Spotlight on coronations
Uncover the history behind a chair that has taken centre stage in coronations for over 700 years.
Why does it matter where the monarch sits during their coronation? Watch Dr Susan Jenkins, Curator, unpack the historical and decorative features of this special chair.
The King sat in the Coronation Chair for some of the key moments of his coronation, including the Anointing, the Investiture and the Crowning. As always, the chair faced towards High Altar at the East end of the Abbey. The chair was placed on an uncovered Cosmati Pavement, unlike at The King's late mother's coronation when it was covered with carpet.
© Press Association
Since the coronation of King Edward II in 1308, 26 monarchs have been crowned on this chair. It was made by order of his father, King Edward I, who originally commissioned the chair as a ‘relic case’ to house the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone. As an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy, it was captured by King Edward I in 1296, and ever since has been part of coronation ceremonies in England, and then Great Britain.
Originally painted by King Edward I’s royal painter, Walter of Durham, the chair would have been highly decorated. Much of the chair would have been gilded, where wood is covered with a thin coating of gold, as can be seen with the surviving patterns of birds and plants.
The Coronation Chair is the oldest piece of furniture in the United Kingdom which is still used for its original purpose. Over time it has been altered; from the ornate addition of four gilt lions, the national animal of England, in the early 16th century to the destructive graffiti on the back of the chair by Westminster schoolboys and visitors to the Abbey in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The chair has left the Abbey on very few occasions. When monarchy was in question, it still held its significance as the chair that Oliver Cromwell chose to be installed upon as Lord Protector in Westminster Hall. During the Second World War, it was evacuated to Gloucester Cathedral in order to avoid any damage from the Blitz.
Even with all the changes, the chair remains the place where the monarch sits in the moment that they are crowned, marking a tradition and a connection to all those who have come before them.
It’s very hard not to be enthusiastic working at the Abbey. If this place doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what will.