This standing figure depicts Charles II in state robes and wearing a crown, with the orb in his left hand. Presumably he would have originally held the sceptre in his right hand, but this is now missing. He wears a long curly wig, a cloak lined with ermine, a knee-length tunic with buttons all down the front and hose. His shoes have outsize bows on them. Around his neck is a large circular medallion with a four-legged animal on it. The details are badly eroded, but it appears to be either a lion or a bear. The features appear flattened, but this could be due to erosion. The canopy above the statue that protects it somewhat from the elements is of more recent origin.
This work was originally commissioned shortly after the Restoration, following Charles II's gift of money and timber for the renovation of the Cathedral following an audience the King had with Elias Ashmole on 16 June 1660, in which the latter described the pitiable state of the Cathedral after it had sustained severe damage during the Civil War. It was largely roofless, and Cromwell's soldiers had stabled their horses inside the building. The statue stood in a prominent position on the west front of the cathedral, where its colossal size in proportion to the other figures detracted somewhat from the overall design. It clearly linked the reconstruction of the Cathedral to the patronage and care of the restored monarch, guardian of the privileges and tradition of the Church of England. The statue was removed from the west front of the cathedral during the restoration of 1877. It was then placed in one of the towers at the request, it is said, of Queen Victoria, who objected to having her statue near his. In 1986 it was installed in its present position.
The statue commemorates Charles II, second son of Charles I and Henrietta Marie of France, who was born in 1630. He spent his teenage years fighting Parliament's Roundhead forces until his father's execution in 1649, when he escaped to France. He drifted to Holland, but returned to Scotland in 1650 amid the Scottish proclamation of his kingship; in 1651, he led a Scottish force of 10,000 into a dismal defeat by Cromwell's forces at Worcester. He escaped, but remained a fugitive for six weeks until he engineered passage to France. Charles roamed Europe for eight years before being invited back to England as the Commonwealth dissolved. Charles II died in February 1685 from complications following a stroke.(1)
(on base on which statue is standing) [illegible] ptimus CAROLUS Secun [illegible]/ Juius & Totius Ecclesiae Anglia [illegible]/ Restaurator
(on bronze plaque beneath sculpture) CHARLES II/AFTER THE RAVAGES OF CIVIL WAR/CHARLES II GAVE MONEY AND TIMBER TOWARDS/THE REPAIR OF THIS CATHEDRAL.//THIS STATUE WAS PLACED IN THE PRINCIPAL POSITION ON THE WEST FRONT WHERE IT REMAINED/UNTIL THE 19TH CENTURY RESTORATION.
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