King Edward's Chair

King Edward's Chair

King Edward’s Chair, on which the Sovereigns of England sit when they are crowned, is often called St Edward’s Chair out of respect to the Confessor. Once kept in the chapel of the Confessor, it now usually sits in an area in the west end of the south aisle of the Abbey. It was made by order of Edward I to hold the Coronation Stone or Stone of Destiny on which the Scottish kings used to sit when they were crowned, and which stone Edward I captured and sent to Westminster in the year 1296.

The Chair is made of solid oak, the parts being pinned together. Although sound it has, over the years, been disfigured by graffiti at the hands of bored schoolboys, as well as the general wear and tear of time. Originally, the Chair was fully gilded but now this gilding is worn and appears only in patches. There was also a great deal of ornamental work, much of which is now lost. This included a painting of The Confessor on the back of the chair, now no longer visible. Those few areas of the decoration that remain give tantalising glimpses of just how beautiful it must have been originally.

At the coronation ceremony the Chair is brought out and placed before the altar in the eastern limb of the Abbey Church. Except for Mary I, who was crowned in a chair that was sent to England by the Pope, all the Sovereigns of England, beginning with Edward II, have sat in this Chair at their coronations.

For the coronation on 6 May 2023, it will be placed upon an area of pavement directly in front of the main altar of the Abbey, in an area specifically designed for the coronation ceremony. This pavement, called the Cosmati pavement, was ordered by Henry III and laid down in 1268, and has been hidden by carpet since the seventeenth century. However, in 2002 the carpet was removed, the floor conserved and the pavement reconsecrated. Charles III will be the first king in over four hundred years to sit upon St Edward’s Chair with the pavement at his feet on display, as it was originally intended.

On the occasion of the installation of Oliver Cromwell the Chair was brought into Westminster Hall, and this was the only time it ever left the Abbey since it was made by Master Walter in or about the year 1297.

The Chair owes its importance to the stone, called the Stone of Destiny, which it was made to preserve. The stone sits under the Chair’s seat on a middle frame supported by four crouching lions who in turn sit on a bottom frame or plinth. The lions are not the original ones, but replacements dating from 1727. They in turn replaced a base which dated from the sixteenth century. The original base of the Chair, from the thirteenth century, was much lower and more solid.

Research has shown that the stone was actually once the seat of the Chair, and that later, probably in the sixteenth century, a wood board was placed over the stone to form the seat of the Chair.

The stone we see today has been significantly altered from the stone of 1296 and has been reshaped, probably to fit within the Chair. The two iron rings set within the stone were once thought to be carrying rings, but more recent research concludes that the rings were used to fix the stone to the floor of St Edward’s Chapel.

The original stone was placed in the Abbey of Scone, in the county of Perth, in the year 850, by King Kenneth, who is said to have caused it to be inscribed in Gaelic with an ancient prophecy:

If Fate speak sooth. where’er this stone is found,
The Scots shall monarchs of that realm be crowned.

A prophecy to this effect was undoubtedly extant long before the time of King Kenneth, and the belief in it is said to have reconciled many Scottish people to the union of Scotland and England. For many centuries, the Kings of Scotland were crowned while sitting on this stone in the Abbey of Scone.

But where did the stone came from originally? There are many legends associated with the stone, including references to one in the Bible, an Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter and that it hails from Ireland. Geologists, however, can identify that it consists of red sandstone, which is quarried near Scone itself.

The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996 but will be returning to London for the coronation in May.

TOP: Portrait of King Charles II by John Michael Wright (1617–94), to celebrate the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and Charles’s coronation on 23 April 1661.



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