It is a chair with understated elegance and steeped in history.
The Coronation Chair, also known as King Edward’s Chair or Saint Edward’s Chair, was commissioned by King Edward I in 1296. Originally, it was meant to hold the Stone of Scone, taken from Scotland by King Edward I. In fact, when kings were crowned, they would sit directly on the Stone of Scone. In later years, a piece of wood was added for a more comfortable seat.
Throughout its 700 year history, 38 monarchs have been crowned in the Coronation Chair and one Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. Today, it looks like a rather plain, oak chair. However, in its original state it was a six foot, nine inch chair covered in gold and glass.
Conservators have referred to it as oldest piece of furniture in United Kingdom still used for its original purpose. Today, they are working to restore the gilt and highlight the golden birds, berries and plants that King Edward I’s royal painter, Walter of Durham, originally used to decorate the chair.
Those tasked with protecting the chair, have not always been so careful. The Coronation Chair is covered with centuries of schoolboy graffiti, knicks and chips from souvenir hunters and one person carved their name in their chair when they awoke from a nap, “P. Abbot slept in this chair, 5-6 July 1800.”
Restorers who were charged with getting the chair ready for Queen Victoria’s coronation, damaged the chair and lied to Parliament about it. It was painted with brown varnish and then that varnish was removed with the wrong tools and methylated spirits, damaging the gilt, making it very fragile today.
While graffiti, tourists and poor restorers may have damaged the Coronation Chair but it was a fungus that almost destroyed it.
The Coronation Chair has only left Westminster Abbey twice in 700 years. The first time was when Oliver Cromwell moved it to Westminster Hall when he was installed as Lord Protector in 1653. The second time was during World War II. To protect the chair from the Blitz, it was moved out of London to Gloucester Cathedral crypt and was encased in sandbags. After six months a stone mason checked on the crypt to find a white fungus had fed on everything, creating a snow storm effect. The only saving grace for the Coronation Chair was that it was covered in roofing felt. A layer of ferrous sulphate was quickly applied to deter the fungus.
Over the years a plinth and stand have been added, repairs have been made and decorative woodwork where the Stone of Scone was held has been restored. In preparation for King Charles III coronation, conservators are hard at work to bring out the Coronation Chair’s beauty. Conservation expert Krista Blessley described the chair as ‘extremely fragile:’ “if there are little changes in humidity, the wood moves. The wood that the chair is made of can quickly react to new temperatures around it, or could risk being damaged by water in the air.”
Soon King Charles will take his place upon the Coronation Chair, with all its history and majesty and will solidify a connection between him and all those who came before him