City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Statue of Charles II, Restoration Monarch, Gets Restoration Job

By edg - Posted on 25 October 2010

Charles II Parliament Square

The statue of Charles II in Parliament Square in Edinburgh Old Town was taken away yesterday for a £57,395 conservation job. The oldest equestrian lead statue in the UK, it dates back to 1685, and is possibly the work of the Dutch sculptor Grinling Gibbons.

Charles II was crowned king of Scotland in 1651 at Scone, but after a failed invasion of England in that year he escaped to France, until the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1661 upon which Charles was restored to the English throne as well.

The conservation work on his statue, the fourth restoration work that the statue has undergone over the centuries, is part of the on-going Twelve Monuments Restoration Project, a joint initiative by the City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh World Heritage.  The work is being funded with donations from the Scottish Court Service, the High Constables of Edinburgh, and private donors.

The monument is made of lead and has an internal framework, made from oak and mild steel. Over time this has deteriorated, putting stress on the statue and causing cracks in the lead.

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage called the statue "utterly beguiling, far from the pomposity of his father’s statue in Trafalgar Square in London."

He added: "This is the monarch of a different kind of a nation, following the trauma and upheaval of the Commonwealth, seeking calm authority. Statuary is one of the aspects of the World Heritage Site that is easily forgotten, yet which plays an important part in creating the drama of some of our public spaces, in this case Parliament Square behind St Giles. We are delighted to be supporting the repair of this important statue, which is the first in a long line of important public monuments in Edinburgh and the story it has to tell."

After a painstaking process to remove it safely from its plinth, the Charles II statue was due to be transported to the Rochester studio of Hall Conservation Ltd for specialist conservation work. There it will be carefully taken apart and rebuilt, supported by a new internal stainless steel frame. The lead will be cleaned and missing parts such as the sword and scabbard replaced, modelled on a similar statue at Windsor Castle.

The conservation work is expected to take six months, with the statue returned to its former glory in spring 2011.

"This majestic statue is the oldest in Edinburgh, occupying a prime position in Parliament Square at the heart of the Old Town," said Councillor Ron Cairns, Vice Convenor of the Culture and Leisure Committee. "By restoring it to its former glory, we will be preserving a significant Edinburgh landmark for future generations."

Charles II statue: Timeline

  • 16 Apr 1685 - erected by the Provost, Magistrates and Council in Parliament Close at a cost of £2,584 Scots. The bill emanated from Rotterdam and some attribute the design to Grinling Gibbons. The statue depicts Charles II as a laurelled Roman General.
  • 1689 - Latin inscription penned by William Clerk (advocate) who later sued for payment!
  • 1732, 1785, 1817 - minor repairs and in 1786 “three coats of strong paint” were applied, apparently white and at a cost of three guineas. The condition of the horse was not helped by the tradition of young Edinburgh lads climbing up on it to nail garlands to it annually on June 4 to mark the birthday of George III.
  • 1835 Second Restoration - After removal from Parliament Square in 1824 “in a state of decay” horse and rider languished in the yard of Calton Jail for 11 years. In 1835, following repairs costing £30 6s 6 1/2d, Charles was placed upon a new plinth of Craigleith stone which included two inscriptions from the original pedestal

“I saw today for the first time the second Restoration of Charles II – I mean of his statue, which has been replaced in the Parliament Square after a sleep in the prison for eleven years. A very respectable piece of art. The horse had cracked at the fetlocks, but his legs are now mended, and his other frailties soldered, and his inside is sustained by a strong muscular system of oak. So he is expected to defy the weather and remain sound for another century. The little Parliament Close is now the most Continental looking spot in Edinburgh. Lord Cockburn’s, Journal 12 May 1835

  • 1843 - Magistrates had the statue painted white.
  • 1922 - Some repairs undertaken with the statue suspended from a scaffold.
  • 1952 - Third Restoration - Following removal from Parliament Square in 1949, storage at Russell Road yard for two years, and repairs at a Lambeth foundry in 1951, Charles was yet again restored to Parliament Square in February 1952.