The Story Of The Eleanor Crosses

Eleanor Cross profile

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You may have noticed the elaborate monument in the forecourt of Charing Cross Station in London. This is one of the so-called Eleanor Crosses (or, at least, a reconstruction of the medieval structure). But did you know that there were once twelve of these crosses between London and Lincoln? And did you know the story behind them?

The Death Of Queen Eleanor

The story begins when Eleanor of Castile came to England in 1254 to marry the future King Edward I. It was obviously an arranged marriage, as she was only ten at the time, but it proved to be a happy and fruitful union, producing at least sixteen children. Like many medieval kings, Edward was often away fighting, but he encouraged Eleanor to join him whenever possible. So it’s not surprising that she was a long way from home when she became ill and died, in the village of Harby near Lincoln in 1290.

Location of the Eleanor Crosses

When the king heard the news he rushed back from his campaign in Scotland and ordered that Eleanor’s body should travel back to London for burial in Westminster Abbey. She was first taken to Lincoln for embalming, and her viscera were buried in the Cathedral there.

The journey to London took several days, so overnight stops were needed along the way. In fact, it doesn’t look as if the funeral procession took the most direct route to London. Perhaps they planned it so that the royal party could stay at abbeys or noble houses where they – and the queen’s body – would be safe from the perils of the road.

Queen Eleanor's tomb, Lincoln Cathedral
The tomb where Eleanor’s internal organs were buried, in Lincoln Cathedral

Building The Eleanor Crosses

Edward was devastated by his wife’s death, and he decided to erect memorial crosses at each place where the procession had stayed overnight. He had probably seen similar crosses in France, particularly those built after the death of King Louis IX. They were more than just a memorial; they were intended to encourage passers-by to stop and pray for the soul of the dead person.

There were twelve crosses altogether, and the work was not completed until 1294. Many different artists worked on them, and they were not identical to one another. We do not have records of all the designs. However, it is reasonable to assume that they were all tall and imposing, with intricate stonework and medieval imagery.

The Eleanor Crosses Today

Over the centuries the crosses gradually fell into decline. Three of them – at Stony Stratford, Cheapside in London, and Charing Cross – were deliberately destroyed during the English Civil War, as Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentary Army saw them as symbols of idolatry. Today some of the crosses, such as that at St Albans, have disappeared altogether, and only fragments of others have survived.

Three of the original monuments remain – at Geddington, Hardingstone and Waltham Cross. In Stamford in Lincolnshire a modern reinterpretation stands on the site of the earlier cross. And, of course, you can see the Victorian replica at Charing Cross Station.


The first cross was erected just outside the city walls on what is now called Cross O’Cliff Hill, close to St Catherine’s Priory. Only a fragment remains, with part of a female figure and the folds of her dress still visible. It was removed to the grounds of Lincoln Castle in 1980, where it can now be seen.

Fragment of stone figure with the folds of a dress still visible.
The remains of the Eleanor Cross in Lincoln


The monument at the centre of the village of Geddington in Northamptonshire is regarded as the best preserved of the Eleanor Crosses. Unlike the others it has a triangular design, and is particularly narrow: it seems that the crosses became more ornate as the route moved further south. Geddington Cross is also unusual in that it incorporates a water conduit building at its base.

Tall narrow monument on a plinth. It is very ornate with a statue of a woman at the centre. There are old houses behind the cross.
Geddington Cross in Northamptonshire


Hardingstone Cross is just outside of Northampton. It is close to Delapre Abbey, and it is thought that Eleanor’s coffin may have spent the night there. Although the cross is now broken at the top it is still very elaborate, decorated with stone shields and books. Four arched niches contain statues of Eleanor.

Hardingstone Cross
Hardingstone Cross, one of three remaining Eleanor Crosses

Waltham Cross

The last overnight stop before London was at Waltham Abbey, and a monument was erected at what is now the centre of the town of Waltham Cross. This one is larger and grander than those of Geddington or Hardingstone. Apparently it cost £110 to build – a vast amount of money in the 13th century!

Charing Cross

Charing Cross, which stood at the end of Whitehall, was the grandest of them all, costing more than £600. But the cross that now stands outside Charing Cross Station is a 19th century replacement, and is even more ornate.

Charing Cross
The Victorian replica at Charing Cross is more ornate than the original

Despite the ravages of time and of the Parliamentarians it seems that King Edward achieved his aim; his crosses have ensured that Queen Eleanor will never be forgotten.


5 thoughts on “The Story Of The Eleanor Crosses”

  1. The only constructive criticism that I would offer is the fact that the resting places of Eleanor’s bier were most certainly NOT called “Waltham Cross” or “Charing Cross” at THAT time & should thus read WALTHAM & CHARING on your map.

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