Friday, June 4, 2010

Remembering the chair...

Hi everyone,

I saw today that June 2nd was the anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It reminded me of an awful blog post that I wrote in 2007 on my first blog and I thought I'd re-post it for the heck of sincerest apologies. Below is also a link to a video of the 1953 coronation ceremony...CBC archives has come through for me again!

"Now children gather round and hear a faithful tale resound, for from the lips of a historian flow, the wonder that only history can bestow. Haha, I’m a geek, ok here’s my, I’m sure long anticipated, blog on the British Coronation Chair, otherwise known as King Edward’s Chair. This is a subject that has fascinated me for quite some time and my admiration goes out to the protectors of the chair over the centuries for so carefully preserving not only a piece of British history but a piece of history that has had such an impact on Europe and the World as a whole; for upon the chair almost every English, then later British monarch have been crowned since 1308. For 700 years the royals of England have been crowned upon its seat.

The chair is made of oaken wood and originally did not have the four lions at its feet. They were added in the early 16th century (1500’s) by the Tutor dynasty and the four gold lions presently at the bottom of the chair where put in place of the originals in 1727. The space above the four lions was the former permanent home of the Stone of Scone. I will come back to speaking about the stone later on. Originally, the stone was completely enclosed by a decorated wooden panel, but over the years the panel was worn away thereby exposing the stone when it is set in place beneath the seat.

As mentioned, every monarch in England since Edward I in 1308 has been crowned upon the chair at a coronation ceremony, but there are a few exceptions. The 12 year old Edward V was proclaimed king in 1483 but his throne was quickly usurped by Richard III and Edward was placed in the Tower of London; and never seen again. He therefore was never officially coronated. That makes me want to study the War of the Roses more…it’s so hard to keep all these monarchs straight!!! There was one other monarch who was king but was never crowned; this being Edward VIII who abdicated in 1936. Both instances there were proclamations of kingship but never coronations. There are two other interesting facts that I feel would fit quite nicely in this section. The first is that in 1689 when a joint monarchy of William III (William of Orange, a Dutch royal) and Mary II was created. At the coronation ceremony a second chair was made for the Queen. Thus, in 700 years there were really only three monarchs of England who were not crowned upon King Edwards Chair. There is one more interesting bit of information, in 1653 Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector and the sat in King Edwards Chair for the ceremony. It should be noted though that Cromwell was not proclaimed a monarch, he did not want to be a king and was surprised even when Parliament wanted to give him power, and therefore the ceremony was not held in Wesminter Abbey, but in Westminster Hall. The ceremony had always been held in Wesminster Abbey to, I assume originally, go along with the idea of the divine right of Kings.

As a quick note Cromwell was head of the military and jointly ruled England with a Council of State and Parliament.

The Stone of Scone is surrounded by many legends. First it is said to be the stone that Jacob rested his head against "And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it" (Genesis chapter 28, verse 18). O, I’m just going to paste straight from the site here to tell you the legends behind the stone, “Legends abound concerning the Stone of Scone and tradition identifies it with the one upon which Jacob rested his head at Bethel - "And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it" (Genesis chapter 28, verse 18). The legend then says that Jacob's sons carried it to Egypt and from thence it passed to Spain with King Gathelus, son of Cecrops, the builder of Athens. About 700 BC it was said to be in Ireland, whither it was carried by the Spanish King's son Simon Brech, on his invasion of the island. There it was placed upon the sacred Hill of Tara, and called "Lia-Fail", the "fatal" stone, or "stone of destiny", for when the Irish kings were seated on it at coronations the Stone groaned aloud if the claimant was of royal race but remained silent if he was a pretender. Fergus Mor MacEirc (died 50l?), the founder of the Scottish monarchy, and one of the Blood Royal of Ireland, received it in Scotland, and Kenneth MacAlpin (d.860) finally deposited it in the monastery of Scone in Perthshire (846).” (

Now, here’s the really interesting part of the story. The original purpose of the chair was to enclose the Stone of Scone, and the stone being under the seat of the British Monarch was a symbol that England was “over” Scotland and its throne. You see, up until 1292 every Scottish king had been crowned upon the stone (and before the Scots, Irish monarchs had been crowned upon it). So, British monarchs, when crowned upon the King Edwards Chair were essentially proclaiming England’s power of Scotland and Ireland.

There is an ironic twist to this story though. Upon the stone is carved:

Ni fallat fatum, Scoti, quocunque locatum
Invenient lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem

[If Fates go right, where'er this stone is found
The Scots shall monarchs of that realm be crowned]

Basically it says that whatever kingdom the Stone is found in that a Scot will be the ruler of that kingdom. This came true in 1603 with the crowning of James VI of Scotland (James I of England). So, the original purpose of the Stone was to show English rule over Scotland and then a Scot takes the British throne and once again puts a Scot ruler over Scotland…AND England. Isn’t that a kick in the pants?????

Oh, and for the record the Stone weighs 336 pounds and is composed of sandstone. Also, I tried to think of something funny/qwirky/clever to type here but failing to do so I will continue onto the next section.

There have been a few instances when the chair has been removed from Westminster Abbey. In WW2 the chair was moved and the Stone was placed in a vault. This was for their protection from the German bombing raids. On the last point I am not 100% sure, I just remember reading it. Please correct me if you know it to be false or would like to add information to it. In 1887 the chair didn’t actually left the Abbey but it was used for something other than a coronation. Queen Victoria used it for her Golden Jubilee services. As mentioned before the chair was moved to West Minster Hall where Oliver Cromwell was declared Lord Protector.

In 1950 the Stone was actually stolen from the chair by four Scottish nationalists and brought back to Scotland. It was retrieved again after negotiations with the nationalists and was promptly put into the vault that it was placed in during WW2 and wasn’t returned to the chair until 1952, in time for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

There is speculation that the current Stone is not the original. Some say the Scots hid the real stone and replaced it with another in anticipation of the invasion of Edward I circa. 1296. Also, there is speculation that the nationalists in 1950 didn’t give back the stone they stole, but replaced it with another one. The truth may never be known. Sometimes there is great wonder and tension when thinking about historical mysteries of such nature. Regardless, the current stone represents England’s rule over Scotland.

In 1996 the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, had the Stone returned to Scotland where it resides today in Edinburgh Castle. The Stone though was returned on the condition that it is restored to the chair when a coronation occurs in England.

Well, that’s my blog about the Coronation Chair of Britain and the Stone of Scone. I have no idea why it interests me so much. Maybe because it’s a representation of so many things, patriotism, deceit, power, honour, cruelty, pride (both good and bad), all of these things have characterized English monarchs over the centuries. These monarchs of England jointly have had perhaps the most influence on the world than the monarchs of any other nation throughout history, and for 700 years they have been crowned upon one chair, over one stone. The nation has changed much in 700 years but the Chair has remained.

Here is a link to a video clip of Queen Elizabeth II being crowned in 1953 at her coronation ceremony. There are several spots in the clip that show her on the Chair:

Ok, that’s it. Frig….I love history.

-a history student"


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