The massive cills at the foot of the present chair, at front and back (see Figs. 204 and 205), exhibit signs of having been cut. They were probably carried through, bridging the space between, and bracing the outer chairs together, and were further extended on either side to hold the banner standards of the Guilds. The Royal banner would, naturally, be displayed centrally, behind the chair.
Another point in favour of this triple-chair theory is that the number three figures everywhere. Both the great window and the tapestry below are in three divisions. The Guild Hall of St. Mary is dedicated to the Trinity of St. Mary, St. John and St. Catherine. Coventry as one of the strongholds of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, would give their Saint the post of honour, in the centre of the back of the middle chair or throne. The side spandrel of the chair illustrated here (Fig. 208) is carved with the effigy of St. Man-; its missing fellow on the right was probably devoted to St. Catherine. Another theory suggests itself. The central seat may have been movable so that the royal stool could be taken away, and its place occupied by another, not so ornate in character, and the throne would then be used by the Masters of the three Guilds.
A resemblance will be noticed between the grotesque carvings of the arms (although these have been mutilated, apparently with a set purpose) and those on some of the clerical benches already illustrated, Fig. 198 for example. It was usual, even in the case of choir-stalls and misericords, to introduce purely secular carving, often of questionable decency. Perhaps the arms of this chair were carved in this manner, and a wave of puritanism condemned them to mutilation. Some of these misericord carvings are exceedingly quaint. Thus, in the Victoria and Albert Museum is an example, shown here in Fig. 212, where the mediaeval carpenter is instructing his apprentice in the craft of the woodworker. Representations or pictures of this kind, in wood, must have had a very wide appeal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, difficult to comprehend at the present day, when there are so many other diversions. In the Middle Ages, few outside of the church could read or write, and books of any kind were correspondingly small in number. Illustration on paper or vellum was more meagre still. Pictures were scarce, and drawings still rarer. The only pictorial representations were in missals or illuminated manuscripts, - and they were not for the multitude; - painted effigies of saints on chancel and other screens, and these secular carvings. They were in churches not only because the Church aggrandised all decoration, but also because clerical edifices were the mediaeval recreation halls. Providing the sanctuary of the chancel were not invaded, the nave was the common property of the parish, and was used, when services were not being held, as the parish hall. Perhaps this accounts, in some measure, for the semi-clerical character of many of the Guild Halls of the same period, the rival attractions to the churches of the Middle Ages.
Fig. 202. Oak Coronation Chair. - Westminster Abbey. - Fourteenth century.
Fig. 204. Front view.
Fig. 205. Back view.
Fig. 206. Left-hand pinnacle.
Fig. 203. General view.
Fig. 207. Right-hand pinnacle. - An Oak Chair In St. Mary's Hall, Coventry. - Mid-fifteenth century.
Fig. 208. End view. Left.
Fig. 209. End view. Right.
Fig. 210. Detail of top rail. - An Oak Chair In St. Mary's Hall, Coventry.
The original abundance of these pictorial carvings must have been almost incredible. Apart from their perishable character, in the natural course of things, we have at least four distinct periods of purposed destruction; under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Elizabeth and Cromwell. Yet the English parish churches of the present day can furnish innumerable examples of wood-carving and colour-decoration, which give some idea, yet a meagre one, of the vast richness in similar work which must have existed in the Golden Age of the fifteenth century. That the Guilds, which began to assume a prominence after the fifth Crusade (1203-5) were responsible for much of this work is undoubted. At the close of the fourteenth century they had acquired such power and influence that they rivalled the monastic establishments in the artistic education of the artisan. From these Guilds were selected the King's master-craftsmen, men who were well paid, highly considered, and often invested with delegated autccratic powers. They were probably members, to a man, of the powerful Cluniac order, the influence of which was paramount in artistic Europe from the eleventh to the fourteenth century.
Fig. 211. Hypothetical Reconstruction Of The Chair, Figs. 204 To 210. - From a drawing by Herbert Cescinsky. 163
Fig. 212. Oak Misericord. - Fifteenth century. - Victoria and Albert Museum.