Widely regarded as ‘the jewel of Milton Keynes,’ Stony Stratford is also steeped in history.
There has been a settlement in the area since the Roman times, the origin of the term, ‘a cock and bull story’ is claimed by the town, and there are many more nuggets of historical interest to be explored.
But we have to go back more than 700 years to learn the story behind a striking mural which has recently been added to the High Street…
The painting of Eleanor of Castile is the work of town resident Luke McDonnell, and serves as a memorial to the Queen Consort whose body passed through Stony Stratford following her death in 1290.
Accounts vary, but Eleanor of Castile was believed to have been just 13 years old when she was married to 15-year-old Edward I, in 1254.
Eleanor appears to have been well educated, which was unusual for the time. She was a clever businesswoman, and a keen supporter of literature.
A perfect match
Though their marriage was considered to be one of convenience, Edward and Eleanor fell madly in love – on Easter Monday, Edward would let Eleanor’s ladies trap him in his bed, before paying a token ransom so that he could go to her bedroom the first day following Lent!
They were so united that when her husband embarked on his crusades to the Holy Land, Eleanor would accompany him.
During one such military expedition, Edward was wounded in the arm by a knife that was believed to be poisoned. Storytellers said Eleanor sucked the poison from the wound to save his life. But while the tale proved popular, it has long been discredited!
In 1272 upon the death of his father, King Henry III, Edward was crowned King Of England.
Eleanor bore Edward at least 16 children, although just five daughters and one son survived into adulthood.
The Queen was at the King’s side until 1290, when she was taken ill on a journey to meet her husband in Scotland. She was recorded to be suffering from a ‘slow fever.’
Eleanor was treated at a manor house near Lincoln, but failed to recover.
King Edward I had travelled to be by her side, and her death left him inconsolable.
He wrote, “I loved her dearly during her lifetime…I shall not cease to love her now that she is dead.”
Aware of her failing health, Queen Eleanor had been planning for her death – ordering images for her tomb, and arranging for her heart to be buried at Blackfriars in London.
Her body was embalmed at St Catherine’s Priory in Lincoln, and the viscera buried at Lincoln Cathedral.
Her body was buried in a tomb at Westminster Abbey, but the journey there was a long one, and the deceased Queen and her entourage ‘rested’ in many places along the way, including Stony Stratford.
Queen Eleanor crosses
King Edward announced that in her honour, a memorial would be erected at each place that hosted an overnight stop on the journey.
The stone monuments were tall and elaborately decorated. John of Battle was the architect of five of these crosses, including the one in Stony Stratford.
The Queen’s coffin stayed in Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham, Cheapside, and Charing Cross.
A state burial then followed at Westminster Abbey.
Today, just three of the impressive original crosses remain; at Geddington, Waltham and Hardingstone in Northampton.
It is perhaps poignant that the one on the outskirts of Northampton is among the few survivors – the royal couple were said to be regular visitors to the town; Northampton Castle (one of the most famous Norman castles in England) and local hunting lodges would have seen them gravitate to the area, and Queen Eleanor’s business empire was rooted there too.
The Eleanor Cross in Stony Stratford stood at the lower end of the town, which is now the High Street. It was destroyed during the Civil War by the Parliamentarians, but today, a commemorative plaque can be found at 157 High Street.
And now, more than 700 years since Eleanor passed through Stony Stratford on her final journey, the new 30ft high mural ensures her memory still looms large over the town.
“I was absolutely thrilled to produce this piece for Stony Stratford,” artist Luke said.
“I loved getting to know all the locals over the 10 days and nights it took to produce. Stony Stratford has given so much to me in the two years I’ve lived here. Hopefully this is seen as me giving a little back.”
Queen Eleanor’s tomb is in St. Edward the Confessor’s chapel at Westminster Abbey.