This magnificent carved, painted and parcel gilt chair of state with carved Royal Dutch crown and cypher on the crest rail raises the intriguing possibility that it was made for William and Mary between November 1688, when they arrived in England, and their coronation on 11 April 1689. It was most probably made by Thomas Roberts (d. 1714), Royal carver, joiner and chair-maker during the respective sovereignties of James II (reigned 1685-88), and William III (1689-1702) and Mary II (1689-94).
In 1690, Thomas Roberts supplied a couch (daybed) and two chairs to Mary II’s Inner Closet at Kensington House, London (TNA LC9/279, no. 58; LC5/42, f. 346). Recorded in the Great Wardrobe Accounts, the storage and expenditure department of the Royal household, as ‘A Bill of Worke done and Goods delivered for the Service of their Majs. Since the 27th of May 1690', the description of this commissioned furniture closely relates to the present chair of state, which could perhaps have been the model or inspiration for the set:
‘For a Couch carved both Sides very rich wth. Figures, Scoles, flowers and Leaves in the Railes and Cherubins heads in the foot & a Scrole headboard carved rich with Scroles and leaves & Cyphor and two Angells holding up the Crowne, the Angells, Crowne and Cypher gilt with gold and all the lower part of the couch Japannd black – 10.00.00
For 2 cane Chaires carved answerable to ye Couch and Japanned black – 4.10.00’
Shortly afterwards, a third chair was made to accompany the Inner Closet furniture (TNA LC 9/280, no. 57).
When Queen Mary died in December 1694, most of the furniture from her Privy Lodgings at Kensington House and Whitehall Palace was claimed as a Royal perquisite by the Lord Chamberlain, Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (d. 1706), who issued a warrant to ensure that his rights took precedence over the privileges of the Groom of the Stole and the Lady of the Robes (TNA LC2/11/1). He avariciously compiled extensive lists of furniture he desired for his own use from the Queen’s quarters in the same notebook in which the protocol and arrangements for her funeral were recorded! Warrants were issued for the furniture to be delivered to his then seat at Copt Hall, Essex (removed to Knole, Kent after 1701).
Although the Lord Chamberlain’s lists do not describe the furniture he claimed from Kensington Palace in any detail, they include, ‘In ye Clossetts at ye end of ye Gallery. Hangings Curtains Cabinetts China Couches Chaires Tables and stands and Irons; almost certainly including the couch and chairs supplied for Queen Mary’s Inner Closet in 1690, mentioned above (ibid). Lord Dorset also claimed three chairs of state from other palaces: ‘A Damaske State Chaire’ in the Privy Chamber at Whitehall; and from an unspecified Royal palace, ‘One Large Velvett Chaire of State, trimed with Gold & Silver Fringe a Crimson Velvett Cushion with Tassolls Sutable to Itt’ in the Great Council Chamber, and an ‘Old Crimson Velvett Chaire of State’ in the Queen’s Private Chapel.
The present chair of state cannot be identified with any certainty in the Lord Chamberlain’s lists or in the Sackville family archive. However, the 1864 inventory of Knole includes more detailed descriptions, two of which are compatible with the present chair. In the Brown Gallery were
A Carved frame state Elbow Chair with carved Cupids and Coronet in Centre stuffed seat back and elbows covered in rich blue satin figured damask trimmed with silver fringe
A State carved Elbow Chair with figures of Cupid supporting a Coronet in the Centre stuffed seat back and Elbows covered in Rich Crimson Genoa Velvet trimmed with silk fringe
(Kent History and Library Centre, U269/E6, pp. 115-116)
While their decorative surface is not mentioned, the upholstery is described in detail, and was very likely original – particularly the first chair with its expensive silver fringe. Its ‘rich blue satin damask’ would have been well-matched to the gilt and blue frame of the present chair.
The Lord Chamberlain also granted some of the Queen’s furniture to loyal members of her household such as Simon de Brienne, Keeper of the Wardrobe for Kensington House, who later returned to Holland. William III also kept some of the late Queen’s furniture for his own use, including the celebrated blue and white japanned ‘dolphin’ seat-furniture, supplied by Roberts for the Queen’s Water Gallery at Hampton Court Palace; this is similarly described as carved with Cyphers and figures Dolphins (TNA LC9/279, no. 93; A. Turpin, ‘A table for Queen Mary’s Water Gallery at Hampton Court’, Apollo, January 1999, pp. 3-14). Furthermore, a warrant was raised to return some furniture to Holland for his Majesty’s use (TNA LC5/151). Unfortunately, the 1695 inventories for the Royal palaces, Windsor, Kensington, Whitehall and Hampton Court, again through a lack of detail, prevent identification of this chair, although there are a number of references to chairs of state.
1688-89: THE DUTCH CROWN AND CYPHER
While the maker of the present chair of state was almost certainly English, the crown is not an English crown and the cypher cannot be conclusively identified. The carved crown with strawberry leaves on the crest rail is a Royal rather than Princely crown, assumed by the Dutch Stadtholder, William III of Orange-Nassau, in 1688-89, at the time of the Glorious Revolution. The engraving (illustrated) shows William on horseback being crowned by a celestial figure with the newly created Dutch crown (also on the saddle cloth). At the bottom right a steward bears the English Royal coat of arms surmounted by the English crown. William arrived in England in November 1688, and his accession to the English crown began on 13 February 1689, although the coronation did not take place until 11 April of that year. After this date William adopted the English ‘St. Edward’s crown’ of four crosses pattée and fleurs-de-lis with two arches on top.
