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Iconoclasm and Statuary

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Iconoclasm and Statuary


Sounds pretentious, I know, but I was reading

The London Review of Books the other day,

Yes, reading, not just turning the pages over,

Musing over a review of a new book about Culloden,

In particular, a couple of piquant paragraphs

Written by the erudite Neil Ascherson.


He told us how King George the Second’s

‘Martial son’, the Duke of Cumberland,

Lost his reputation as time passed after 1746:

‘The Butcher of Culloden’.


But then came the start of a new paragraph:

‘In England, murdering statues

is a pastime as old as the Reformation’.


He goes on:

‘The enormous gilt-bronze statue of Cumberland riding towards Scotland, erected in Cavendish Square, was quietly removed … in 1868 … Queen Victoria ordered the word ‘CULLODEN’ to be chiselled out of the Cumberland monument in Windsor Great Park. Public memories change, and public names with them.’


‘Public memories change, and public names with them.’

That final sentence is arresting,

But the initial one is even more so:

‘In England, murdering statues

is a pastime as old as the Reformation’;


So, let’s take a minute to remember the Reformation:

An iconoclastic attack that affected just about every parish:

Statues, paintings, windows, images

Destroyed or defaced or erased.

Monasteries, abbeys and nunneries

Sold off for stone and brick and glass

And sundry building materials,

For the subsequent Tudor gentry building boom.


Now, take a coin out of your pocket.

Examine the circumferential text.

You will see, perhaps, F.D. or FID. DEF.

Latin: ‘Fidei Defensor’.

‘Defender of the Faith’:

The Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.


The Church of England,

The Established Church of State,

‘The Tory Party at prayer’,

Exists only because of state-sponsored iconoclasm:

Statues, paintings, windows, images

Destroyed or defaced or erased.


Tories usually love heritage, continuity and tradition,

And so, we must remind them of their heritage,

And correct Oliver Dowden’s solecism

About the need to ‘defend our culture and history

from the noisy minority of activists

constantly trying to do Britain down’;

And remind Robert Jenrick that Church and State

Didn’t come into existence in Britain

Through a policy of ‘retain and explain’.


For, as Robert Ascherson says:

‘In England, murdering statues

is a pastime as old as the Reformation’.


Conclusion

If, as Boris Johnson has said,

‘We cannot try to edit or censor our past’,

Then perhaps we should accept that such a past

Includes the removal of statues.



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