London has many plaques and memorials with royal connections but in fact, rather fewer statues. Some of these statues have interesting hidden histories of their own, of how they were made, how they came to be in the places that they are and why. Some of these statues may be much less known and indeed, too little seen. This mini-series will look at some of them in closer detail.
Queen Charlotte, born Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Queen consort to King George III, has a lead statue in Queen Square, Bloomsbury – although this statue was not always thought to be of her, which adds curiosity to its history. In the Victorian period, it was believed to represent Britain’s last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne; although, general opinion now holds fairly firm on this statue being of Queen Charlotte instead. The square was also known as ‘Queen Anne’s Square,’ based on the belief that the statue depicted Anne. The statue stands at the north end of Queen Square – close to London’s larger Russell Square – surrounded by Victorian and mostly modern buildings, although there are still several original 18th-century houses, such as the one that the Mary Ward Centre occupies – an early Georgian building from 1703. According to London Remembers, this statue was erected for Queen Charlotte in April 1775, and if true, this would place the statue as dating from within Queen Charlotte’s own lifetime, when the Queen was thirty-one.
A painting executed by the artist Edward Dayes in 1786 as part of his small series on London’s squares shows Queen Square and the Church of St George the Martyr to the south, with the statue visible at the north end. A typical English 1710s pub, No. 1, “The Queen’s Larder,” promotes the traditional legend that Queen Charlotte rented a small space beneath the pub where special supplies could be kept for George III, who was apparently being treated by a doctor in the square during one of the recurrences of his illness. Whatever the truth of this legend, Queen Square does in fact, have a very strong living legacy for medical research and health care, several buildings existing still today for this purpose, including The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and UCL’s Institute of Neurology. Queen Charlotte’s one-time Keeper of the Robes, Fanny Burney, Madame D’Arblay also lived on Queen Square at one time, Burney being appointed to her royal post at Court in 1786, nearly ten years after when Queen Charlotte’s statue was supposedly erected.
The Queen is shown standing, pointing to a cushioned pillar at her left side. She is shown wearing what would appear to be court dress, with an emphasis being drawn to her royal status through what seems to be a sculpted pattern of ermine on her robe. She wears a coronet and two necklaces, possibly ropes of pearls. The point of one of her shoes is visible, emerging from underneath her heavy robes. The tassels by which these robes are held in place are paralleled in the tassels on the pillar’s cushion. The sculptor’s name does not appear to be known.
Queen Square was built between 1716-1725. Queen Anne died in 1714, a mere two years before the construction of it began – so it is easy to see why the statue could have been thought to depict the Stuart queen, in a square begun so soon after her death. Likewise, it is perhaps something of a historical oddity that a statue of Queen Charlotte was placed in Queen Square and not in Mecklenburgh Square, which was named after Charlotte and built between 1804-1825. Incidentally, Queen Charlotte died at Kew Palace in 1818, seven years before Mecklenburgh Square was completed.
Charlotte may not be without her other London memorials. According to the website of London Remembers – which attempts to capture and record London’s memorials beyond simply its blue plaques – one of the relief busts on the facade of London’s Somerset House may depict Charlotte. Certainly, she has her own monuments in the United States; there is a statue of her in the Queen’s Courtyard of Charlotte-Douglass International Airport, North Carolina – currently temporarily relocated between two parking decks – where the city of Charlotte still uses Charlotte’s crown as the city’s symbol today. There is also a second statue of the Queen in the city itself. The reason Charlotte is so honoured in North Carolina is that it was incorporated in 1768 (‘Charlotte Town’) and named it after the German-born English queen, in tribute.