Magazine article The Spectator

Pomp and Severance

Magazine article The Spectator

Pomp and Severance

Article excerpt

The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone by Warwick Rodwell Oxbow Books, £29.95, pp. 304, ISBN 9781782971528 The Coronation Chair currently stands all spruced up, following last year's conservation, under a crimson canopy, by the west entrance to Westminster Abbey. The sovereign has used this throne during the actual ceremony almost continuously since the coronation of Henry IV (1399). The oldest dated piece of English furniture (12971300) made by a known artist (Walter of Durham) to survive has been given the comprehensive study it deserves by Warwick Rodwell, with supplementary chapters on its most recent conservation by Marie Louise Sauerberg and its current display by Ptolemy Dean.

Not only does the book cover the design, construction and decoration of the chair, but also the subsequent adaptations and mishandlings of both chair and stone, their hold on antiquarian and popular imagination, and all the political shenanigans of the 20th century.

The Coronation Chair was originally commissioned by Edward I to house the sacred stone, on which the Kings of Scotland had been crowned in the abbey of Scone, and placed in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. Regarded as sacred because Jacob supposedly used it as a pillow at Bethel (Genesis 28: 18), it formed an integral part to the chair: the sovereign originally sat on it during the act of coronation, until a wooden seat was added - by 1685 at the latest, the year James II was crowned.

In 1727 Richard Roberts made a new plinth and seat and four carved lion supports for George II's lavish coronation. The medieval pinnacles at the back of the chair were temporarily replaced with new ones for George IV's coronation in 1821. When they in turn were removed, the chair was left, according to Edward Brayley, 'in a more dilapidated state than before. . .' However, George IV was not the only 'delapidator': the chair is littered with graffiti dating from about 1715 until 1815, including one that states, 'P. …

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