The Royal Legacy of Trafalgar Square: Monarchs, Memorials, and Protests
Welcome to the final instalment of our intriguing series exploring the indelible connections between the British monarchy and Trafalgar Square, one of London’s most iconic landmarks.
Queen Eleanor Memorial Cross: A Testament to Royal Love
Before Trafalgar Square even existed, a unique monument known as the Queen Eleanor Memorial Cross stood in close proximity to its current location. Although the original fell many years ago, a remarkable replica now graces the entrance of Charing Cross Station. Despite millions walking past it each year, its history remains somewhat of an enigma to the masses.
Queen Eleanor of Castile was the queen consort to Edward I from 1272 to 1290. Following her passing in Lincoln, Edward commissioned 12 crosses to be erected along the journey her body took back to London for burial at Westminster Abbey. These crosses marked the nightly resting places of her coffin. Of these, only three survive today—two in Northamptonshire and one in Hertfordshire. The grandest among them was located at Charing Cross, within eyeshot of what we now know as Trafalgar Square. Its modern replica, based on period drawings, stands as a poignant tribute to Queen Eleanor and her steadfast loyalty to Edward I.
Charles I: The Executed King and His Eternal Statue
Another royal monument easily visible from Trafalgar Square is Hubert Le Sueur’s equestrian statue of Charles I. The statue predates Charles I’s execution in 1649, a watershed event that reverberated across a Europe primarily ruled by monarchies. Executed in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, Charles I was the unfortunate culmination of a civil war between Parliament and the Crown. While his initial capture led to negotiations for a reduced monarchy, Charles I’s renege on his word resulted in a treason trial and subsequent execution.
Today, his statue stands as a historical marker, reinstated 15 years after the monarchy’s restoration in 1660. Each year on 30th January, commemorative wreaths are placed at its base, and a service of remembrance is held in the Banqueting House to mark the day of his execution.
Trafalgar Square as a Space for Republican Protest
Due to its proximity to the Palace of Westminster, Trafalgar Square has also been a focal point for anti-monarchy protests. The square even featured a diminutive police post in its southwestern corner, created to monitor such demonstrations. Most recently, the coronation procession for Charles III in May 2023 witnessed a protest by the pressure group Republic, advocating for the UK to become a republic. The movement has gained traction, especially following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, adding a layer of modern relevance to Trafalgar Square’s historical significance.
Trafalgar Square stands as a complex tapestry of historical, royal, and political narratives that continue to engage the public imagination. From Queen Eleanor’s Memorial Cross to Charles I’s sombre statue, and even as a space for contemporary dissent, the square remains a compelling touchstone for those interested in the intricate relationship between the monarchy and public spaces in London.
If you’ve enjoyed exploring the royal legacy of Trafalgar Square through this series, don’t forget to browse our other articles delving into the history and landmarks that make London an endlessly fascinating city.