We do not usually associate colour-decoration on wood with the beginning of the fourteenth century; hardly with its close. There is the possibility, of course, that this colour was a later application, but the chair has the appearance of having been designed and made specially for colour and gesso, in the same manner as the East Anglian chancel screens, and the general style of the back, with its crocketted head, is late fourteenth or even early fifteenth century in character.
The chair in St. Mary's Hall, Figs. 203 to 210, is in much more perfect condition, and while only a fragment, is well preserved. That it was never intended for decoration in colours, nor has ever been either painted or partially gilded, is almost certain. Its original finish was a glossy varnish, or in other words, much the same as at the present day. This chair has been considered at such length and detail in the "Burlington Magazine"1 that the statements made in that article may be summarised and repeated here.
1 No. CCXXIII, Vol. XXXIX, "An Oak Chair in St. Mary's Hall, Coventry," Herbert Cescinsky, October, 1921.
Fig. 194. Stowlangtoft Church, Suffolk. - The finest East Anglian type of bench-end of the late fifteenth century.
Fig. 195. Stowlangtoft Church, Suffolk. - Carved stall-end, about 1480.
Fig. 196. Stowlangtoft Church, Suffolk. - Carved stall-end, about 1480.
This is a civic or state chair; it has only a remote clerical connection, if any. The pinnacles, which are quite original, represent on the dexter, Fig. 206, the Plantagenet lions of England1 (the "leones-leopardes" of Glover's Roll of Henry III) supporting the portion of a crown, which, when complete was probably royal. On the sinister are the arms of Coventry, the elephant and castle, Fig. 207. The chair is only a fragment, being complete at the one end, Fig. 208, but having two mortises at the other, Fig. 209, obviously for the tenons of two panel rails. The commencement of the panel-groove can be seen above the lower mortise, and this steps forward immediately, to house the applied tracery. So much is, therefore, certain, that a traceried panel, similar to that on the front, Fig. 204, with rails above and below, must have fitted, on the chair on its right-hand side. The question now arises, was the chair originally of double or triple form ? There are several reasons to justify the latter assumption.
1 The unicorn on the sinister side of the Royal arms dates from the reign of James I only.
Fig. 197. Stowlangtoft Church, Suffolk. - Carved stalls. Date about 1480.
Coventry is an ancient city, renowned in the fifteenth century for its woollens and dyes; hence the old saying, " True as Coventry blue."1 It was visited, on several occasions, by Royalty, and is reputed to have once housed a royal prisoner in the person of Mary, Queen of Scots. The chair is in St. Mary's Hall, a building erected in the early part of the fifteenth century for the united guilds of St. Mary, St. John the Baptist and St. Catherine; a Trinity, be it noted. The Great Hall, which measures 76 ft. in length, 30 ft. in span and 34 ft. in height, has a dais at its end with a perpendicular Great Window, divided into three sections by two vertical mullions. Below this window hangs a fine Arras tapestry in three divisions, corresponding with the mullions of the window above.
That this chair was intended to stand on this dais, under the window and in front of this tapestry, is unquestionable. A double chair would have been incongruous, and if one of the seats were intended for royalty, - which is exceedingly likely, as one of the pinnacles has the Royal arms, and the tapestry has, on its right- and left-hand panels the figures of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, and was specifically woven for the place it occupies at present, - the other seat would have had an equal dignity. The double-seat theory is also not tenable for another reason; while there are unmistakable indications of the fixing of a back, there are none of a seat.
Fig. 198. Brandeston Church, Suffolk. - Pew-ends of buttress-type, carved with poppy-heads and grotesque figures. Date about 1460.
1 Blue was the royal colour in the fifteenth century
A hypothetical reconstruction of this chair has been attempted in Fig. 211. The absence of a fixing for the seat can here be explained satisfactorily. The chair would be occupied by royalty only on very rare occasions. The central seat would be rich in character, with covering, probably, of cloth of gold. It would be one to be preserved with every care, as apart from its intrinsic value, the Coventry burghers would aim at keeping it clean and free from wear. In addition it would not be left in situ, for anyone to sit upon at pleasure, with loss to its royal dignity. The natural result would be that the seat would be in the form of a cushioned box, which would be removed, when not in use, and its place left vacant.
Figs. 199 and 200. Occold, Suffolk. Section Of Choir Stalls. - 28 ins. wide across base. 3 ft. 5 ins. high over all. 1 ft. 4 ins. deep over all. - Latter half of fifteenth century.
Fig. 201. rougham church, suffolk. - Back and end of oak bench. Date about 1510.