When we think of the coronation of Kings, the images that usually come to mind are of luxury and wealth. However, the certain apparent simplicity of St Edward’s Throne, also called King Edward’s Throne or the Coronation Throne, should not mislead us. Its symbolism is gigantic. It is in it that, 727 years ago, all British monarchs received their crowns, with the tradition started in 1296 by Edward I and which will be maintained by Charles III, on May 6, 2023.
The origin of the throne is controversial, for those who watched the movie, Braveheart will understand it easily. The piece was commissioned by Edward I after his victory in the First War of Scottish Independence, led by William Wallace, in 1296, and, as an additional humiliation of the defeated Scots, the monarch demanded the crowning stone of Scotland as the spoils of the conflict, also known as the Stone of Destiny. The long block of red sandstone, measuring 66 cm by 42 cm and weighing approximately 152 kg, was used for centuries in the coronation of Scottish monarchs and was transported to Westminster Abbey to be incorporated into the chair made of oak, carved as a species gold-painted reliquary, with gothic details and drawings signed by Walter of Durham. From then on, it became the official seat of the Coronation of most English sovereigns.
According to Scottish tradition, the Stone of Destiny, also known as Jacob’s Pillow Stone, is literally the true stone consecrated to God after being used as a pillow by the Israelite patriarch Jacob at Beth-El. The stone would have been transported to Scotland by the prophet Jeremiah and since the Middle Ages, it was used for the coronations of Scottish kings, who sat directly on the stone itself. Before being taken to London in 1296, the artifact was in Scone Abbey, near Perth, Scotland and naturally became another point of contention between the two countries. The English even agreed to return it in 1328, but at that point, there was turmoil on the side of the English population that prevented the removal of the stone. When after the death of Elizabeth I, her cousin and King of Scotland took the English throne as James I of England, putting the Stuart lineage back on the throne, the conflict had fewer repercussions for some time.
In eight centuries, Edward’s Throne has only been removed from Westminster Abbey twice: first for the ceremony that installed Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of England, at Westminster Hall, and then during the Second World War, to avoid being damaged by attacks. German airplanes, being held in Gloucester Cathedral from 1939 to 1945. A white fungus almost spoiled it anyway, because when it was safely buried the Throne had little further care for six months, having been surrounded by thousands of sandbags underground. The only reason the fungi didn’t destroy the throne was that it was sealed in felt.
And overcoming time, wars, and fungus, the Throne has suffered much more in more recent times, having been the target of attacks, thefts, and damage. One of the attacks was in 1914, credited to the suffragette movement of the Social and Political Union of Women, accused of having planted a bomb loaded with nuts and bolts that did not seriously injure anyone, but which broke and burned the upper left corner of the throne (the police found a woman’s purse used to hide the bomb). And then, at Christmas 1950, four Scottish nationalists rescued the stone and return it to Scotland. Careless, they dropped it and it broke in half. Before that, they had split the seat in two and broken the wooden railing in front to remove the stone. The piece was recovered in 1951, just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
To everyone’s great surprise, in 1996, when the stone completed 700 years on English soil, the then prime minister announced by surprise that after six centuries, the Stone of Destiny would be returned to Scotland, and it was, found today in Castle Edinburgh, guarded with the Scottish Crown Jewels. The worst part is that there are those who argue that every fight was over a fake piece. That’s right, as the historical descriptions of the stone do not correspond to the current stone, there are historians who defend that the monks of Scone Palace hid the real one in the River Tay, or they would have buried it in Dunsinane Hill, deceiving the English troops with a substitute. If it is a copy or not, they are still studying but the stone will be back on the Throne, temporarily, for the Coronation of Charles III. In September 2022, Historic Environment Scotland, guardians of Edinburgh Castle, announced that the piece would be moved to Westminster. When returned, it will be transferred to Perth Town Hall, now an arts center, and will be close to the former Scone Abbey.
With or without the stone, the historical value of the Coronation Throne still remains because it is so old. Unfortunately, over time, it “gained” new frescoes and was “mutilated” by people who decided to leave initials marked on the wood. The most famous graffiti that was registered says that “P. Abbott slept in this chair from the 5th to the 6th of July 1800″. No one has identified the sleeping vandal, but students at Westminster School are also said to be the perpetrators. Others branded the throne as personal marketing, like the cabinetmaker John Fenn, hired in 1761 to fix the throne for the coronation of George III and who thought it worth leaving his name visible on the arms with “I° FENN” carved. Today the piece of furniture is protected on a pedestal in the Chapel of Saint George, where it was restored between 2010 and 2012, and since the beginning of 2023, it has been prepared for the ceremony on May 6th.
Just to quench your curiosity, there are other thrones that will be used during the coronation ceremony. The Throne of Edward I is only used the moment Charles is anointed sovereign, after which he will pass on to another. Camilla, as Queen Consort, will be in a similar seat and next to the King, but at a lower level to mark her position. These thrones then move to the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace, where the couple has reigned since 2022.