The ancient throne, known as the Coronation Seat, has been the centerpiece of English coronations for centuries, including those of Henry VIII, Charles I, Queen Victoria and the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Westminster Abbey – where the ceremony will take place – describes the chair as “one of the most prized and celebrated pieces of furniture in the world” and says it is in “remarkable condition” given its age.
Despite this, it still needs to undergo some conservation work ahead of the King and Queen’s coronation ceremony on Saturday May 6th.
The King’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in the chair at her coronation. Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Edward I commissioned the 6.5 foot high chair to house the Stone of Scone – also known as the Stone of Destiny – which he captured in 1296 along with the Scottish crown and scepter. The stone, which served for centuries as the seat for the coronation of Scottish kings, is now kept in Scotland but reunited with the chair for British coronations.
Originally covered in gold leaf, the chair was also decorated with stained glass, as well as designs of birds, foliage and a king painted by Edward I’s master painter.
The gilding features so-called stamping – tiny, intricate dots that create images and patterns.
Krista Blessley, the abbey’s painting restorer, is cleaning the chair’s surface with sponges and cotton swabs to remove ingrained dirt, Britain’s PA Media reported. She is also working to ‘stabilize’ surviving layers of gilding, both on the chair and on its base, which was updated in the 18th century.
“It’s a real privilege to work in the coronation chair,” Blessley said in an interview with PA.
“It’s so important in the history of our country and in the history of the monarchy, and it’s really unique to work as a restorer on something that is part of a working collection and is still being used for the original function it was made for became.”
The antique throne has graffiti from the 18th and 19th centuries. Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images/Getty Images
Despite its importance, according to the Abbey, the chair “has occasionally suffered throughout its life”. The back has 18th and 19th century graffiti believed to be the work of local schoolboys and visitors. A carving reads, “P. Abbott slept in this chair July 5-6, 1800.”
Additional damage includes a small corner demolished in a bombing raid in 1914 – believed by suffragettes.
Blessley told PA she had begun uncovering overlooked details in the chair’s decoration.
“I believe these are previously undiscovered toes in the stamped gilding on the back of the chair,” she said.
“So there are areas with curtains where you can tell there was a character. It could be royal figures or it could be a saint figure because so much is lost that we can’t really tell at the moment but I will investigate further.”
Blessley has been working on the chair for four months so far. She told PA: “It has a very complex layered structure which means it’s very prone to the gold plating peeling off.
“So a big part of my job is taping this gilding in place to make sure it’s secure and then I’m going to surface clean it and that’s going to improve the appearance a bit.”
The updates will be “entirely invisible,” according to the Abbey, “but will ensure the preservation of these historic decorative layers not just for the coronation but for centuries to come.”
Despite its age, the chair will not be the oldest artifact involved in the ceremony. The king is anointed with holy oil poured into the 12th-century gilded coronation spoon.