A little curiosity is mounted on the outside wall of St Margaret’s Church next to Westminster Abbey in the form of a lead bust of King Charles I.

It sits there above a since blocked off doorway staring at his nemesis across the road, the Houses of Parliament, and specifically, their statue of Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell is depicted in the Parliament grounds with his head bowed in thought, which is widely and often claimed to be him avoiding the gaze from the bust of King Charles I opposite.

There’s only one problem with the story of his averted glance. Cromwell’s statue was erected in 1899 to a design by Sir William Thornycroft who was keen on Cromwell and unlikely to approve of a design seen to be ashamed of his history.

However, the bust of King Charles I wasn’t donated to the Church by The Society of King Charles the Martyr until 1956. Nearly 60 years later. Oh dear.

So there you have a story to show people – point out the bust, then destroy the myth.

I am actually curious as to how the myth started as the two items are not that old which seems not long enough for a myth to have built up, especially when the facts are so readily available to anyone wanting to do a bit of research.


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  1. Richmonde says:

    Myths build up in no time. Research? Research???

  2. Davemk says:

    I was told that the head signified the church being used as the place where Charles’ body was kept – with head newly attached – after his execution. Another myth?

    • charles slade says:

      A recent myth. Whitehall palace had its own chapel but accounts of the time merely say he was put on view in a room there for some days before being moved to StJames palace and on to Windsor.Various places such as the Dean of Windsor’s kitchen table have been claimed as the site of his embalming, but there’s no proof of his head being sewn back on or not: it was loose in the coffin when examined

  3. Fascinating! Thanks, Ian. The name of the Society’s founder always amuses me: Mrs Ermengarda Greville-Nugent…

  4. Nigel Fletcher says:

    I was looking at this issue recently for some reason. The placing of the Cromwell statue was, as you might expect, not without controversy in Parliament… http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1895/jun/17/oliver-cromwell-statue#S4V0034P0_18950617_HOC_129

  5. Mark says:

    People are obviously just myth-taken.

  6. Andrew says:

    I’ve heard it said that it’s curious that the statue of Cromwell ,,,, known as a “Parliamentarian” ,,,, has it’s back turned on Parliament !!!

    • IanVisits says:

      Most statues in front of buildings tend to look outward. That positioning is not at all unusual.

  7. Meyrick Stephens says:

    It may be a myth as to the deportment of the statue of Oliver Cromwell, but the reality is that the statue of Oliver Cromwell does actually face the bust of King Charles I and this irony, that it is just the king’s head, cannot be missed!

  8. Stephen says:

    Also the statue of Cromwell was originally intended to go inside the parliament building, not outside it!

  9. Benjamin Davidson says:

    The bust of Charles was placed with a rye bit of fun being that it might subvert the interpretation of Cromwell’s then long-in-place statue, turning his head-bowed-in-pious-prayer into an ambiguous element, open to interpretation. The myth began with the placement of the bust of Charles, located at a higher (more heavenly?) spot, which then retroactively impacted the context of the Cromwell statue’s pose.

  10. Andrew says:

    There’s a similar story about statue of Edward VII outside Tooting Broadway station (originally facing AWAY from Wandsworth because of some dispute(?!)) – Now it’s been moved and is facing towards Wandsworth (ish)

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