to speak to peasants and tradesmen, there was no point in learning English.

Financial arrangements at the time did not allow the queen to have all her expenses covered by the king. Instead, Edward encouraged Eleanor to augment her own income through the acquisition of land. The stewards she employed to act for her in this earned her much criticism as they went about their work with some ruthlessness. One of her methods was to take over debts to Jews, who were struggling due to arbitrary Crown taxes, then charge the same exorbitant interest rates whilst enjoying the protection of her position. Her stewards were quick to seize manors and other assets if there was any default on payment – it was the manors they really wanted. Knights who had borrowed money for the crusade were incensed to lose their property by such underhand methods. Most of her acquisitions, however, did not involve the Jews. Anyone with land, whether financially burdened or not, feared that their property could fall under the greedy gaze of her stewards, who would thus concoct some way of obtaining it. After she had acquired the land, her ruthlessness fell on the tenants. The Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pecham, was sufficiently outraged by her behaviour to warn her that she was committing mortal sin. Her husband's desire to give her a reputation not enjoyed in life might be one of the reasons why Edward arranged for three magnificent tombs, twelve beautiful crosses and a funeral procession and ceremony of unprecedented splendour.

In 1290 Edward expelled the Jews, a move that enabled him to raise substantial revenue in taxes from subjects who no longer had financial obligations to the departed moneylenders. Late that year, Queen Eleanor was on her way to the Scottish border when she was taken gravely ill. The forty-six-year-old queen died in Richard de Weston's house at Harby, Nottinghamshire on 28 November. Her body needed three tombs as her intestines were to be buried at Lincoln Cathedral, her heart with that of her beloved son Alfonso at the London Dominican church and the rest of her in Westminster Abbey. The ceremony in the abbey on 17 December set a standard that would make the great building the focus of splendid regal ceremony through time to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and beyond. Besides the desire to give his wife a positive legend, and the ruling Plantaganets some excellent propaganda, Edward's devotions on his wife's death still owed much to the fact that he loved her deeply. In his own words she was a woman 'whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love'.

Edward I went on to rule for seventeen more years. He married again and had four more children. During his thirty-three-year reign he strengthened the Crown and Parliament against the feudal nobility and oversaw great progress in administration and legal reform. After eight years of campaigning he succeeded in subduing Wales, his son Edward becoming the first Prince of Wales. He attempted to do the same to Scotland but, although he executed William Wallace and confiscated the Stone of Scone, the 'Hammer of the Scots', as he became known, never succeeded. He died on his way to put down a rebellion by Robert the Bruce.

Five hundred and seventy years after Eleanor's death, another great and powerful monarch was to be deeply saddened by the loss of her beloved spouse. After Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert died in 1861, the leading architect of the Gothic revival, Sir George Gilbert Scott, sought inspiration for a lavish memorial to the prince consort. His design was a magnificent sculpted granite structure with a splendid gilded statue. His inspiration was the Eleanor cross.


Man in Black

Because in his deeds in Spain he restored the true king to his throne after his defeat, overthrowing the tyrant and making the kings of Navarre and Majorca almost his subjects, his great power and qualities were such that the Lord could have said to him, as to David, 'I have made thy name great among the names of the great ones of the earth.'

