|Las Huelgas Monastery, Burgos, Spain|
Born in late 1241, Eleanor of Castile was the only daughter of the marriage of Ferdinand III, King of Castile (1201–1252) to his second wife, Jeanne de Dammartin (1216-1279), heiress to the French county of Ponthieu. Her parents took their daughter and her two surviving brothers - Ferdinand (1239-c.1263) and Louis (1243-c.1275), who became Lord of Marchena - to the South sometime after Ferdinand III permanently moved his operations to Andalucia in 1244. Eleanor received her education from the Dominican friars who were fixtures at the Castilian court in her early years, and with whose order she would have a lifelong association. Castile was a cosmopolitan royal court, with a strong literary atmosphere, and Eleanor later showed an ease with, and interest in, historical writing and classical works.
Her father took the first step toward arranging a marriage for her by applying for a papal dispensation allowing her to be wed to any man related to her in the fourth degree, and it was received from Pope Innocent IV on 5 August 1250. The likeliest candidate the king had in mind as his 8-year-old daughter’s husband was Theobald, the 13-year-old son and heir of Theobald I, King of Navarre. The kings of Castile had claimed feudal supremacy over the smaller kingdom of Navarre (nestled in the Pyrennes mountains) for more than a hundred years. A union between the two royal houses would be beneficial, politically and symbolically.
Ferdinand III died in May 1252 in Seville, and Eleanor, close to age 11, was said to have been at her father’s deathbed. Her thirty-year-old half brother (the eldest of the large brood from her father's first marriage) succeeded to the throne of Castile as Alfonso X. Though Eleanor resided with her mother, the widowed Queen Jeanne, in Seville, the responsibility for her marriage fell on the shoulders of the new king. Enter Gascony.
|Iberian Peninsula in 1300|
The death of the king of Navarre in July 1253 brought the 16-year-old Theobald II to the throne. Alfonso X quickly claimed Castile's feudal supremacy over Navarre, and moved to conclude the marriage of the new king with Eleanor. But the widowed Queen Margaret of Navarre was not a fan of either Castile or its new king Alfonso X, and wished to avoid any kind of feudal or sacred marriage alliance to it. She submitted herself and her teenaged son to the king of Aragon’s protection in August with the promise that young King Theobald would never in his life marry Eleanor of Castile. Meanwhile Henry III arrived in Gascony later that year, his royal presence being enough to restore order by the following year, weakening Alfonso X’s position regarding the territory.
|Alfonso X of Castile in his Court c.1280|
Alfonso X found himself in early 1254 snubbed by Navarre's widowed queen, and laying claim to a longtime Plantagenet territory where he had little true influence. To top it off his brother Henry of Castile broke out in open rebellion against him. Suddenly an alliance with England's royal dynasty became appealing to Alfonso. The terms of the Anglo-Castilian treaty agreed upon in March 1254 were that Edward of England was to be knighted by Alfonso X, marry Eleanor, raise the amount of her dower, and help to impose Castilian supremacy over Navarre. In return Alfonso X renounced all claims to Gascony based on Henry II’s promises to Alfonso VIII. On 20 July 1254, Edward assigned Eleanor dower lands worth £1,000 yearly, with 500 marks in English lands to be added when she became queen, and a Castilian embassy arrived in Gascony in August to accept the dower assignment on Eleanor's behalf.
All appeared ready to move the marriage forward. A glitch occurred with the conduct of the mother of the bride, widowed Queen Jeanne (who, before her marriage to Ferdinand III of Castile, had been put forward as a potential bride for Henry III of England, the father of the groom). She had lost the favor of her stepson Alfonso X by publicly showing herself too supportive of her rebellious other stepson, Henry of Castile, causing a scandal. The issue was solved by Alfonso packing her back to her home county, Ponthieu, apparently before the wedding. Edward arrived in Castile in October and received his knighthood from the Castlian king in a splendid symbolic ceremony. The royal wedding took place on 1 November at the monastery of Las Huelgas (pictured), near Burgos, the chief religious site for the Castilian royal family [*1].
[*1] All of the above information was taken from the incredible research of John Carmi Parsons, from his 1997 book Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England, and his entry for her in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).