Statues in and around the Square

  1. The Equestrian Statue of King Charles II
  2. The Statue of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch
  3. The Statues of Justice and Mercy
  4. The Statue of James Braidwood

Statues in the Square

Five statues which were located in the Square are considered in this chapter. The statues of Charles II and Justice and Mercy can be seen in the original painting. The statues of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch and of James Braidwood were erected at later dates but have links with period of the book and are therefore included. Other contemporary statues existed within the Law Courts and St Giles Cathedral and these are considered in the relevant sections.

The Equestrian Statue of King Charles II

The Painting

Remarkably the first statue to be proposed for inclusion in Parliament Square was to be of Oliver Cromwell.  During the interregnum from 1652-1660, Scotland enjoyed a period of comparative peace, if not prosperity, under General George Monk, who had been appointed as the civic ruler by the Lord Protector, Cromwell.  Arnot wrote:-[1]

Although the government was founded in manifest usurpation, peace and order were maintained and justice distributed with a more ready and impartial hand, than when Scotland was under the government of her native monarchs: or, indeed, to speak more properly, under the influence of her tyrannical nobles.

Despite heavy taxation for the support of Cromwell’s army and the expenses of government, the town council proposed to erect a statue to Cromwell in Parliament Square following his death in 1658.  A large block of stone was bought for this purpose but before it could be carved, the restoration of the monarchy took place in 1660 with the support of Monk who had changed sides to become the champion of the King. The magistrates of Edinburgh conveniently forgot about their intention with respect to Cromwell[2], and some years later decided to erect a statue to Charles II instead.  The promiscuous Charles was by no means universally popular but he gained favour with the Corporation by granting the city the right to exact a levy of one third of a penny on a pint of ale and two pence on a pint of wine which brought in £48,000 annually.[3]  The Restoration of the monarchy was greeted with such enthusiasm that Charles’ faults were conveniently forgotten. Richardson wrote that if the statue had been erected to Cromwell it would have been demolished at the Restoration when the Edinburgh public went mad with rejoicing[4]. Curiously a statue of Cromwell was erected in London, outside the Westminster Parliament in 1899 at the instigation of a Scotsman, Prime Minister the 5th Earl of Rosebury (1847-1929).

The equestrian statue of Charles II was cast of lead and is believed to be the oldest lead equestrian statue in Britain.  The sculptor is thought to be Grinling Gibbons[5].  In 7 January 1685, the Town Council ordered ‘ane handsome and fine pedestill …’ with ‘ane handsome ravel (railing) of good iron work’ to be made speedily before his royal highness’s arrival at the city. Unfortunately the King died a month later on 6 February 1685 and never saw his statue.  On 16 April 1685 the statue was in place and Lord Fountainhall wrote:- 

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 than 1000lb sterling. Some alleged it was wrong placed, with the tayll to the great gate and the images of Justice above the Parliament door.  He is formed in the Roman Manner, like one of the Caesars, almost naked and so without spurs and without stirrups….The vulgar people, who had never seen the like before, were much amazed at it….[6]

A marble plaque containing a lengthy eulogy in Latin was attached to the pedestal. Translated extracts read:

To Charles the Second, most august and most magnificent….. upon whose birth Divine Providence smiled…. after a youth spent in arms under his father and after the latter had in the end been beheaded, maintained his own right for two years with energy…. Unable to cope with a rebellion….he was compelled to change his country for almost a decade….at length emerging like the sun, all the brighter from the clouds that had enveloped him, he returned to his own realms without any shedding of blood….Then, winning fame by his war with Holland, he straightway became the arbiter of peace and war between his embattled neighbours……

In 1767 for some reason the statue was painted white which caused James Boswell to write a poem which included the following verse[7]:-

The milk-white steed is well enough
But why thus daub the man all over
And to the swarthy Stuart give
The cream complexion of Hanover?

The heavy lead construction of the statue has proved too much for the three slender legs of the horse by which it is supported, and over the years since its erection it has required to be repaired on many occasions.  By remarkable good fortune it had been removed for repair in 1824 just before the great fire of November of that year which destroyed the greater part of Parliament Square.  There is little doubt that if it had remained there it would have melted with the heat.  While the Square was being reconstructed the statue was stored for several years in the Calton Jail.  During this period the broken leg of the horse was repaired with the help of Mr Dick a veterinary surgeon.

In 1835 it was restored to a new pedestal in the centre of the Square – the original had been placed closer to the west side.  Henry Cockburn wrote in his Journal of 12 May 1835:-

I saw to-day 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[8] is now the most Continental-looking spot in Edinburgh.

Alas Cockburn’s expectation was not realised for further major repairs were necessary in 1877, 1922, 1951-2 and most recently in 2010-11, when a new internal supporting framework of stainless steel was installed and the missing sword and scabbard replaced at a cost of £59,255.

