Edinburgh is home to its fair share of well-loved, well-rubbed statues. But its oldest statue remains safely out of reach, towering atop a plinth in a little-visited parking lot in Parliament Square, where it’s backdropped by the imposing St Giles’ Cathedral.
The statue honors Charles II, a man who came to power during troubled times. His father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall Palace in 1649. Though the Parliament of Scotland declared Charles II king, England came under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, who led the country as a de facto republic. Cromwell defeated Charles II in the 1651 Battle of Worcester, ending the English Civil War and forcing the latter to flee to continental Europe.
After spending nearly a decade in exile, Charles II was finally allowed back to Britain after Cromwell’s death. Only then did he finally succeed his father to the throne, becoming the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1660.
This life-sized statue of Charles II was erected in 1685, the year of the king’s death. It’s believed to be the oldest lead equestrian statue in the United Kingdom, and is the oldest statue in Edinburgh. Charles II is depicted donning Roman military garb, wielding a baton meant to symbolize Imperial authority.
Because of the aforementioned attributes, the statue has earned a few unfortunate nicknames from the locals. He is referred to as the “Two-faced Monarch” because Charles reneged on his promise to help the Scots after they assisted with returning him to the throne.
Like the man the artwork depicts, the statue, too, has endured hardship. Centuries of battling Scottish weather weakened the lead, causing it to split and crack. Rain seeped into fissures on the horse’s flank, damaging the steed’s interior. In 2010, the monument spent six months getting repaired. It returned to Parliament Square in 2011, where it still stands today.
Know Before You Go
You can walk by the statue at any time. While in the parking lot, look for space 23. There, you'll find a marker denoting John Knox's burial place.