Old Queens: Ten of Six in the City
Updated: Mar 23
The Queen's Platinum Jubilee prompts a look at ten public statues of six past queens in the City of London.
By my count, ten statues of six queens can be seen on public display in the streets of the City (one queen has three statues and two have two each). Sunday 6 February 2022 marked 70 years since Elizabeth II became Queen of the United Kingdom, so it seems an appropriate moment to review these monuments to former queens.
The six queens memorialised in stone or bronze are Queen Victoria (three statues), Queen Elizabeth I (two statues), Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Anne (two statues), Anne of Denmark and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Four of these ruled as monarchs in their own right: Queen Elizabeth I (Queen of England 1558-1603), Mary Queen of Scots (Queen of Scotland 1542-1567), Queen Anne (Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland 1702-1707 and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland 1707-1714) and Queen Victoria (Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 1837-1901).
The other two were Queen consorts by virtue of their marriage to a king. Anne of Denmark was the wife of King James VI of Scotland (1589-1619), who became King James I of England and Ireland (1603-1613).
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, the wife of King George VI, was Queen consort of the United Kingdom (1936-1952). On the death of her husband and the accession of her daughter (the current Queen), she became known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Six of the ten statues can be found between St Paul's Cathedral and the Temple Bar memorial, where the City of London meets the City of Westminster. The Queen Mother is outside this area, situated outside Grocers' Hall near the Bank of England, and three Queens are repeated on the eastern part of Guildhall.
The current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is not portrayed in stone or bronze anywhere in the City (certainly not publicly). There are, however, reliefs of her profile on every coin carried in purses and pockets throughout the Square Mile and throughout the realm.
She has had a long association with the City during her 70 years as Queen, which began with the death of her father King George VI on 6 February 1952.
She visited Lloyd's of London in the City in 1952, before her coronation the following year. On that occasion, she laid the foundation stone of what was then the insurance market's new building on Lime Street (later, in 1986, the Queen opened the current Lloyd's building, designed by Richard Rogers).
Ten days after her coronation, the Queen was hosted by the Lord Mayor on 12 June 1953 at a banquet lunch at Guildhall, the City of London Corporation's 15th century council chamber.
Her most recent trip to the Square Mile was on 9 November 2018, when she visited the new headquarters of investment management firm Schroeders on London Wall.
Contrary to a widely believed popular myth, the Queen does not have to ask permission to enter the City of London. Like all myths, this one has some grounding in truth, but is a misinterpretation of the Ceremony of the Pearl Sword.
On formal royal visits to the City, the Queen's carriage pauses at Temple Bar, which marks the City's entrance from Westminster. The Lord Mayor offers the hilt of the City's Pearl Sword to the Queen, who touches it before it is returned to the Lord Mayor.
This ceremony dates from the reign of Elizabeth I, who first presented the sword as a gift to the City on her way to St Paul's to give thanks for the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The ceremony signifies the Lord Mayor's loyalty to, and protection of, the monarch while the sovereign is in the City.
Our ten sculptures can be found within less than two miles of each other, making a comfortable walk across the west of the City of London.
Starting at the Temple Bar Memorial, where The Strand becomes Fleet Street, the first of our statues of Queens in the City is Queen Victoria.
Sculpted in marble by Sir Joseph Boehm for the memorial that replaced the Temple Bar gate in 1880, it depicts Victoria holding sceptre and orb (symbols of sovereignty) and flanked by symbols of science and art. She is standing in a niche on the south face of the plinth, beneath the magnificent bronze dragon that guards this western entrance to the City (see my article about the City's dragons for more on that subject).
Progressing west along Fleet Street, you soon come to the church of St Dunstan in the West on the north side of the street. Above a doorway to the right of the church, set back from the road, is a stone figure of Queen Elizabeth I holding a sceptre and orb.
Extraordinarily, the statue was created in Elizabeth's lifetime, said to date from 1586. It is certainly the oldest of the statues of Queens in the City. She once stood over a gateway in the City walls, at Ludgate, until that structure was demolished in 1760.
A little further to the west along Fleet Street is a statue of Mary Queen of Scots, with a delicately carved ruff at her neck. She is standing over the entrance to a branch of Pret A Manger in an unusual looking neo-Gothic building.
A cousin of Elizabeth I, Mary did not have a particular connection to London, but this building was owned by Sir John Tollemache Sinclair, a Scottish landowner and politician. It was built for a Scottish insurance company in 1905.
Mary Queen of Scots was executed on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I in 1587, a year after the statue of her cousin was carved. Strange that Mary's statue stands between the site of Ludgate, where the statue of Elizabeth once was, and St Dunstan in the West, where it is now.
Around the corner from Fleet Street, on a granite plinth on a traffic island in New Bridge Street at the north side of Blackfriars Bridge, is another statue of Queen Victoria.
Again shown holding her sceptre and orb, Victoria is casting a steely eye over the traffic daring to leave the City for Southwark. The statue was created in 1893 by Charles Bell Birch, who also made the bronze dragon above our first statue of Victoria on the Temple Bar Memorial. Unveiled in 1896, it is a bronze cast of a marble original that stood in Udaipur, India, from 1889 until 1947.
