Westminster Abbey place of Richard and Anne’s joint Coronation. @Association of English Cathedrals
When King Richard III and Queen Anne were both crowned on the 6th July 1483, a crucial part of the ceremony involved Richard being crowned with St Edward’s crown and invested with the royal regalia while sitting on the Coronation chair also known as St Edward’s chair, named after Edward the Confessor. It is this glorious chair that I want to focus upon now.
The Chair with the Stone of Scone intact
In 1296 when Edward I, aka Longshanks, returned from Scotland he brought with him the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, symbolic of Scotland’s sovereignty, which he had removed from Scone Abbey, giving it into the care of the Abbott of Westminster Abbey. Edward, not for nothing known as the Hammer of the Scots, and wishing to hammer it home in no uncertain terms that from now on it would be English and not Scottish monarchs who would now be crowned whilst sitting on this stone, a large block of red Perthshire sandstone, instructed that a chair be constructed to house it and thus was this wonderful chair created. Master Walter of Durham, King’s Painter, whose skills also included carpentry, was commissioned to build and decorate the chair for which he was duly paid 100 shillings.
The Stone of Scone also known as the Stone of Destiny.
Since 1308 every royal derrière has sat on the chair while being crowned except for Edward V, Mary II and Edward VIII. Made of oak, gilded and inlaid with glass mosaics, traces of which can still be found today, while faint images or birds, flowers and foliage still survive on the back. Up until the 17th century the monarch would sit on the actual stone with presumably a cushion for comfort until a wooden platform was then added . The four gilt lions were made in 1727 to replace the originals which themselves were not added until the 16th century.
The stone itself has in recent times undergone several adventures. It was stolen, or rescued, depending upon which way you look at it, by Scottish Nationalists on Christmas Day 1950 – in the process of which they managed to break it in half. It was later discovered in April 1951 and after being kept in a vault for some time, eventually returned to Westminster Abbey and replaced in the chair in February 1952. This was not the end of the stone’s travels for in July 1996, Prime Minister John Major, announced that it was to be returned to Scotland. This was duly done and the stone now rests in Edinburgh Castle.
The chair as it is today minus the Stone of Scone
This wonderful and irreplaceable chair has been disgracefully abused in comparatively recent times, from the numerous graffiti mostly carved in the 18th and 19th centuries by the pupils of Westminster School – its baffling how this systematic graffiti carving was allowed to carry on – one graffito could perhaps be forgiven but on such a large scale? – were they simply allowed to just carry on? – but I digress – to the dark brown varnish applied in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a suffragette bomb in 1914 to the damaged caused when the Scottish Nationals wrenched the stone from the chair. However I’m sure should the shade of Richard, who would have seen the chair in pristine condition, ever return to the Abbey, he would still be able to recognise it and that it would bring back memories, for him, of that most glorious day, when he and his ‘beloved consort‘ were both crowned King and Queen of England.
Westminster Abbey North Front