The Chair of Kings and Queens
The Coronation Chair is one of the most anticipated sights for any visitor to Westminster Abbey, because of the role it has played in some of the most important parts of British history. Although it is looking somewhat tired after over 700 years, the wear and tear it has suffered are all part of the history of this important object.
The coronation chair was made following an order from Edward I in around 1300, as he wished to have something to enclose the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny). The stone, which was used by the Scottish kings in their inauguration ceremonies, was stolen by Edward in 1296 and placed in the care of the Abbot of Westminster.
Originally, the chair was highly decorated with patterns of birds, foliage and animals set on a gilt background that would have made the chair appear as if it were made from solid gold; however only traces of this gilt design have survived over the centuries. The chair has been damaged by carved graffiti, mostly as the result of visitors and Westminster schoolboys carving their names in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Although the chair was not originally made to be used during the coronation ceremony, it has been used in every coronation since that of Edward II in 1308. During the coronation it is placed on the centre of the Cosmati pavement, facing towards the Abbey’s High Altar, for the monarch to sit in at the moment when they are crowned.
The chair has only been taken out of Westminster Abbey on three occasions: for the installation of Oliver Cromwell as lord protector in Westminster Hall in 1653; to be prepared for the jubilee service of Queen Victoria in 1887; and for safe keeping at Gloucester Cathedral during the Second World War.
The chair was kept for centuries in St Edward’s Chapel where the shrine of St Edward the Confessor is; however it was moved in 1998 to the foot of the steps leading to the Lady Chapel. In 2013, following a two year conservation programme, it was put on display at the other end of the Abbey in St George’s chapel where it is more secure. The current Surveyor of the Fabric, Ptolemy Dean, has designed a plinth and canopy for the chair to display it in all its glory.
As this is such an important part of the Abbey experience it is referenced in many of Westminster Abbey’s publications, including a book devoted to its history. We also have a special replica model, made in Burnley by a local woman, Lorraine Tuley. Lorraine came across a small replica of the Coronation chair in her local charity shop and became fascinated with the story behind it after finding out it had been made by a Burnley man for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. After finding this out she was inspired to create her own replicas to be sold in the home of the chair, Westminster Abbey.