Where’s London’s oldest…chair?

The Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey PICTURE: Jim Dyson/Getty Images/Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The coronation of King Charles III is taking place in Westminster Abbey on 6th June and in preparation for that, the Coronation Chair is getting a makeover.

The six foot tall chair, which was made around 1300, is commonly referred to as the oldest piece of furniture in the UK which is still used for its original purpose and which is by a known maker.

The chair was constructed on the orders of King Edward I in 1300-1301 specifically to hold the Scone of Stone which he had brought south from Scotland several years before and which he had given into the care of the Abbot of Westminster.

Made of oak and painted by one Master Walter, the chair was decorated with patterns of birds, foliage and animals on a gilt background. On the seat back was painted the figure of a king, possibly King Edward I, with his feet resting on a lion. The chair, which would have had the appearance of being made of gold, would have also been decorated with coloured glass.

The space for the stone below the seat was originally fully enclosed and it’s believed the chair originally contained no seat with the King sitting on a cushion placed directly on the Stone of Scone.

The chair now rests on four gilt lions which were added in the 16th century (although those currently there are replacements made in 1727).

The Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey PICTURE: Jim Dyson/Getty Images/Dean and Chapter of Westminster

While there is some debate over whether King Edward II was sitting in the chair when he was crowned in 1308, that has certainly been the case from the 1399 when King Henry IV was crowned while sitting on it. Twenty-six subsequent monarchs including everyone from King Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth II followed suit (Oliver Cromwell, meanwhile, had the chair removed to Westminster Hall when installed there as Lord Protector).

The chair has been graffitied in earlier centuries thanks mostly to Westminster schoolboys and visitors. Among the most legible graffiti scrawled upon it is “P Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800”. It also suffered minor damage in a bomb attack in 1914 thought to have been carried out by Suffragettes (it didn’t suffer any damage in World War II thanks to its being removed to Gloucester Cathedral).

The Stone of Scone, which had been taken briefly back to Scotland by Scottish Nationalists in 1950, was formally returned to Scotland in 1996 where it can now be seen at Edinburgh Castle. It is being returned to London for the coronation.

The chair, which for centuries had been kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor, was moved to the abbey’s ambulatory in 1998 and then again moved again in 2010, this time to a specially-built enclosure in St George’s Chapel, located at the west end of the nave, so it could undergo conservation work. The two year conservation program was completed in 2013.

The chair is currently undergoing cleaning and work to stabilise what’s left of the gilding ahead of the coronation.

Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee with 10 royal London locations – 4. Westminster Abbey…

Westminster Abbey has played a key role in the life of Queen Elizabeth II – it was here on 20th November, 1947, that she was married to Prince Philip (then Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten) and it was here on 2nd June, 1953, that she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

First to the wedding. Princess Elizabeth was only the 10th royal to be married in the Abbey (her predecessors included her parents who married here on 26th April, 1923). The ceremony started at 11.30am and the princess, who wore a white dress designed by Norman Hartnell, entered to a specially composed fanfare accompanied by eight bridesmaids and two pages.

Due to post war austerity measures, only about 2,000 people attended the wedding (we’ve previously mentioned that the princess had to save coupons for her wedding dress like any other bride). On the day, the grave of the Unknown Warrior was the only stone that was not covered by the special carpet and the day after the wedding, the now married Princess Elizabeth followed a royal tradition started by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, which involved sending her wedding bouquet back to the Abbey to be laid on the grave.

It was about five-and-a-half years after her wedding that the princess returned to the Abbey to be crowned a queen.

Then Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya (on her way to Australia) when news reached her on 6th February that year of the death of her father, King George VI. After Prince Philip broke the news to her, the new queen chose Elizabeth as her “regnal name”, and the couple returned to England.

Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary, died on 24th March, but it was decided to proceed with the coronation anyway (Queen Mary had apparently asked that the coronation not be delayed by her death).

The coronation, the 38th to be conducted in the Abbey, was the first to be televised (with the exception of the anointing and communion) and was “instrumental” in helping to popularise it in the UK and elsewhere.

The building was closed for five months so preparations could be made for the more than 8,000 wedding guests. The Queen’s coronation dress, meanwhile, was made by Norman Hartnell (as had been her wedding dress) and was made of white satin embroidered with emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Having arrived from Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, the Queen entered the Abbey at 11.20am and, having been invested with the Regalia while seated in the Coronation Chair, was crowned with St Edward’s Crown at 12.34pm. She left the Abbey at 2.53pm and rode through the streets of London back to the palace.

Of course, the Queen has since attended many other events at the Abbey – including thanksgiving services for their golden and silver wedding anniversaries and last year’s Royal Wedding – since her coronation which we don’t have space to talk about here. But it is worth noting before signing off that the Abbey continues to have a special relationship to her – it is a “Royal Peculiar” meaning it is exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction but that of the Sovereign.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Open to tourists everyday except Sunday  (times vary so check the website); COST: £16 an adult/£13 concessions/£6 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£38 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org