New details in the decoration of the chair the King will be crowned on during his coronation ceremony have been revealed.
King Henry VIII, King Charles I, Queen Victoria and the late Queen Elizabeth II were all crowned on the golden throne.
Despite its history, the chair is covered in graffiti – much of it carved by Westminster schoolboys and visitors to Westminster Abbey during the 18th and 19th centuries – with one carving reading: “P. Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800,” on the seat.
Estimated to have been made in around 1300 for King Edward I, it was used to house the famous Stone of Scone – the coronation stone – and was constructed from oak.
It was decorated with coloured glass, gilded, and painted with patterns of birds, foliage and animals by the King’s master painter.
During work to clean it, Westminster Abbey’s paintings conservator Krista Blessley believes she has found a previously overlooked part of a figure.
Ms Blessley, who has worked on the chair for months, says it is a “real privilege”.
“It’s so important to our country’s history and in the history of the monarchy, and it’s really unique as a conservator to work on something that’s part of a working collection and still used for the original function it was made for.”
While analysing the chair, Ms Blessley found “previously undiscovered toes in the punch-work gilding on the back”, that may have been a figure.
“It might be they are figures of kings or it might be a figure of a saint because so much is lost we can’t really tell at the moment but I’ll do some further investigation,” she said.
There has been debate about when the chair was first used to crown a monarch.
It has featured in coronation ceremonies since 1308, however, the first confirmed use was to crown King Henry IV in 1399.
A king was painted on the back of the chair, which is thought to be either Edward the Confessor or Edward I.
The four gilt lions that form the base were made in 1727 to replace the originals, which were not added until the early 16th century.
Parts of the wood from the chair were cut off as souvenirs and during a bomb attack in 1914 a small corner was knocked off.
Preparing for the big day
In 2010 a major project began to stabilise the gilding on the coronation chair and clean it.
To maintain this, there are now checks every six months.
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In preparation for the coronation, Ms Blessley has spent the past four months preserving the flaking gilding and cleaning the chair’s surface using sponges and cotton swabs.
She said that it is a “complex” structure, which means it is prone to the gold on it flaking off.
“So a large part of what I’ve been doing is sticking that gilding down to make sure it’s secure, and then I will surface clean it and that will improve the appearance a little bit.
“The punchwork is unparalleled really in quality of surviving English art of this time, we have so little that has survived.
“To have something like this is amazing,” Ms Blessley added.
The coronation will take place on Saturday 6 May 2023 at Westminister Abbey in London and will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.