There is no greater storehouse for
specimens of furniture in use during the Jacobean period than Knole, that
stately mansion of the Sackville family, then the property of the Earls of
Dorset. In the King's Bedroom, which is said to have been specially prepared
and furnished for the visit of King James I., the public, owing to the
courtesy and generous spirit of the present Lord Sackville, can still see
the bed, originally of crimson silk, but now faded, elaborately embroidered
with gold. It is said to have cost £8,000, and the chairs and seats, which
are believed to have formed part of the original equipment of the room, are
in much the same position as they then occupied.
In the carved work of this furniture we
cannot help thinking the hand of the Venetian is to be traced, and it is
probable they were either imported or copied from a pattern brought over for
the purpose. A suite of furniture of that time appears to have consisted of
six stools and two arm chairs, almost entirely covered with velvet, having
the X form supports, which, so far as the writer's investigations have gone,
appear to have come from Venice. In the "Leicester" gallery at Knole there
is a portrait of the King;, painted by Mytens, seated on such a chair, and
just below the picture is placed the chair which is said to be identical
with the one portrayed. It is similar to the one reproduced on page 100 from
a drawing of Mr. Charles Eastlake's.
Seats at Knole. Covered with Crimson Silk
Velvet. Period: James I.
In the same gallery also are three sofas or
settees upholstered with crimson velvet, and one of these has an
accommodating rack, by which either end can be lowered at will, to make a
more convenient lounge.
Arm Chair. Covered with Velvet, Ringed with
Fringe and studded with Copper Nails. Early XVII. Century. (From a
Drawing of the Original at Knole, by Mr. Charles Eastlake.)
This excellent example of Jacobean furniture
has been described and sketched by Mr. Charles Eastlake in "Hints on
Household Taste." He says: "The joints are properly 'tenoned' and pinned
together in such a manner as to ensure its constant stability. The back is
formed like that of a chair, with a horizontal rail only at its upper edge,
but it receives additional strength from the second rail, which is
introduced at the back of the seat." In Marcus Stone's well-known picture of
"The Stolen Keys," this is the sofa portrayed. The arm chair illustrated
above is part of the same suite of furniture. The furniture of another room
at Knole is said to have been presented by King James to the first Earl of
Middlesex, who had married into the Dorset family. The author has been
furnished with a photograph of this room; and the illustration prepared from
this will give the reader a better idea than a lengthy description.
The "Spangle" Bedroom At Knole. The Furniture
of this room was presented by James I. to the Earl of Middlesex. (Front
a Photo by Mr. Corke, of Sevenoaks.)
It seems from the Knole furniture, and a
comparison of the designs with those of some of the tables and other
woodwork produced during the same reign, bearing the impress of the more
severe style of Inigo Jones, that there were then in England two styles of
decorative furniture. One of these, simple and severe, showing a reaction
from the grotesque freedom of Elizabethan carving, and the other, copied
from Venetian ornamental woodwork, with cupids on scrolls forming the
supports of stools, having these ornamental legs connected by stretchers the
design of which is, in the case of those in the King's Bedchamber at Knole,
a couple of cupids in a flying attitude holding up a crown. This kind of
furniture was generally gilt, and under the black paint of those at Knole
are still to be seen traces of the gold.
Mr. Eastlake visited Knole and made careful
examination and sketches of the Jacobean furniture there, and has well
described and illustrated it in his book just referred to; he mentions that
he found a slip of paper tucked beneath the webbing of a settle there, with
an inscription in Old English characters which fixed the date of some of the
furniture at 1620. In a letter to the writer on this subject, Mr. Lionel
Sackville West confirms this date by referring to the heirloom book, which
also bears out the writer's opinion that some of the more richly-carved
furniture of this time was imported from Italy.
In the Lady Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral
there is a monument of Dean Boys, who died in 1625. This represents the Dean
seated in his library, at a table with turned legs, over which there is a
tapestry cover. Books line the walls of the section of the room shown in the
stone carving; it differs little from the sanctum of a literary man of the
present day. There are many other monuments which represent furniture of
this period, and amongst the more curious is that of a child of King James
I., in Westminster Abbey, close to the monument of Mary Queen of Scots. The
child is sculptured about life size, in a carved cradle of the time.
In Holland House, Kensington,9
which is a good example of a Jacobean mansion, there is some oak enrichment
of the seventeenth century, and also a garden bench, with its back formed of
three shells and the legs shaped and ornamented with scroll work. Horace
Walpole mentions this seat, and ascribes the design to Francesco Cleyn, who
worked for Charles I. and some of the Court.
