- By Sean Coughlan
- Royal Correspondent
The medieval chair used for the coronation of monarchs is undergoing conservation work, to be ready for the coronation of King Charles III.
The 700-year-old oak chair is described as “extremely fragile” by conservation experts at Westminster Abbey.
The painstaking conservation work aims to clean the chair and stabilize layers of flaking gilding.
It is part of the preparations for the coronation ceremony to be held at the Abbey in London on May 6.
The historic coronation chair, a centerpiece of the ceremony for centuries, is a “unique work of art,” says conservator Krista Blessley.
“It is the oldest surviving piece of furniture that is still used for its original purpose,” she says.
It was made by order of Edward I, who reigned from 1272 to 1307, and has been used in almost every coronation ceremony since then.
But Blessley says “it’s not a museum piece” and has faced some hard knocks.
Tourists and schoolchildren scarred it with graffiti in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“P. Abbott slept in this chair on 5-6. July 1800” is among the letters carved into the chair, which will be used by King Charles at the ceremony in May.
Subsequently, the chair was damaged in a bomb attack in 1914, attributed to suffragettes fighting for votes for women.
“It’s extremely fragile. It has a complex layer structure, which means the gilding layers often peel off, so a lot of my work is sticking those layers of gilding back down, making sure it’s completely secure before the crowning,” says Blessley .
The conservator has already been working on the chair for four months.
“If there are small changes in moisture, the wood moves, and the complex layer structure moves – new areas will lift. I might consolidate something this month, then in two months I might have to consolidate it again,” says Blessley.
But she is very proud to be working on such an “exquisite example” of medieval craftsmanship, including finding a previously unknown design of the toes on the back of the chair.
In its original medieval form, the chair was covered in gold leaf and stained glass, with patterns of birds, foliage, animals, saints and a king.
The chair was designed to encase the Stone of Scone, which had been seized from Scotland by Edward I – and the stone, currently in Edinburgh, is expected to be brought back to Westminster Abbey for the coronation.
Dr. George Gross from King’s College London is part of a research project on the history of coronations.
In recent coronations, the high-backed Gothic chair has been left uncovered, but he says that in the Tudor and Stuart eras it would have been covered in a sumptuous cloth of gold.
The coronation has a strong religious element, and Dr Gross highlights the sense that the ancient chair has acquired its own sacred status – as a “deeply mystical relic” – which was seen as “emitting a form of spiritual radioactivity”.
Details have begun to emerge about the coronation ceremony for King Charles III, including 12 new pieces of specially composed music, with an anthem by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The ceremony is expected to be a shorter and more inclusive service than in 1953, with around 2,000 guests, rather than the 8,000 who attended the late Queen’s coronation.
Camilla, the Queen Consort, will be crowned alongside the King, but it has been revealed that her crown will not include the controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond.
It is not yet known who will be invited to the ceremony, with particular interest as to whether Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex will be part of the congregation.
What we know about the coronation long weekend so far:
Saturday 6 May: Coronation Service in Westminster Abbey; coronation carriage procession; Buckingham Palace balcony performance for the Royal Family
Sunday 7 May: Concert and light show at Windsor Castle; Kroning Store Lunch street parties
Monday 8 May: Extra public holiday; Big Help Out which encourages people to get involved in local volunteering projects