John Gibson Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott’s son-in-law was one of the many who queried the appropriateness of selecting Charles II as the most suitable subject for a statue in this most prominent location[9]:-

Right in front of the main entrance to the Courts as they stand, a fine equestrian statue of Charles II enjoys a much more conspicuous situation than the merits of its original seem at all entitled to claim, – more particularly from the people of Scotland,.  I think it rather unfortunate that this should be the only statue which salutes the public eye in the streets of Edinburgh.  To say the truth, he is the only one of all our monarchs for whose character I think it impossible to feel one touch of sympathy or respect.  Even his unfortunate brother (James VII and II) had honesty of principle, and something of the feelings of an Englishman.  But why should the poor pensioned profligate, whose wit only rendered his vices more culpable, and whose good temper only rendered them more dangerous – why should he be selected for such a mark of distinguishing and hallowing remembrance as this? I should have been better pleased to see Scotland atoning by some such symbol of reverence for her sad offences against his father (Charles I).

THE STATUE OF CHARLES II AS IT APPEARS TODAY

The Statue of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch

Near to the statue of Charles II, in the adjacent West Parliament Square, is the statue of one of Charles’ descendants, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch (1806-1884). Charles had no legal issue but acknowledged at least twelve illegitimate children, one of whom was James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, the forebear of the 5th Duke. 

Walter Francis Montague Douglas Scott, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch and the 7th Duke of Queensberry, KG PC (1806-1884) was only thirteen years old when he inherited his titles and became the largest landowner in Scotland.  Sir Walter Scott, a distant relation of the Duke, was appointed his guardian during his minority.  The Duke was responsible for the building of Granton Harbour.  As a conservative politician he served the Peel administration as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council.  Many honours came his way including the Order of the Garter.

The statue by Joseph Edgar Boehm, which was unveiled in 1888, shows the Duke wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter. He is mounted on a pedestal which has three tiers of bronze decorations showing scenes from the Duke’s life and episodes from the Scott family history. The illustration below shows the bronze relief by Thomas Stuart Burnett of the Duke planning the Granton Harbour.

The Statues of Justice and Mercy

The early illustrations of Parliament Hall, prior to the addition of the new facade in 1824, show that the main entrance to the Hall was on its east front.  Appropriately for the entrance to such an important building, the imposing doorway was framed by carved stones and on the pediment above the door were two statues standing on either side of the city arms. The two allegorical statues represented Justice and Mercy.  They are life-sized young ladies; Justice carried scales in her right hand and Mercy holds a crown towards her heart – the seat of pity and compassion. These stone statues and presumably the coat of arms were sculpted by a mason, Alexander Mylne in 1637 for which he was paid £266, 13s, 4d.  Alexander Mylne came from a family of skilled masons, his father being Master Mason to the Crown. Beneath the statues was an inscription Stant his Felicia Regna, – ‘the rule of kings prospers through these virtues’ and under the arms unio unionum,- ‘the union of unions’ which has been interpreted as ‘meaning not only the union of the two kingdoms by the union of crowns, but that to the uniting of kingdoms good advice is necessary, which is the business of that place’[10]. These statues can just be seen on the left margin of the Painting and more clearly in Conte’s engraving.

Thomas Ross recounts the fate of the statues of Justice and Mercy together with the City coat of arms after their unceremonious removal in 1824[11].  They were carted as ‘rubbish’ intended to be delivered to the Professor of Natural History, Robert Jamieson, who wanted to use the material to build a home for a polar bear in the College quadrangle.  The whaler and Arctic explorer, William Scoresby, who had been a student of Jameson, had sent the polar bear which Jameson kept in a ‘commodious den’ in the University.  The bear survived for at least two years and was ‘certainly the most beautiful animal of the kind ever seen in this country’.[12]

The Statues as they appeared when ‘discovered’ in 1909

Illustration from Ross, T

Baillie Henderson fortunately recovered the Statues of Justice and Mercy from the ‘rubbish’ before they were consigned to the bear’s den and had them taken to his villa in Trinity. In 1829 Mr A G Ellis WS, a collector of antiquities, obtained them and placed them in the garden of his home in 37 Drummond Place. In 1909 they were ‘discovered’ at this address and the then proprietor allowed the Faculty of Advocates to purchase them for £40.  Since then the statues have been placed within the Parliament House, whose exterior they once adorned. 

 In the photograph of the ‘discovered statues’ shown above a remnant of the original pediment stone depicting a crown surmounted by a cross, and bearing the date 1636 can be seen. This has been placed over a doorway in the new façade of Parliament Hall and is the only external fragment of the original gothic frontage remaining.

The only surviving fragment of the original pediment on the east face of Parliament Hall

The Statues as they appear today within the Parliament House

 In the course of these moves the statues have suffered some damage, Justice has lost her right hand together with the scales which it once held and Mercy has also lost her right hand.  The coat of arms of the City of Edinburgh in the centre has lost the head of the maiden who is supporting the Castle on the left and the deer which should have been propping up the castle on the right.

