Tucked away in a side street in Stony Stratford is a giant mural of Queen Eleanor. Perhaps nowadays better known as being the inspiration behind the famous Eleanor Crosses. She was the wife of Edward I and lived from 1241 to 1290. Dying whilst on a trip north to meet her husband. The king was so bereft he ordered monuments to her memory built everywhere her body rested as they made their way back to London.
Stony Stratford was one of those locations. Not a place originally on the route, the funeral cortege passed through as part of a detour. Originally planning to head down the great north road from Lincoln to London. Bad weather and flooding prevented them from crossing the Great Ouse and Nene rivers along the way. Forcing a change in direction they headed towards Watling Street and towards safer crossing points. Stony Stratford was one of those crossings and still is. It was here that they forded the Great Ouse.
Now intertwined with the story of that great journey a great Eleanor Cross once stood in the town. Sadly this has now long gone, the victim of zealous parliamentarian soldiers during the English Civil War. They had considered the crosses erected to Eleanor as being nothing short of royalist idolatry.
The memory of Eleanor however is still there and a mural painted on the side of a building on New Street remembers her story. Painted by Luke McDonnell it is full of symbolism and draws upon ideas from the period in which she lived. Taking in ideas from art history and interweaving those together, the mural itself has a number of stories to tell.
Secrets of the Eleanor Mural in Stony Stratford
Quote from Edward I
Written within a banner at the top of the mural over Eleanor;s head is “In life we dearly cherish, in death we cannot cease to love”. This quote was taken from one of Edward I’s letters. Written in January 1291 he was seeking prayers for the soul of his late wife. His sentiments would have been raw as he would have buried his Queen only the previous month.
William Morris Patterns
Although living much later, William Morris was inspired by medievalism. He had studied classics at Oxford University and over the years his designs would become highly influential. The pattern that sits in the background of the mural is inspired by Morris which in turn takes inference from medieval art. According to the artist, it is symbolic of English heritage and the Royal Family.
Queen Eleanor Portrait
The image of Queen Eleanor very much takes it’s influence from a later period. The painting owes more towards Romanticism than it does art from the 13th century. She is shown with her head tilted in a sort of contemplative gaze. Her hands curled upwards towards her neck. It is a gesture inspired by the pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti. One that was often found in his work which in turn was inspired by his muses.
Wrapping upwards towards Eleanor’s waist are flowers. In particular they are petunias and geraniums which represent Stony Stratford in Bloom and roses which are symbols of royalty. The inclusion giving a bit of a nod to civic pride in the town.
Seen hovering near to Eleanor’s face is a kingfisher. A bird which across cultures has often symbolised abundance and prosperity, Kingfisher’s can also be found in the area within the nearby nature reserves.
Symbolic of birth and death the heron is a common bird seen in the Great Ouse. This is the river which the funeral cortege would have needed to cross at Stony Stratford. Two herons are shown in the mural. The first in flight upwards towards her and the second perched against Eleanor’s upturned arm.
Etched into the background of the mural is an Eleanor Cross. It would have been erected nearby to commemorate the fact that Eleanor’s body would have rested the night here. Its design is not entirely known but we do have surviving crosses nearby in Geddington and Hardingstone. These are likely to have been similar to what would have once been erected in Stony Stratford.
Reminiscent of the history of the town, Stony Stratford minted a number of trading tokens. They would have been sold to travellers by innkeepers and tradesmen who could use them in the town.
The mural of Eleanor in Stony Stratford was painted by Luke McDonnell. It was visited on January 16 2022 as part of a wider series looking at the locations of the Eleanor Crosses. The mural was painted in August 2018.