The lead equestrian statue of King Charles II, is the oldest statue in Edinburgh, and one of the oldest lead statues in Britain. It was erected in 1685 at the expense of the Edinburgh Town Council as a tribute to King Charles II, "formed in the Roman manner, like one of the Caesars"
The statue was reputed to have come from the Netherlands and recent evidence attributes the statue to the workshop of the famous Dutch sculptor and master carver, Grinling Gibbons. The plinth, in Craigleith sandstone - "ane handsome and fyne pedestill" - was executed by Robert Mylne, the Kings Master Mason in Scotland.
The statue was not completed until a month before his king's death; and the plinth was not ready until after his demise in February 1685. The burgh records of Edinburgh report "the King's majesties statu in metall is raddie to be put up in parliament close".
In total the statue and plinth cost £3,557- 2s-4d Scots, exclusive of a gratuitity paid to William Clerk for his composition of a Latin eulogy to the King, which is inscribed on the east side of the base:
TO CHARLES THE SECOND, MOST AUGUST AND MOST MAGNIFICENT, THE INVINCIBLE RULER OF BRITAIN, FRANCE AND IRELAND, UPON WHOSE BIRTH DIVINE PROVIDENCE SMILED AT THE VERY MOMENT WHEN A STAR WAS CONSPICUOUS IN THE NOONDAY SKY*, AND WHO, AFTER A YOUTH SPENT IN ARMS AFTER HIS FATHER AND AFTER THE LATTER HAD IN THE END BEEN BEHEADED, MAINTAINED HIS OWN RIGHT FOR TWO YEARS WITH ENERGY INDEED BUT WITHOUT SUCCESS; FOR UNABLE TO COPE WITH A REBELLION THAT WAS TOO OFTEN VICTORIOUS, HE WAS COMPELLED TO CHANGE HIS COUNTRY FOR ALMOST A DECADE. ABROAD, HOWEVER, DESPITE THE PACTS, THE WILES, THE THREATS, AND THE MILITARY POWER OF THE USURPER, HE WAS DEFENDED AND PROTECTED BY THE WATCHFULNESS OF HEAVEN, AND AT LENGTH EMERGING LIKE THE SUN, ALL THE BRIGHTER FROM THE CLOUDS THAT HAD ENVELOPED HIM, HE RETURNED TO HIS OWN REALMS WITHOUT ANY SHEDDING OF BLOOD AND SIMPLY THROUGH RECOGNITIONOF HIS LAWFUL CLAIM, WHEREUPON HE ESTABLISHED, ENLARGED, STRENGTHENED AND CONFIRMED THE CHURCH, THE STATE, PEACE AND COMMERCE. THEN, WINNING FAME BY HIS WAR WITH HOLLAND, HE STRAIGHTWAY BECAME ARBITER OF PEACE AND WAR BETWEEN EMBATTLED NEIGHBOURS. FINALLY, WHEN THE OLD REBELLION RECENTLY SHOWED SIGNS OF RECRUDESCENCE, HE CHECKED THE BASILISK WHILE IT WAS STILL IN EMBRYO, CRUSHED IT AND TROD IT UNDERFOOT BY SHEER SAGACITY AND NOT BY FORCE OF ARMS. TO HIM, THEREFORE, A PRINCE OF MARVELS, IN A SEASON OF PROFOUND PEACE AND AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS GLORY [THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED]
In 1766 it was "in great disrepair and in hazard of falling" and in 1769 £8- 12s-6d was paid to Alexander Nicholson for "repairing Charles II and plumber work…" (plumber from the Latin 'plumbum' - lead). And in 1786 John Donaldson painted the statue and pedestal with three coats of ‘strong [white lead] paint’.
The inscription plaque was removed in 1817 to a vault in Parliament House, and in 1824 when the statue and pedestal were in a poor state of repair they were removed to Calton Jail, while St. Giles was being rebuilt.
Later in 1835 when it was rebuilt, £30-6s-6d was paid to the superintendent who was thanked "for his kind and gratious services in supervising the repairs on the Horse, whose symmetry has been rendered more perfect than ever by his attentions".
Major repairs were undertaken in the 1920s when cracks in the lead allowed water to corrode the internal iron armatures, which burst the leadwork.
The most recent repairs were carried out in 2010- 2011.