Equestrian statues in London

September 6, 2015 | Joolz

Whilst filming my Joolz Guide on “The Bank of England” my friend, and part time cameraman and drinking partner, entered into a discussion with a lady (who didn’t mind being filmed) about equestrian statues.

We were filming beneath the statue of the Iron Duke outside the Royal Exchange when they started postulating that one can tell how the subject of the statue died according to how many hooves the horse has raised.

“Oh”, they both agreed, “the Duke of Wellington died of a stroke in 1852; that’s why his horse has all four hooves on the ground.”

They were basing this on the following assumption:

Two front hooves raised; the protagonist died in battle.

One front hoof raised; the subject was wounded in battle and possibly died of those wounds later.

All four hooves on the ground; the rider died later of something unrelated to battles.
Wellington statue

This is, of course, bollocks.

However, I thought I should at least check some of London’s equestrian statues to confirm this, as in the Duke of Wellington’s case it did seem to apply.

In fact, when it came to statues with all four hooves grounded I couldn’t find a single one where the rider died in battle. That said, most of them were military men so it is hard to believe that they never sustained so much as a scratch in battle! That would count as wound, wouldn’t it?

Ok, fair enough, King George IV (otherwise known as Hugh Laurie in Blackadder part 2) didn’t get wounded in battle but surely all those field marshals and generals must have stubbed their toe or taken a musket ball to the arm at some point.

King George_VI

Prince George, the duke of Cambridge was commander in chief of the British forces. Actually, that probably meant he was behind a desk like General Melchet!

George Stuart White seen here in Portland Place, was also a military man, but he died peacefully later in life. Who knows, maybe he made it through every battle unscathed, saving him the ignominy of a statue with one hoof off the ground!



Ah, good old Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. There he is with one hoof raised. That’s more like it! Now he MUST have been wounded at some point. What about all those campaigns in the Sudan against pigmy warriors armed to the teeth with sharpened guava halves?! There he sits in Whitehall proudly boasting of his battle wounds.


But hang on a minute! There’s King Edward VII in Waterloo Place! He wasn’t wounded in battle, was he? Maybe his horse just had a stone in his shoe.


On the other hand, Richard the Lionheart (played by Sean Connery at the end of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves) sits outside Parliament with that foot raised. Yes, I think it’s safe to say he was wounded in battle. I mean, he was a blood thirsty so and so, off hammering the hun most of the time.


I’m not too sure about King George III though. I mean, he was the mad one wasn’t he? As in The Madness of King George. (They didn’t call the film “The madness of King George III” because they were worried Americans hadn’t seen parts I & II. I’m being serious.)


Ah, my favourite statue….King Charles I.


Well, I suppose you could call it a battle. There was a civil war and chopping someone’s head off is a kind of wound…but come on. Either he should have two hooves up or none at all. (See my video about this remarkable statue here, and don’t forget to sign up!)


And as for Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) at Holborn Circus, he shouldn’t even be in military dress. He wasn’t a military man! Why is he in full regalia? I seriously doubt he was wounded in battle. That said, he’s seen here doffing his hat, which in those days was how they used to salute. Perhaps he was doing an inspection or something.

The only ones I could find where the horse was rearing up was Boudicca on Westminster Bridge and Saint George slaying the dragon.


Boudicca I think is fair enough. Even though Tacitus says she poisoned herself, that was after a heavy defeat to the Romans, so I suppose you’d have to say she died in battle….but wait! Wouldn’t that count as having been wounded in battle (wounded pride) and then dying afterwards? Yes! Then she should only have one hoof raised!
No one actually knows how she died but it’s a fair assumption that she was killed.


All of which nonsense leaves Saint George. Well, I suppose you could call him an “Onward Christian soldier, marching as to war” so when he was decapitated on the orders of the emperor Diocletian I suppose it counts as dying in battle. Then again, if you were casting a statue of someone fighting a dragon it wouldn’t look very dramatic if the horse was just standing there.

I hope this helped. Somehow I just feel more confused now.


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Julian McDonnell (or “Joolz”) is an award winning tourism film maker from London. Read More