In the first of three articles, Pembrokeshire historian MARK MULLER discusses Queen Eleanor of Castile. The articles have been written to coincide with Pembrokeshire County Council’s imminent publication of their immense plans for Haverfordwest castle and the town.

THE last time I wrote about Queen Eleanor of Castile was for the volume entitled People Who Shaped Haverfordwest, that I wrote in 2010 to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the founding of the town.

Now, with funding having been secured by Pembrokeshire County Council to renovate Haverfordwest Castle as part of its Flagship Heritage Enterprise, it would seem a good point to return to the woman who was responsible for the image of the castle that we still admire, and who may have a monolith erected to her as a starting point of this townscape changing scheme.

Castile, in north central Spain became the prominent Christian region that expanded its land ownership against the Moors. By the early 8th century, the Moors, or Berbers, had crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and rendered almost the whole of the Iberian Peninsula an Islamic possession.
Over an extremely long period, (close to 800 years) more and more land was reconquered with Eleanor’s father, Ferdinand 111 of Castile, standing out in the first half of the 13th century as successful in securing much of the territory remaining in Moorish hands.

Castilian further, became the language now recognised as Spanish, and the name Castile comes basically from ‘Castle’ or, ‘land of the castles’; something that Wales, and especially Pembrokeshire, could relate to.

Eleanor was the daughter of Ferdinand 111 and his wife Joan of Ponthieu in northern France, and was named after her great, great grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England and wife of Henry 11.

Eleanor had several suitors who potentially could have challenged the English ownership of the Duchy of Gascony in Aquitaine, England’s last possession in France. To ensure the security of this territory, Henry 111 rushed his son Edward forward and negotiated successfully for the marriage between Edward and Eleanor to take place in 1254.

The age of the two, she 10 and he 15, might raise eyebrows now, but such was not uncommon in medieval times when royal daughters especially were used as pawns in political manoeuvres.

Eleanor was more educated than was normal for a medieval woman, even one as titled as she was, and from the start she and Edward enjoyed a lasting marriage of love.

Even before his accession, Edward was involved from an early age in the maelstrom of chaotic unrest, rebellion and political intrigue that plagued England.

His father, Henry 111 had come to the throne in 1216 aged just 9, and was immediately plunged into the First Baron’s War which was a leftover of major discontent from the disastrous reign of John.

Henry’s actions following this did little to improve matters and his attempts to regain the French land lost by his father, plus his indulgence of favourites, led eventually to the Second Baron’s War when Simon de Montfort defeated Henry, imprisoned him and seized power.

De Montfort can be seen now as the first initiator of a representative Parliament, rather than supporting supreme regal authority, which for a while Edward supported before being reconciled with his father.

Following this reconciliation, Edward can first be seen as the military man that was to become his style throughout his reign, becoming known as The Hammer of the Scots and the conqueror of Wales.

He defeated de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in August 1265 and seven years later with the death of his father became king.

Now, Edward turned his attention to Wales. Despite inroads into Wales by the Normans following their conquest of England in 1066, the Welsh under various factional rulers had remained a thorn in the Norman side, culminating with the successes of Llewellyn the Great by the early 13th century.

It was Llewellyn’s grandson, Llewellyn the Last who was to become Edward’s last Welsh foe. Divided Principalities, infighting amongst themselves and with the Marcher Lords, had made it difficult to combine Welsh interests and passions, but Edward’s introduction of English law in the areas that he overran became the last straw that allowed Llewellyn to launch a national Welsh struggle.

To be continued in next week's edition.