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The King's Pillar

Stowe: Rotunda and Sleeping Wood



The King's Pillar is a monument to George II, who reigned from 1727-1760. It consists of a Corinthian column over 30 feet high topped by a statue over seven feet high of George in his state robes. The monument was erected by Lord Cobham in 1724, when George was still Prince of Wales, and it was located just to the south of the Great Cross Walk, at that time one of the major avenues in the more geometrical garden layout of Charles Bridgeman and Sir John Vanbrugh.

The King's Pillar with the South Front in the background

In the ensuing decades as fashions in garden design changed, the more formal features of the garden were softened, and the Great Cross Walk was eventually absorbed into a more "natural" landscape. The King's Pillar remained in place until 1840, when it was taken down and the statue moved north of the house. The statue was sold in 1921.

The statue of George II atop his Pillar As the photograph above shows, after an absence of over 160 years, the King's Pillar has returned to its original location on the hillside overlooking the Western Garden, though it is now relatively isolated, surrounded by mature planting. The National Trust completed the restoration project during the summer of 2004. The photograph to the left was taken from the scaffolding during the ceremony in July when the statue was placed on the top of the column. The King's torso faces south, but he looks to his right, toward the Rotunda and its gilt statue of Venus.

Originally, the monument to his wife, Queen Caroline, was also nearby: downhill and to his left, in a small theatre and surrounded by statues of shepherds and shepherdesses. She and her entourage also faced the Rotunda. The Queen's monument was subsequently moved in the 1760s to the west side of the Home Park on the original site of the Belvedere, or Temple of Fame, where it still stands. The reflecting pool that lay between the Queen's monument and the Rotunda was filled in at that time.

The King's Pillar bears this inscription from Horace's Ode 15, Book IV:

GEORGIO AUGUSTO.

Crevere Vires, Famaque & Imperi
Porrecta Majestas ad ortum
Solis ab Hesperio Cubili
Custode rerum Cæsare-----

The Seeley Guidebooks provide the following translation of the above:

Under the care of Cæsar's scepter'd hand,
With strength and fame increas'd, this favour'd Land
The Majesty of her vast Empire spread,
From the Sun rising to his Western bed.

This translation, and the way in which the quotation is lifted out of the context of the rest of the ode, obscure an underlying concern of Horace's about Augustus Caesar (and perhaps a similar concern of the Temple family about George II). While the Latin name and the power of Italy have increased in size, Horace says, the dignity and the reputation of the government have been laid low. The power of Caesar is shown in contrast to the ideals of the Roman Republic, a tension that reappears a number of times throughout the garden.

Below is the account given by the National Trust of the restoration of the King's Pillar:

The Stowe sales of the 1920s were devastating to the understanding of the estate, and most of the statuary was sold. Surprisingly, both George I and Princess Caroline survived. The Princess Caroline was restored in 1992 and King George I as a part of the English Heritage grant programme. George II, however, was bought by Sir Phillip Sassoon, and now forms an integral part of the wonderful garden at Port Lympne. The present owner has kindly allowed the National Trust to make a cast of the statue in reconstituted Portland stone, and this is funded by the Trust's continuing Stowe Statues Appeal. It is not known what happened to the original pedestal and pillar, but from the diameter of the cornice found by the archaeologist, one can calculate the height of the original column with the use of classical rules. The restored pedestal, column, and statue measure 13.5 meters.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu