Death Rides into Edinburgh

The equestrian statue of Charles II in Edinburgh is just one in a long line of public works promoted by the city fathers which have provoked public outcry. On 16 April, 1685, Fountainhall recorded that ‘our late king’s statue was erected on horseback in Parliament Closse at Edinburgh’. (Fountainhall, Historical Observes, 161.)

Charles II in Parliament Square © kim traynor and licensed for reuse.

For Fountainhall, the historical details of the statue were superb, based on his learned assessment of Guido Panciroli’s Deperdita (1607) and Nova Reperta (1608):

‘He is formed in the Roman manner, like one of the Cæsars, almost naked, and so without spurs and without stirrups, stapedes; because the old Romans used no such help, as appears from ther medaills, and Pancirollushis his Vetera deperdita et nova reperta, with Salmuth’s notes.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 635.)

However, Edinburgh’s citizens, who had paid for it, were far less enamoured with it:

‘The late King’s statue on horseback, was erected and set up in the Parliament Closse. It stood the Toune of Edinburgh very dear, more then 1000 lb. sterling. Some alledged, It was wrong placed, with the tayll to the great gate and image of Justice above the Parliament [house] door.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 635.)

The rear end of the statue faced parliament

The inscription below the statue listed the King’s achievements, the last of which was clearly a boast that he had crushed the Covenanters:

‘Finally, when the old rebellion sprung up anew, he struck it down trampled it in the dust, more by the assistance of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom, than by Mars, the god of war; and thus crushed the basilisk (or cockatrice) in its eggs.’

For some Edinburgh folk, ‘Charles II as Caesar’ was Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol of the Book of Daniel Chapter 3. Intriguingly, the martyrs’ testimony of Arthur Bruce, who was executed nearby at Edinburgh’s mercat cross on 30 November, 1683, had made reference to the same passage in the book of Daniel and encouraged the people to refuse to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘golden image’.

‘The vulgar peeple, who had never seen the like before, ware much amazed at it. Some compared it to Nebuchadnezar’s image, which all fell doune and worshipped; and others foolishly to the pale horse in the Revelation, and he that sate theiron was Death.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 635.)

The reference in the book of Revelation is as follows:

‘And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.’ (Rev. 6.8.)

The appearance of the statue coincided with the riding of the Scottish parliament to the old parliament hall. On 14 April, the Privy Council had issued a proclamation ‘commanding all Members of Parliament to attend the Commissioner [i.e., the duke of Queensberry] up from the [Holyrood] Abbey on horseback’ (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 634.)

The riding took place when parliament opened on 23 April, 1685.

The Latin inscription on the pedestal has been translated as follows:

‘To the Most August, Most Magnificent, and Most Unconquered Charles II., Monarch of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, at the moment of whose birth Divine Providence smiled auspiciously, by causing a bright star to shine forth at noonday; who, after having spent his youth in arms under his father (and the latter being beheaded), strenuously, but without success, contended for nearly two years for his rights. But, unequal to cope with rebellion, too often victorious, he was compelled for about ten years to retire into foreign countries. Yet, guarded and defended by divine protection, in spite of the proffered guiles, threats, and arms of the usurper, at length, after the Restoration, he arose brighter, just as the sun when he emerges from the obscuring clouds, and returned, without bloodshed, to his kingdom and to his rights. He erected, augmented, remodelled, and strengthened the Church, the civil polity, the peace, and the commerce of his kingdoms. After this he shone forth illustriously in the Dutch war, waged between neighbouring belligerents, and became the arbiter both of peace and war. Finally, when the old rebellion sprung up anew, he struck it down trampled it in the dust, more by the assistance of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom, than by Mars, the god of war; and thus crushed the basilisk (or cockatrice) in its eggs. To this prince of miracles, therefore, be the highest glory now that he is in the enjoyment of peace!’

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~ by drmarkjardine on October 6, 2011.

2 Responses to “Death Rides into Edinburgh”

  1. […] statue to William was erected in 1735, fifty years after Edinburgh had erected an equestrian statue to Charles II, which also has a contested history. Edinburgh’s statue is still in situ, but the statue of William has moved more than once from its […]

  2. […] parliament after a great fire destroyed many of the tenements surrounding it in 1824. The controversial equestrian statue of Charles II, which sits in the square post dates the Torwood Excommunication by a few […]

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