Local Sculptures - ‘The 10 Queen’s Beasts’

by Duncan Walker

On The Palm House Terrace, Kew Gardens and looking towards the Palm House Pond are a row of Portland Stone heraldic beasts, the 10 Queen's Beasts, carved by James Woodford RA in 1956, about 6 foot high, raised on plinths.

These he sculpted in Portland Stone, as replicas of the previous plaster sculptures he made for the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, placed at the entrance of Westminster Abbey.

The Queen’s Beasts

The plaques, in front of the statues, detail their meaning.

“Each of these ten beasts was once used as an heraldic badge by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’s forbears and together they symbolise the various strands of the royal ancestry.”

Here are photos of the sculptures from left to right:

The The White Greyhound of Richmond

“This beast was a badge of John of Gaunt, Earl of Richmond, son of Edward III, but was also used by Henry IV and especially by Henry VII. The Tudor double rose can be seen on the shield, one rose within another, surmounted by a crown, symbolising the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster.”

The Yale of Beaufort

“The yale was a mythical beast, said to be white in colour and covered with gold spots. Its peculiar characteristic was that it could swivel each of its horns independently. It descends to the Queen through Henry VII, who inherited it from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. The shield shows a portcullis surmounted by the arched royal crown. The portcullis (uncrowned) was a beaufort badge, but was used both crowned and uncrowned by Henry VII.”

The Red Dragon of Wales

“The red dragon was used as his badge by Owen Tudor. His grandson, Henry VII, took it as a token of his supposed descent from Cadwalader, the last of the line of Maelgwn, King of Wales. The beast holds a shield bearing a leopard in each quarter; this was the coat of arms of Llewelyn ap Griffith, the last native Prince of Wales.”

The White Horse of Hanover

“The White Horse of Hanover” was introduced into the Royal Arms in 1714 when the crown of Great Britain passed to the Elector George of Hanover. This grandson of Elizabeth, sister of Charles I, became George I, King of Britain, France and Ireland. The shield shows the leopards of England and the lion of Scotland in the first quarter, the fleur-de-lis of France in the second and the Irish harp in the third quarter; the fourth quarter shows the arms of Hanover.”

The Lion of England

“The crowned golden lion of England has been one of the supporters of the Royal Arms since the accession of James I in 1603. The shield shows the Royal Arms as they have been borne since Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. In the first and last quarters are the lions of England; the lion and tressure (a double frame) of Scotland appear in the second and the harp of Ireland in the third. Richard Lion-heart, son of Henry II, probably first chose 3 golden lions set one above each on a red field as the Royal Arms of England. Since then, these lions have appeared on the coat of arms of every sovereign of this country.”

The White Lion of Mortimer

“The White Lion of Mortimer descends to the Queen through Edward IV. The shield shows a white rose encircled by a golden sun, known heraldically as a ‘white rose en soleil’ which is really a combination of two distinct badges. Both of these appear on the Great Seals of Edward IV and Richard III, and were used by George VI when Duke of York. Unlike the Lion of England, this beast is uncrowned.”

The Unicorn of Scotland

“From the end of the 16th century, two unicorns were adopted as the supporters of the Scottish Royal Arms. In 1603, the crown of England passed to James VI of Scotland, who then became James I of England. He took as supporters of his Royal Arms a crowned lion of England and one of his Scottish unicorns. The unicorn holds a shield showing a lion ramping in a royal tressure (a double frame), adorned with fleur-de-lis.”

The Griffin of Edward III

“The griffin is an ancient mythical beast. It was considered a beneficient creature, signifying courage and strength, combined with guardianship, vigilance, swiftness and keen vision. It was closely associated with Edward III who engraved it on his private seal. The shield shows the Round Tower of Windsor Castle with the Royal Standard flying from the turret (the badge of the present House of Windsor), enclosed by two branches of oak surmounted by the royal crown.”

The Black Bull of Clarence

“This beast descended to the Queen through Edward IV. The shield shows the Royal Arms as they were borne not only by Edward IV and his brother Richard III, but by all the Sovereigns of the Houses of Lancaster and Tudor.”

The Falcon of the Plantagenets

“The falcon was first used by Edward III as his badge. It descended to Edward IV, who took it as his personal badge, the falcon being seated within an open fetterlock or padlock. The slightly open fetterlock (which can be seen on the shield) is supposed to refer to the struggle Edward IV had to ascend the throne - he forced the lock and won the throne.”

James Woodford (1893-1976)

An English sculptor, born in Nottingham who trained at the Royal College of Art. He was awarded the Prix de Rome for Sculpture in 1922.

His other works include:

  • Angels each playing different instruments, carved in wood on timber screens, in the St Thomas the Apostle Church on the Boston Road, Hanwell, Middlesex.
  • A monumental pair of doors for the Royal Institute of British Architects at 66 Portland Place, London (1934).
  • 18 sculpted roundels for the six bronze doors of Norwich City Hall each depicting a manual trade.
  • A bronze statue of Robin Hood which stands near the gates of Nottingham Castle (1951).
  • The British medical Association Memorial, in Tavistock Square, London (1954), which is a bronze fountain in the form of the staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, surrounded by four Portland stone figures representing Sacrifice, Cure, Prevention and Aspiration.