London On The Ground
Old Queens: Ten of Six in the City
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
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 trips to the Square Mile was on 9 November 2018, when she visited the new headquarters of investment management firm Schroeders on London Wall, and 26 November 2019, when she opened the Royal Philatelic Society's new HQ on Abchurch Lane.
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.