THE SAD STORY OF THE SPIRIT OF ECSTASY.
John Douglas-Scott-Montague, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, was a wealthy, powerful man who had a love of the embryonic motor car when most of the wealthy classes deplored it as it “frightened the horses”.
He was a personal friend of King Edward and kindled the King’s interest in motoring which resulted in him buying a Daimler car and awarding the Royal Warrant to the company which it retained for fifty years.
There is nothing like royal patronage to change public opinion and the car became socially acceptable.
Although it was never admitted publicly it was an open secret among the aristocracy that Montague’s secretary, Eleanor Thornton, was, in fact, his mistress.
In 1909 he commissioned the sculptor Charles Sykes to make a mascot for his Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Using Eleanor as a model, he produce a small statue of a young woman in fluttering robes with a forefinger to her lips. It was named “The Whisper”. It is believed this was a metaphor for their “secret” affair.
At the same time Henry Royce was becoming increasingly irritated by the standard of mascot RR owners were fitting on their cars. These included a dancing elephant and a comic policeman and Royce considered they were beneath the dignity of a car said to be among the best money could buy.
When Royce saw the mascot on Montague’s car he thought something similar would suit his cars and commissioned Sykes to create it with Eleanor Thornton again being the model.
The result was clearly inspired by the earlier work and was christened “Spirit of Ecstasy”. It has become an icon of Rolls Royce cars and is still fitted today although now shorter to accommodate the lower bonnet line and mounted on a retractable platform to satisfy modern safety regulations.
Sadly, there is not a happy ending to this story.
In 1915 Montagu was posted to a government post in India and Eleanor accompanied him on the steamer Persia.
The Great War was raging and the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare was in force. The ship was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean.
Montague survived but Eleanor was among the hundreds lost.