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When Robert Curthose Sat On The Throne

It is perhaps not a well-known fact that during World War II, many priceless historical treasures were crated up and shipped out of London for safe storage. At least, I wasn’t particularly aware of something that now makes perfect sense. I found out about this whilst visiting Gloucester Cathedral and touring the amazing crypt beneath the main body of the building. It’s a place well worth going to and the crypt is fascinating to look around, particularly with the knowledgeable and helpful guides.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

The fact that grabbed my attention was that during the war, St Edward’s Chair, or the Coronation Chair, the traditional coronation throne from Westminster Abbey that dates from the reign of Edward I. It was commissioned in 1300-1 to house the Stone of Scone Edward took from Scotland in 1296. The chair has been used in every monarch’s coronation ceremony from 1308 onwards, amounting to 38 coronations with an additional 14 queen consorts being crowned in ceremonies using the chair too. It is usually kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor; hence it is sometimes referred to as St Edward’s Chair.

 

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The Coronation Chair at Gloucester Cathedral

 

During the war, Gloucester Cathedral also packed up some of its own important moveable items and stored them in crates in the crypt along with the Coronation Chair. One of the monuments that made its way to the crypt was the tomb effigy of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, the oldest son of William the Conqueror who was destined never to become King of England. William left his duchy to Robert and the kingdom to Robert’s younger brother William Rufus. When William II died in a hunting ‘accident’, their youngest brother Henry snatched the royal treasury and then the crown before Curthose knew what was happening.

 

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Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy

 

The two siblings ended up in a bitter rivalry that was concluded on the battlefield. Henry invaded Normandy and at the Battle of Tinchebray on 28 September 1106, Henry captured his older brother. Robert spent the rest of his life as Henry’s prisoner, firstly in Devizes Castle and then at Cardiff Castle where he died in 1134. Robert was buried at Gloucester Cathedral, though the location of his grave is not known. The wooden effigy does not mark the spot in which he was buried.

 

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The wooden effigy of Robert Curthose

 

Anyway, according to cathedral legend, Robert’s effigy was crated up and stored in the crypt on top of the crate containing the Coronation Chair, which would make the that the closest Robert Curthose ever got to the throne of England, just over 800 years after his death. I’m not sure how true the story is, but I like to think Robert might have sat on the throne for a while.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

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The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone

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As we reminded you yesterday, Richard and Anne were crowned on the 6th July 1483,  a crucial part of the ceremony being when Richard was crowned with St Edward’s crown and invested with  the royal regalia while sitting on the Coronation chair also known as St Edward’s chair, named after Edward the Confessor.  It is this glorious chair that I want to focus upon now.

In 1296 when  Edward I,  aka Longshanks, returned from Scotland he brought with him the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny,  symbolic of Scotland’s sovereignty,   which he had removed from Scone Abbey, giving it into the care of the Abbott of Westminster Abbey.  Edward, not for nothing known as the Hammer of the Scots, and wishing to hammer it home in no uncertain terms that from now on it would be English and not Scottish monarchs who would now be crowned whilst sitting on this stone, a large block of red Perthshire sandstone, instructed that a chair be constructed to house it and thus was this wonderful chair created.  Master Walter of Durham, King’s Painter, whose skills also included carpentry, was commissioned  to build and decorate the chair for which he was duly paid 100 shillings.

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The Chair with the Stone of Scone intact 

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The Stone of Scone also known as the Stone of Destiny.

Since 1308 every royal derrière has sat on the chair while being  crowned except for Edward V, Mary II and Edward VIII.  Made of oak, gilded and inlaid with glass mosaics, traces of which can still be found today, while faint images or birds, flowers and foliage still survive  on the back.  Up until the 17th century the monarch would sit on the actual stone with presumably a cushion for comfort until a wooden platform was then added .  The four gilt lions were made in 1727 to replace the originals which themselves were not added until the 16th century.

The stone itself has in recent times undergone several adventures.  It was stolen, or rescued, depending upon which way you look at it,  by Scottish Nationalists on Christmas Day 1950 – in the process of which they managed to break it in half.  It was later discovered in April 1951 and after being kept in a vault for some time, eventually returned to Westminster Abbey and replaced in the chair in February 1952.  This was not the end of the stone’s travels for in July 1966, Prime Minister John Major, announced that it was to be returned to Scotland.  This was duly done and the stone now rests in Edinburgh Castle.

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The chair as it is today minus the Stone of Scone

This  wonderful and irreplaceable chair has been disgracefully abused in comparatively recent times, from the numerous graffiti mostly carved in the 18th and 19th centuries by the pupils of Westminster School – its baffling how this systematic graffiti carving  was allowed to carry on –  one graffito could perhaps be forgiven but on such a large scale? – were they simply allowed to just carry on?..but I digress – to the dark  brown varnish applied in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a suffragette bomb in 1914 to the damaged caused when the Scottish Nationals wrenched the stone from the chair.  However I’m sure should the shade of Richard,  who would have seen the chair in pristine condition, ever return to the Abbey, he would still be able to recognise it and that it would bring back memories, for him,  of that most glorious day, when he and his ‘beloved consort’ were both crowned King and Queen of England.

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