The statue of Queen Anne stands at the top of Ludgate Hill outside the west porch of St Paul's Cathedral, roughly one mile east of the Temple Bar Memorial.
The marble figure is an 1886 copy by Richard Claude Belt and Louis-Auguste Malempré of a 1712 original by Francis Bird. Queen Anne was on the throne when St Paul's was officially opened on Christmas Day in 1711 and she provided the marble for the statue herself.
The original suffered from a number of attacks and weather damage. It is said that it was once daubed with the rhyme:
Brandy Nan, Brandy Nan, left in the lurch,
Her face to the gin-shop, her back to the church.
This was a reference to Queen Anne's alleged taste for drink and an allusion to a gin palace just down Ludgate Hill in the direction her statue is facing.
The 1886 replica was completed by Malempré after Belt was imprisoned for obtaining money by false pretences.
Anne is portrayed with sceptre and orb and the pedestal is surrounded by four figures representing England (Britannia, holding a trident), France (with fleur-de-lys on her helmet), Ireland (holding a harp) and North America (a native American).
A few yards north of Queen Anne is the other Queen Anne (of Denmark).
Look for the stone gateway between St Paul's Churchyard and Paternoster Square. It is the Temple Bar gate that was removed from Fleet Street in 1878 (at the location where Temple Bar Memorial stands now). After more than a century at the Theobolds Park in Hertfordshire, the gateway was rebuilt at its current site in 2004.
On its northern side, facing Paternoster Square are statues of James I & VI and, on the left, his wife Anne of Denmark. She was carved when the Wren-designed gate was built at its original location in the 1670s, making her the second oldest of our Queens in the City.
The most easterly Queen on our walk into the City, standing in Grocers Hall Courtyard about half a mile east of the two Annes, is a bust of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The most recent of the Queens in the City sculptures, it was created in the 1950s by Oscar Nemon. In my opinion, it is the most lifelike, lively and human of the portrayals, capturing the warmth for which the Queen Mother was known.
Nemon sculpted many of the great and good of the post war period. His subjects included Sigmund Freud, President Eisenhower, President Truman, Field Marshal Montgomery, Harold McMillan and Margaret Thatcher.
Nemon's first major commission, for a bust of Winston Churchill in 1952, came from none other than Queen Elizabeth II. She was also sculpted by him, although the result is, alas, not on display in the City of London.
A short distance northwest of the Queen Mother outside Grocers Hall is Basinghall Street, which runs north-south along the east side of the Guildhall complex. On the left as you walk north is an 1870s building by Sir Horace Jones in the Gothic revival style. Its is part of Guildhall, originally built to house the library and a museum and now used for receptions and an archive depository.
In its eastern wall are niches containing stone statues of three Queens that are also commemorated elsewhere in the City. It is thought that the three Queens were an afterthought, since Jones' original drawings of the building showed male figures in the niches.
Left to right, they are Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Anne and Queen Victoria, sculpted in Bath stone by JW Seale in 1873. Elizabeth appears to have lost her hands and any sceptre or orb she may have once been holding in them.
Anne and Victoria both hold an orb, which suggests Elizabeth probably also once had one of these symbols of sovereignty.
What about the four Queens on the tower of the Maughan Library? The very eagle eyed and assiduous students of public sculpture in the City of London may know that there are four statues of queens missing from this article. They stand on the four sides of the tower on top of the Maughan Library off Chancery Lane. Built in 1851 as the Public Record Office, the building was taken over by King's College London as a library in 2001. The four Queens are our old favourites Queen Victoria, Elizabeth I, Queen Anne and the less commonly portrayed Empress Matilda (see box below). They are so high up that they cannot really be counted as being on public display. They are certainly too high up to photograph for this article. However, readers are invited to prove me wrong by posting photos of the four statues on my social media accounts (click on the icons for Facbeook, Twitter and Instagram at the top and bottom of this page).
Empress Matilda (1102-1167) Daughter of Henry I, an Empress by her first marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Matilda almost became Queen of England after defeating her cousin King Stephen (both were grandchildren of William the Conqueror). However, the civil war in England and Normandy known as the Anarchy had not fully subsided. Just before her planned coronation, the City of London turned against her, in spite of support from Geoffrey de Mandeville, who controlled the Tower of London and who is buried in Temple Church (see my article on Temple Church for more on him). Stephen eventually resumed power, but Matilda's son Henry II (from her second marriage, to Geoffrey of Anjou) succeeded him while Matilda was still alive.
This post, originally entitled Old Queens: Seven of Six in the City, was first published on 4 February 2022. It was updated on 23 March 2022 after the three Basinghall Street Queens came to my attention. In spite of my walking past them many times over some years, they had always remained hidden. In my defence, they are easy to miss, as the photo below shows (taken from a position just to the north of the building on which they stand).
Spot the Queens. Guildhall's Basinghall Street building.
Walks available for booking
For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.