An example of the intact City Arms

Other fragments removed from the original facade of Parliament House were salvaged by Lord Robert Dundas (1771-1853), who incorporated them into his garden at Arniston House where they remain to this day. Yet more fragments, including a window pediment, were obtained by Walter Scott to decorate his home at Abbotsford where they join the artifacts salvaged from the demolished old Mercat Cross and the Old Tolbooth.

The Statue of James Braidwood

After the smaller fire of June 1824 in Parliament Square, the Town Council had realised the inadequacy of the existing fire service and proceeded to found the Edinburgh Municipal Fire Brigade. On 10 October 1824, James Braidwood (1799 – 1861), a twenty-four year old surveyor, was appointed Master of Fire Engines with a starting salary of £50 a year.  This was the first organised fire brigade in Britain and one of the first in Europe, but alas it did not have time to get established before the Great Fire of 1824 which occurred a month after its foundation.

After the Great Fire, increased funding was raised to upgrade the Edinburgh Fire Brigade.  The sum of £200 was provided by the Town Council and similar sums were donated by six Fire Insurance Companies.  Braidwood was able to recruit a force of eighty firemen, mostly young and skilled craftsmen in the building trades, who were provided with uniforms and leather helmets.  He trained these men regularly into a disciplined body versed in the use of their equipment and in life saving techniques such as lowering victims from heights for which he used the North Bridge as his training ground.  The firemen continued at their normal occupations but were always on call and received additional turn-out pay when called out to attend a fire.  Occasionally they were put on standby when special risks were anticipated.  Braidwood’s log book recorded these, such as the entry for 24 December 1828 which read:-

This being the night of the trial of Burke and MacDougal for murder, it was thought advisable by the Superintendent of Police and Master of Fire Engines, that seven men should remain in the main office Engine-house, …all night, in case the mob should set fire to Dr Knox’s classrooms in Surgeons Square or his dwelling place at Newington[i].

The success of Braidwood’s Fire Brigade can be demonstrated in the reduction of total losses due to fire from eleven in 1824/5, to seven in 1825/6 and only one a year in the subsequent three years despite an increase in the number of fire alarms during this period.[ii]

In 1830 Braidwood published a book On the Construction of Fire-engines and Apparatus, the Training of Firemen and Method of Proceeding in Cases of Fire. This was the first book in English on the subject and remained the instruction manual used by all fire brigades for many years – indeed many of its recommendations remain valid to this day.  In 1833 London recruited him to organise a similar fire service there.  He held the job of Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment for thirty years until his death in 1861 caused by falling masonry while taking part in fighting the Great Fire in Tooley Street. So celebrated and respected had he become that his funeral was recorded as being ‘one of the most imposing funerals that has taken place in the metropolis since the public obsequies of the Duke of Wellington.’[iii]  Since his death a Masonic Lodge and a River Thames fire boat have been named after him.  Edinburgh has remembered him belatedly, by erecting a statue of Braidwood in Parliament Square in 2008 inscribed:

Father of the British Fire Service, this statue is dedicated to the memory of James Braidwood, a pioneer of the scientific approach to Fire Fighting.


Statue of James Braidwood

[i] Cited in Reid, A The History of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade  The incident referred to was the trial of Burke and Hare who had killed at least sixteen individuals in order to provide bodies for the anatomy class of Dr Knox.  Knox denied any knowledge of the source of his subjects but the mob doubted this.

[ii] Braidwood p132

[iii] Allaway, B (2004) in preface of Braidwood, J On the construction of Fire-Engines and Apparatus .


[1] Arnot H (1816) History of Edinburgh  p76

[2] Wilson D (1847) Memorials of Edinburgh I, p127-8  records that in 1788 Cromwell’s block of stone was found lying on the sand at Leith by an advocate, with an antiquarian interest,  Mr Walter Ross.  He arranged for it to be removed to a site near Ann Street overlooking the Water of Leith where quarrymen carved a creation which looked like a ‘monstrous mummy’ or a ‘giant in a shroud’.  It subsequently fell or was knocked down and was broken up for building purposes.

[3] Kincaid (1787) p78 and Richardson (1901) p26. 

[4] Richardson (1910) p218

[5] MacRae, E J. Charles II Statue, Parliament Square BOEC XVII p85, 1930.  

Grinling Gibbons sculpted the statue of Charles II, which stands in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. This statue also shows Charles in Roman dress.

[6] Ibid  p83-4 

[7] Caledonian Mercury  26 Sept 1767

[8] It is interesting that Cockburn should continue to refer to ‘Parliament Close’ long after it had been renamed Parliament Square – a change to which he had strongly objected.

[9] Lockhart J G, (1819)  Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk  Vol 2 p14

[10] Ross,T (1919) p33 quoting Morer,T Early Travels in Scotland  p280 PSAS LIII

[11] Ibid. Old Parliament Hall, Statues of Justice and Mercy  p30-4 

[12] Devlin C L (2019) William Scoresby as an Arctic physical oceanographer. Archives of Natural History 46 p35.