Known when she was born as Leonore in 1241, Eleanor was named after her father’s maternal grandmother. She was the second of five children to parents, Ferdinand III, King of Castile and Joan of Dammartin, Countess of Ponthieu. At the turn of the thirteenth century, many royal marriages could be considered contracts, a way for families to usurp their place in society. Women were treated as pawns to gain more influence in a European power struggle for dominance, and in 1254, a young Eleanor of Castile would do the same. Had Henry III had not feared a Castilian invasion, Edward I may never have married Eleanor.
Before their betrothal, Eleanor’s older brother Alphonso, King of Castile, required Edward travel with his mother to Burgos where he would meet the Castilian royals. Soon after receiving the consent to marry Eleanor, Edward left the court of Bordeaux and made the journey across the Pyrenees to meet his future bride. They arrived on 5 August and were greeted by magnificent celebrations that lit up the old city of Burgos for several weeks. Both Edward and his mother Eleanor of Provence would stay in Burgos until the following year before they, along with Eleanor of Castile, would venture back across the Pyrenees to take up residence at the court of Henry III in Bordeaux.
On 1 November 1254, these two young royals were married at the monastery of Las Huelgas, a union that seemed to end in devotion for each other. Rarely did an arranged union end up so well. Edward was one of a few medieval kings who was not known to have extramarital affairs and was seldom seen without his wife. Eleanor even accompanied her husband on military campaigns, which demonstrated their closeness.
During their marriage, Eleanor gave birth to an astounding sixteen children, only six of whom lived to adulthood. Even out of those six, only a few outlived their parents. A daughter, Mary was born in 1279 and would become a nun at Amesbury. In 1307, after the death of Edward I, the couple’s fourth son would succeed the throne to become the next king. While on a crusade to the Holy Land, Edward and Eleanor would be blessed with a daughter and would name her Joan of Acre. Out of all of their children, Princess Margaret would outlive all of her siblings and would die in 1333 as the Duchess of Brabant.
In 1287 it was noted that while in Gascony, Eleanor developed double quartan fever, a sickness that was known to leave its victims in a weakened state. In those few years before her death, Edward’s financial records revealed recurrent expenditures for medicines that were labelled for the Queen’s use. On 28 November 1290, Eleanor would depart from this world, leaving Edward in a saddened state. Edward would order that crosses bearing statues of the Queen be erected, and later be placed at locations where the procession had stopped overnight on the way back to London. The significance of these statues was to remind people passing through to say a prayer for the soul of his beloved queen. For a tale that began with an arranged marriage, it ended in a story of true love.