Queen Eleanor’s Cross – The story so far

When Edward I’s queen, Eleanor died in 1290 at Harby, her viscera, less her heart, were sent to the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral for burial, and her body was then taken to London, taking 12 days to reach Westminster Abbey. Crosses were erected at the twelve places where her funeral procession stopped overnight. Today only three crosses still stand, at Geddington, Northampton, and Waltham Cross. The top of the Northampton Cross was missing in 1460 at the time of the battle.

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 Northampton’s Queen Eleanor Cross. Photo Nicola McKenna
In July 2016, Northamptonshire Battlefield Society began to express concerns about the deteriorating condition of the Northampton Cross in meetings with Northampton Borough Council and other stakeholders in Delapre park. NBS continued to bring it up at subsequent meetings but got no further than a than a dispute of who was responsible for its upkeep. Frustrated at the lack of action, NBS made their concerns public which were then taken up by BBC Radio Northampton. Starting Monday 24 April, for three days in succession it was headline news and the chair of NBS, author Sara Cockerill and others were interviewed on the radio. As a result, the Borough Council issued the following statement.

“We are aware of the many references to the cross on our website and sadly whilst this seems contradictory we still believe this isn’t proof of our ownership of the cross, however we have carried out extensive maintenance on the cross in the past we now intend to carry out further work to tidy up what is undoubtedly a fantastic monument of national importance”

And this was despite the cross being listed on the council’s asset register. So, on Wednesday 26 April this page was launched. The threat to the cross sparked outrage within the local community and further afield. Support grew rapidly and a twitter feed was greeted with a similar response, also gaining celebrity support from the likes of Tony Robinson and Al Murray. The cross’s plight made TV and interviews with the NBS Chair, plus Marie Dickie and Adrian Bell from the Hardingstone History Group was shown on BBC Look East on 2 May.

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Some of the growth on the Cross. Photo Matthew Lewis

Then on the afternoon of 2 May, Northampton Borough Council released the following statement

“We are moving ahead as quickly as possible to get the permission we need to carry out work on the Eleanor Cross. We have met with Historic England and taken their advice and have already approached three accredited restoration and conservation companies with the experience of working on such important monuments. Two have already responded and when we have heard from the third, we will appoint a contractor to carry out a condition survey, commission initial works and advise on what further work is needed going forward.
“We have formally made an application to work on a scheduled monument and once we have received the permission necessary from Historic England work will begin straight away. We are well aware of the importance of the Eleanor Cross and how our plans for Delapré Abbey will raise its profile even further.”

There is a way to go yet. Support continues to grow and NBS will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the council sticks to its promise. Responsibility needs to be confirmed and a long term maintenance program needs to be sorted. Better access to the site and some signage are also priorities. We will continue to report progress.
But all in all, not bad for little over a week. Thank you everybody.

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Earlier low grade repairs. Photo Matthew Lewis

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The Battle of Northampton 1264

On 3 April 1264. King Henry III, his son Prince Edward (later King Edward I) and their army left Oxford marching towards Northampton. At their head, Henry’s dragon banner with sapphire eyes. In the meantime the rebels commanded by Simon de Montfort’s son, summons the men of the county to gather outside the walls of Northampton, near the modern day Beckets Park. Despite many protestations, they are forced to defend the towns south wall. The Second Baron’s War had begun!

On April 4 1264 Henry III’s army began to arrive at Northampton from the south. They brought with them a variety of siege engines which they brought along the modern London Road and set them up to the south of the town and in what is now Beckets Park. Behind the walls, as well as the 80 or so rebel barons and their men were all the students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. They had all abandoned their cities after a major row with the Papal Legate two years before, and had made Northampton the main university centre of the country.

At dawn 5 April 1264, the Royal Army began its assault on the south gate of Northampton. Unbeknown to the defenders, Prince Edward and Phillip Basset lead a large body of men around the town to attack the north-west corner of St. Andrews Priory (most likely in the vicinity of the junction of the modern-day St. Andrews Road and Hampton Street). Whether the wall was in a poor state of repair, or it was weakened by the Prior, depends on the chronicle, but it quickly collapsed. On hearing of the breach, Simon de Montfort the younger races to its defence. Twice, the attackers are repulsed. During a third assault, Simon is thrown from his horse and is captured. The defense quickly collapses and the Royalist infantry pour into the town.. Some of the defenders flee into the churches where they are quickly captured, the majority retreating into the castle. Henry’s army begins to plunder and burn the town. Although numbers are not given, many towns people are killed. They then prepare to lay siege to the castle itself.

On the morning of 6 April 1264, the surviving rebels holding Northampton castle surrendered. Simon de Montfort the Younger was put on trial and exiled for a year. A number of the other barons were put in prison. The university scholars apparently fought hard for the rebels and Henry wanted to execute them. However, as many were the sons of his nobles, he was persuaded otherwise. Instead, Henry banned any university from being in Northampton again. The tables would be turned a few weeks later when on 14 May 1264, the royal army was smashed by the rebels at Lewes.