The first in an occasional series looking at the statuary and memorials along the Royal Mile.
Just outside the west front of St Giles Cathedral, in Parliament Square, just off the High Street of Edinburgh, on the site of the old Tolbooth, there stands today a tall monument, topped with the larger than life figure of a man. The thing is so large and so prominently placed that visitors usually presume that it must be a person of great fame, and thus someone they will probably have heard of. When told, in reply to the inevitable question, that it is Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensberry, the equally inevitable response is, “Who was he?”
Walter Francis was born at Dalkeith Palace, on 25 November 1808. He was the second son of Charles Montagu-Scott, 4th Duke of Buccleuch, and the Honourable Harriet Katherine Townshend, and as such would not have been expected to inherit the title of Duke of Buccleuch upon his father’s death. However, his elder brother, George Henry, died of measles aged just ten and then, a few years later when Walter Francis was still only thirteen, his father too passed away and he succeeded to the Dukedoms of Buccleuch and Queensberry. The author Sir Walter Scott, his namesake though no relation, was appointed his guardian.
Just three years later, in 1822, Sir Walter was instrumental in bringing King George IV to Scotland for the first royal visit since the 1745 rebellion. As Holyrood Palace was uninhabitable at the time, Sir Walter arranged that the king should stay with the young duke at Dalkeith. It was an introduction by Sir Walter into the part that he believed should be played by a 19th century peer of the realm, and Walter Francis embraced it wholeheartedly.
He was Lord Lieutenant of Midlothian from 1828 and also of Roxburgh from 1841 till his death. As Captain-General of the Royal Body Guard of Archers, he carried the gold stick at the coronation of Queen Victoria, and later was again the host of the sovereign when she visited Scotland in 1842.
A firm conservative, he served as Lord Privy Seal in the government of Robert Peel (in which role he was described by the Clerk to the Privy Council as “Worse than useless”) but when the Peel government fell he virtually retired from politics.
He became involved in the Canterbury Association, a group formed to establish a religious colony, sponsored by the Church of England, on the South Island of New Zealand. The area of the colony was named Canterbury, after the Archbishop of that diocese who was on the management committee. It was decided that the main town should be named Christchurch (after the Oxford college) and it was proposed that another town, in the Alford Forest region, be called Buccleuch, in honour of Walter Francis. Though this was planned, the town was never built.
Closer to home, his impact on Edinburgh was notable, for he established the harbour at Granton. At that time, Leith harbour could not be accessed at all states of the tides, leading to the slow, and often hazardous, transfer of passengers from ships in the Forth into small boats for landing. Granton would give Edinburgh a port that could, in the modern parlance, be used 24/7.
This enormous undertaking was started in 1835 and was sufficiently advanced that by 1842 Queen Victoria could use Granton as her port of arrival. The duke also built a road to the port and ensured that it was connected by rail to the city, via the Scotland Street station. The total cost of these works was some £500,000, a considerable investment in Victorian Edinburgh.
The Fifth Duke died in 1884, and the following year Edinburgh Council approved the design for the memorial and agreed the place in Parliament Square.
The monument is a splendid example of Victorian Gothic. The Duke himself is sculpted wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter. The lower part of the monument is hexagonal, with three tiers of bronze plaques. The top set shows huntsmen and hounds chasing a stag, the second tier has reliefs of scenes from the Duke’s life, while the lowest has larger bronze reliefs of episodes in the Scott family history. Rampant stags holding armorial shields are placed at the corners.
The memorial to the Duke was erected during 1887, and it was only as this was heading towards completion that a glitch was discovered. The statue, by the world renowned artist, Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, was too large for the pedestal upon which it was intended to stand. Luckily, it was possible to remove some bronze decoration from the top, giving the statue a little more ‘leg room’ though he still appears as if he is getting ready to step off at any moment.
It was finally unveiled on 7 February 1888 and handed over to the care of the city council.
Going around the monument, it’s obvious that the plaques depict specific scenes but as there is no explanation of each one they can appear somewhat enigmatic. We’ve created a quick guide, so you can look at this on your mobile device as you go round, or print it off if you prefer.
The bronze reliefs showing scenes from the life of the fifth duke are by Thomas Stuart Burnett. Going on the points of the compass they are:
NW, the coat of arms of the Duke of Buccleuch on a garter plate
W, the Duke receiving Queen Victoria at Dalkeith on the occasion of her first visit to Scotland in 1842
SW, the Duke planning the harbour at Granton
SE, the 70th birthday dinner given by the tenantry of the Duke in Edinburgh in 1878
E, the installation of the Duke as Chancellor of Glasgow University
NE, the Duke as a Colonel of Militia at the head of his regiment
The bronze panels on the third level, above head height, are by Clark Stanton and show scenes from the Scott family history. In order they are:
The death of Sir Walter Scott, fourth Lord of Rankilburn and Murthockston, in 1402, at the Battle of Homildon Hill, near Wooler.
The burning of Catslack Tower in Yarrow by the English in 1548 causing the death of Lady Buccleuch
The attempted rescue, by Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch and Branxholm, of James V from the Earl of Angus in 1526
The burning of Branxholm by the English during a raid in 1532
The rising of the Scott clan under the leadership of Warden Buccleuch, to mount a retaliatory raid on the English
The interview between Sir Walter, first Lord Scott of Buccleuch and Queen Elizabeth I, when Buccleuch went to London to appease Elizabeth, following the rescue of Kinmont Willie from Carlisle Castle in 1596.
As always, thank you for reading and we hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting. If you did, please share on social media.
Ed Miller says
Very interesting. I must have walked past this statue hundreds of times without paying it much attention, probably too busy spitting on the Heart of Midlothian.
A legend in my family is that this was my great great grandfather. – he fathered an illegitimate son with a chamber maid…who was passed to a family in Hawick to be brought up…he was given the name George Mather after his adoptive father, a blacksmith in Hawick.