Thomas Brinton, Bishop of Rochester, 1376

PEDRO I, KING OF CASTILE and León between 1350 and 1369, was also known as Pedro El Cruel. You may be disappointed to learn that, despite this label, he was probably not cruel at all. To right the misnomer, the tag of his spiteful enemies, and call attention to the firm execution of justice during his reign, some subsequent historians have called him Pedro El Justiciero (the just or righteous). During his reign his bastard half-brother Enrique de Trastamare was desperate to get his hands on the throne. Enrique was supported by Pedro IV of Aragon who, to confuse things, has also been called Pedro El Cruel. He really did deserve the tag for the extreme malice he displayed to anyone challenging his authority. Enrique bought Pedro IV's support with a promise of one-sixth of Castile but Pedro I of Castile and León inflicted a number of defeats on his namesake and threatened to overrun his kingdom. Luckily for the Aragonese king, France was an ally. The French king Charles V and the Pope joined forces to pay for an army of French mercenaries to invade Castile and put Enrique on the throne. Most of the mercenaries, with no war to fight, had been passing the time ravaging France, so Charles V was pleased to see them employed elsewhere. Early in March 1366 they marched into Castile. Among their number were three English captains, Sir Hugh Calveley, Sir Thomas Dagworth and William Elmham, who had ignored King Edward III's command forbidding Englishmen to attack Castilian subjects. By the end of March Enrique had what he wanted. He had been crowned in Burgos, King of Castile and León.

How could Pedro I hope to succeed against an army backed by France? The only way he could hope to retrieve his kingdom now was by finding external support himself. But where from? He did not have to think too hard. In Europe there lived a celebrated knight who had led his men against French armies with vastly superior numbers, and won! He was the quintessence of chivalry, a man who delighted in extravagant tournaments, falconry, hunting, fine clothes and jewels. Pedro would contact him and ask him for help. He would call in Edward, the Black Prince.

The Black Prince

KING EDWARD III'S eldest son, Edward, was born at the royal palace in Woodstock on 15 June 1330. Like his father, the young Edward showed little interest in books and learning. He wanted to be a knight. By 1336 he had attended his first tournament and by 1338 he was the proud owner of a full set of armour and a tent. With so many Edwards in the family at the time, it is good that he came to be known by another name, on account of the colour of his armour.

There was going to be plenty of opportunity to use his knightly skills. When he was just six, England and France embarked on what would come to be known as the Hundred Years' War. The trouble went back to 1066, when William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings. Although he became King William I of England, he was still the Duke of Normandy and a vassal of the French king. When the English king Henry II married Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, another huge part of France, that bordering the Pyrenees and the Bay of Biscay in the south-west, came under the jurisdiction of the English monarch, but it was still under the ultimate authority of the King of France. The arrangement did not work well. Residents of English areas with a grievance would cause friction by going over the heads of their English masters to the authorities in Paris. Also, regardless of royal inheritances, the French monarchs wanted the English out. Meanwhile the French caused trouble in Edward's back yard, supporting the Scots in their war with England. French antagonism of the English also extended to the disruption of her highly profitable foreign wool trade.

Edward III had a strategy that went beyond denying that he was a vassal of the French king – he claimed the French throne for himself. When Charles IV of France died in 1328, there had been no male heir. Charles's cousin, Philip of Valois, had ascended the throne but Edward, a nephew of Charles, could argue that he was the rightful heir.

From the age of twelve, Edward, Prince of Wales, accompanied his father on campaigns abroad. When just sixteen he distinguished himself in the thick of the fighting at the Battle of Crécy. The battle, fought on 26 August 1346, was the culmination of a six-week rampage through northern France by ten thousand men bent on pillage and destruction. For his part in the spectacular victory, the prince was awarded three ostrich plumes and the motto ich dien (I serve), still used by the Prince of Wales today. King Edward followed up this success with the taking of Calais, whose gates opened to the English on Saturday 4 August 1347. The port was to remain English for two hundred years.


Excerpted from España Britannia by Alistair Ward. Copyright © 2004 Alistair Ward. Excerpted by permission of Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Map of Spain,
1 The Eleanor Crosses,
2 Man in Black,
3 Catherine - England's Beloved Spanish Queen,
4 Bloody Mary,
5 Pirates,
6 Philip's Annus Horibilis,
7 After the Armada - Cornwall and Cadiz,
8 The War of the Spanish Succession,
9 The Pillar of Hercules,
10 Minorca,
11 London's Plaza Mayor,
12 Sharpe's War,
13 The British Legion,
14 King Juan Carlos I's Grandmother,
15 The Sell-Out of the Century,
Principal Sources,
Index of Spanish Place Names,

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