Although extensive searches in the Great Wardrobe accounts have failed to identify this chair of state, this is probably because the chair was not made under the remit of this official Royal body. There is, however, one intriguing entry in the Lord Chamberlain’s warrants for ‘An Oyled Case for the King’s Chaire’. The warrant reads: ‘These are to signify unto ye Lordpp His Ma. pleasure that you provide and deliver unto the Office of the Removeing Wardrobe an Oyled Case to cover His Ma. Dutch Chaire that is to be tied behind the Shaftsmaree, that is to attend His Ma. To Chester… this Second day of June 1690…’ (TNA LC5/150, f. 94). The idea of a ‘Dutch’ chair may explain the appearance of a Dutch Royal crown on an English-made chair made for William and Mary after November 1688 but before their coronation in April 1689.
The cypher on the chair rail is not clearly explicable. The English chair maker would have been supplied with a design but may have misinterpreted it in his carving. The cypher may represent the Latin form of William, 'Gulielmus' suggesting that the context was Dutch and not English; this was used in a design by Daniel Marot for a state coach for William III (A. Bowett, ‘The Engravings of Daniel Marot’, Furniture History, XLIII (2007), p. 87). Tentatively, it may denote an ‘O’, which intersects and flanks ‘R’ and reversed ‘R’ for 'Orange Rex', or ‘GOR’ although these are not recognised cyphers.
The putti on the crest rail are holding bunches of laurel, indicative of victory, and possibly an allusion to the Glorious Revolution.
The front supports on the present chair of state appear to represent blackamoor children, perhaps a reference to the Dutch exploratory tradition.
The attribution to Roberts is based on closely related stylistic affinities to his other known works, most compellingly the impressive state bed together with two armchairs and six stools en suite ordered by the Great Wardrobe for James II’s apartments at Whitehall Palace in August 1688 (illustrated). This furniture is one of the most spectacular and historically important sets of late Stuart furniture extant. The carved cornice of the state bed features a configuration of celestial figures supporting the Royal crown surmounting, in the centre, James II’s cypher, replicated on the headboard, and carved lions rampant at the corners, which is very similar to the combination of motifs on this chair. The chair legs of the armchairs and stools are carved as figures standing similarly on zoomorphic feet. This set was acquired as a royal perquisite by Lord Dorset in about 1694, and is now in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room at Knole. Interestingly, Roberts was also responsible for the Coronation furniture for William and Mary in 1689. He supplied a copy of the St. Edward’s throne chair for Queen Mary, which has lion feet with carving that is very similar to the lions found on the arms of this chair of state. The pair of lions are additionally a heraldic device for the English Royal family equally shared by the Dutch princes of Orange. Roberts also supplied,
‘two rich Chaires of State carved all over very rich with Scrowles & leaves & figures in the forefoot & Crownes & Sceptors in the forerailes & Crownes and Sceptors on the topp of the backs & all gilt with gold & two ffootstools to the Same carving all gilt with gold for two chaires of State for the Throne for us & our dearest Consort the Queen in the Abby’ (TNA, LC5/42, p. 323).
Furniture design in England between 1685 and the end of the 17th century evolved rapidly, and Daniel Marot (d. 1752), the French émigré designer, and court designer to William III, was a part of this. Some of Marot’s published designs illustrate elements from his earlier works; designs for torchères show related female terms to those on the side rails of the present chair of state, designs for panels include similar foliate scrolls, flower-filled urn and mannerist strapwork to that on the seat-rail, and throughout his designs there are images of the Dutch Royal crown as carved on the crest rail.
THE UPHOLSTERY by Lucy Wood
With the exception of the residual damask and its trimming of close nailing, the upholstery of this chair is entirely original. It is also highly idiosyncratic and possibly unique. The seat and back pads are each formed as a separate cushion of the finest down feathers encased in ticking, with raw exposed seams which are then nailed down to the chair-frame, over supporting upholstery layers. This method reflects the way in which fixed upholstery first evolved from the use of loose feather cushions on a solid wood chair. The transition was made in English practice in the early seventeenth century (as seen, for instance, in several chairs at Knole), but these rudimentary methods are very old-fashioned for the 1680s.
The supporting upholstery of the chair is equally unusual. In the seat this consists of a base cloth nailed down to the seat frame, with interlaced webbing nailed down on top – an eccentric reversal of normal practice (with webbing supporting a base cloth). On top of this foundation is a thin layer of straw, on which the down-filled ticking pad rests. The supporting upholstery of the back is similar, with a base cloth first, possibly webbing over this, and then a thin layer of straw behind the ticking pad.
Despite these eccentric techniques, the cushion-pads themselves are skilfully constructed. The ticking case of the seat pad is made from several carefully shaped panels, contrived to achieve a plumper form and to navigate the legs at the corners. The back pad, conversely, is encased in two simple panels of ticking at front and back, sewn together; but through this run three horizontal rows of stitching, evenly spaced between top and bottom, evidently designed to keep the down filling in position (with notable success for over 300 years). The arm pads are likewise formed as separate down-filled ticking cases, with raw exposed seams nailed down to the frame.
The skilful construction of the down-filled back and seat pads is very much in keeping with the sophisticated carving and gilding, which is persuasively attributed to Thomas Roberts. Yet the upholstery construction as a whole is anachronistic and (in the case of the webbing and base cloth) perhaps misunderstood, and it is wholly untypical of normal, high-quality London upholstery of the late 17th or early 18th century. This anomaly compounds the mystery of the chair’s origin, particularly if it is indeed the ‘Dutch Chaire’ for which a special protective case was ordered in 1690. While early Dutch upholstery awaits detailed study, we may speculate whether the chair could have been upholstered in Holland, or perhaps by a Dutch immigrant in London – and this in turn raises questions about all the circumstances of its commissioning and fabrication. This extraordinary chair richly deserves further exploration and research.
Christie’s would like to thank Lucy Wood for her paper on the upholstery and her comments on the compilation of this note.