The statue of James II stands in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. He is depicted as a Roman emperor, wearing armour and with a laurel wreath crown–under the pigeon perched on his head. James II was originally depicted as holding a baton in his outstretched right hand and the statue was erected on the grounds of the old Palace of Whitehall in 1686.
Two years later, James II was deposed, followed by the Glorious Revolution (Revolution of 1688) and replaced on the throne by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III of Orange. While in France, James became interested in Catholicism and his second wife was a devout Catholic. He converted. He became king in February 1685 in spite of his religion, for pragmatic reasons. There was fear to exclude him would result in “repetition of the 1638-1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms” (Wikipedia) also called the British Civil Wars, which abolished the monarchy and executed King Charles I in 1649 by the English Parliament. The issue was a long-simmering conflict over religious and civil issues. The primary religious issue was whether the monarch could dictate religion or if it was a matter of individual conscience. The civil issue was whether Parliament could restrain the powers of the king. [Note the parallels to 2020 USA.] James II’s Protestant daughter Mary was the heir presumptive as he had remained childless for the 11 years of his marriage to his second wife, and he was 52, which at that time, supposed he would not live that much longer. Then in 1688, his son James Francis Edward was born, and being a male-preference change, the issue was raised for “the prospect of a Catholic dynasty” which just would not do.
The inscription on the plinth of the statue designed by artists Peter Van Dievoit and Laurence Vandermuelen of Grinling Gibbons’ workshop reads:
Translation: James II by the grace of God King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland Defender of the Faith 1686.
The statue was taken down from Palace of Whitehall after the revolution, but replaced by order of William III. It was moved to a number of locations afterward, and placed in Trafalgar Square in 1947. Now about those pigeons…
In early 2000s, London prohibited the feeding of pigeons in Trafalgar Square. There was a growing concern about the damage the acidic fæces of the pigeons did to statues, as well as the burgeoning population, considered a nuisance and hazard–“flying rats” per some. While it would appear that pigeon feeding was still practiced in 2006, most visitors likely do not know they could be fined £500 for violating the council prohibition.