Mobile Statue Hit Squad of Edinburgh

Not counting the weeks between 15th May and 23rd July 2006, all of the public statues in Edinburgh but two are of women. (Queen Victoria stands at the foot of Leith Walk, and an unnamed South African woman stands in Festival Square.)

There is no statue of Margaret of Wessex, who dis-established the Celtic church of Scotland and established the Roman Catholic church in Scotland, for which Pope Innocent IV made her a saint in 1250. (There is a stained-glass window in her chapel in Edinburgh Castle, but no statue.)

There is no statue of Mary Queen of Scots, despite her being probably the most famous monarch Scotland ever had, and the only one children reliably remember – though oral history via children’s games can get a tad confused.

There is no statue of any of the Maries who have been Queen of Scots – not even Mary of Guise, who was Queen Regent of Scotland from 1554–60 and who in Henry VIII’s war of rough wooing (1543-1549, Henry’s war on Scotland to get possession of the young Queen Mary to marry her to his son Edward – a marriage which if it had taken place would have left Mary widowed and in the power of the English court in 1553) took such a part that The Complaynt of Scotland said “her courage and virtue exceeded those of the ancient heroines Tomyris, Semiramis and Penthesilea.”

There is no statue of Margaret of Denmark, the Queen Consort of Scotland from 1469 to 1486, though the dowry she brought to her marriage was Orkney and Shetland. She is the woman responsible for so much North Sea oil being in Scottish waters. You’d think the SNP or the oil industry – or both – would have set up a statue to her sometime since the 1970s.

There are statues of Hume and Adams in the High Street, and John Knox in St Giles, but none yet to Elsie Inglis or Jenny Geddes – and even Mary Somerville has a college in Oxford and a crater on the Moon named after her, but no statue in Edinburgh. (Nor does Anne McLaren; and though Edinburgh University is famous for its computer science department, they’ve never permanently honoured Ada Lovelace.)

There is a bronze statue of Sandy Irvine Robertson, founder of Scottish Business Achievement Awards, sitting on a bench by the Shore in Leith: but although Scotland has its share of women who are entrepreneurs, there’s no statue to any of them.

Even the two statues of dogs, Greyfriars Bobby and San Diego’s Bum, are of male dogs. (I’m sure if someone wanted to make a list of Famous Bitches of Edinburgh… it would be a long, long list.)

There are statues of Robert Burns and Robert Fergusson, but none of Muriel Spark or Grizel Baillie, the Scottish songwriter (who as a child carried letters between her father and Baillie of Jerviswood, when he was jailed for plotting insurrection against Charles II), or even of Naomi Mitchison, poet, playwright, and political activist. Anne Rutherford and Jenny Scott, who made their son and nephew Walter into the writer who was honoured by a big pointy monument on Princes Street, have neither statue nor plaque in Edinburgh. And if other cities have honoured famous characters, why has Morningside never put up a statue to Maisie?

In 2007, when Edinburgh Council commissioned Stephan Balkenhol to make them an “Everyman Statue” for erection outside Waverley Court on East Market Street, they asked for – or it was presumed by Balkenhol that they wanted – a man to represent “the average Joe“. Not a woman.

But a week today – three days after International Women’s Day on Thursday 8th March – a mobile statue hit squad will occupy sites across the city centre of Edinburgh.

One of the organisers, Kate Joester (@rebelraising):

“For little girls, it’s like, ‘who’s that up there?’ and I’m always having to explain to my daughter that it’s some bloke. If you do see a female statue, it’s usually a statue of an anonymous, generic woman – not of an individual. The city does not tell little girls that you can be amazing. In effect, in recognising only men, the city is in some way suggesting you have to be a man to achieve something incredible and be celebrated.”

Anyone can take part – men, women, children, and dogs. You can sign up on Facebook at Living Statues, for Sunday 11th March, noon till 3pm: the organisers will be helping participants find support for costumes or historical background.

Update: They has a blog Women in Stone Edinburgh! Photos later.

1 Comment

Filed under Historic Scotland, Women

One response to “Mobile Statue Hit Squad of Edinburgh

  1. What a shame there are not more statues of historic women in Edinburgh. I am an American coming to Edinburgh this spring; I make a hobby of photographing statues of historic women, so I located your comments while doing a search for some. Good luck on your project! Hopefully it will stimulate some younger people to be interested in memorializing more important women in statue.

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