There is another Jacobean house of
considerable interest, the property of Mr. T.G. Jackson, A.R.A. An account
of it has been written by him, and was read to some members of the Surrey
Archaeological Society, who visited Eagle House, Wimbledon, in 1890. It
appears to have been the country seat of a London merchant, who lived early
in the seventeenth century. Mr. Jackson bears witness to the excellence of
the workmanship, and expresses his opinion that the carved and decorated
enrichments were executed by native and not foreign craftsmen. He gives an
illustration in his pamphlet of the sunk "Strap Work," which, though
Jacobean in its date, is also found in the carved ornament of Elizabeth's
Another relic of this time is the panel of
carved oak in the lych gate of St. Giles', Bloomsbury, dated 1638. This is a
realistic representation of "The Resurrection," and when the writer examined
it a few weeks ago, it seemed in danger of perishing for lack of a little
care and attention.
It is very probable that had the reign of
Charles I. been less troublous, this would have been a time of much progress
in the domestic arts in England. The Queen was of the Medici family, Italian
literature was in vogue, and Italian artists therefore would probably have
been encouraged to come over and instruct our workmen. The King himself was
an excellent mechanic, and boasted that he could earn his living at almost
any trade save the making of hangings. His father had established the
tapestry works at Mortlake; he himself had bought the Raffaele Cartoons to
encourage the work—and much was to be hoped from a monarch who had the
judgment to induce a Vandyke to settle in England. The Civil War, whatever
it has achieved for our liberty as subjects, certainly hindered by many
years our progress as an artistic people.
But to consider some of the furniture of this
period in detail. Until the sixteenth century was well advanced, the word
"table" in our language meant an index, or pocket book (tablets), or a list,
not an article of furniture; it was, as we have noticed in the time of
Elizabeth, composed of boards generally hinged in the middle for convenience
of storage, and supported on trestles which were sometimes ornamented by
carved work. The word trestle, by the way, is derived from the "threstule,"
i.e., three-footed supports, and these three-legged stools and benches
formed in those days the seats for everyone except the master of the house.
Chairs were, as we have seen, scarce articles; sometimes there was only one,
a throne-like seat for an honoured guest or for the master or mistress of
the house, and doubtless our present phrase of "taking the chair" is a
survival of the high place a chair then held amongst the household gods of a
gentleman's mansion. Shakespeare possibly had the boards and trestles in his
mind when, about 1596, he wrote in "Romeo and Juliet"—
"Come, musicians, play!
A hall! a hall! give room and foot it, girls,
More light, ye knaves, and turn the tables up."
And as the scene in "King Henry the Fourth"
is placed some years earlier than that of "Romeo and Juliet," it is probable
that "table" had then its earlier meaning, for the Archbishop of York says:—
"... The King is weary
Of dainty and such picking grievances;
And, therefore, will he wipe his tables clean
And keep no tell-tale to his memory."
Mr. Maskell, in his handbook on "Ivories,"
tells us that the word "table" was also used in the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries to denote the religious carvings and paintings in churches; and he
quotes Chaucer to show that the word was used to describe the game of
"They dancen and they
play at chess and tables."
Now, however, at the time of which we are
writing, chairs were becoming more plentiful and the table was a definite
article of furniture. In inventories of the time and for some twenty years
previous, as has been already noticed in the preceding chapter, we find
mention of "joyned table," framed table, "standing" and "dormant" table, and
the word "board" had gradually disappeared, although it remains to us as a
souvenir of the past in the name we still give to any body of men meeting
for the transaction of business, or in its more social meaning, expressing
festivity. The width of these earlier tables had been about 30 inches, and
guests sat on one side only, with their backs to the wall, in order, it may
be supposed, to be the more ready to resist any sudden raid, which might be
made on the house, during the relaxation of the supper hour, and this custom
remained long after there was any necessity for its observance.
In the time of Charles the First the width
was increased, and a contrivance was introduced for doubling the area of the
top when required, by two flaps which drew out from either end, and, by
means of a wedge-shaped arrangement, the centre or main table top was
lowered, and the whole table, thus increased, became level. Illustrations
taken from Mr. G.T. Robinson's article on furniture in the "Art Journal" of
1881, represent a "Drawinge table," which was the name by which these
"latest improvements" were known; the black lines were of stained pear tree,
let into the oak, and the acorn shaped member of the leg is an imported
Dutch design, which became very common about this time, and was applied to
the supports of cabinets, sometimes as in the illustration, plainly turned,
but frequently carved. Another table of this period was the "folding table,"
which was made with twelve, sixteen, or with twenty legs, as shewn in the
illustration of this example, and which, as its name implies, would shut up
into about one third its extended size. There is one of these tables in the
Couch, Arm Chair and Single Chair. Carved and
Gilt. Upholstered in rich Silk Velvet. Part of Suite at Penshurst Place.
Also an Italian Cabinet. Period: Charles II.
Folding Table at Penshurst Place. Period:
Charles II. to James II.
Table with Black Lines Inlaid. Period: Charles II.
It was probably in the early part of the
seventeenth century that the Couch became known in England. It was not
common, nor quite in the form in which we now recognize that luxurious
article of furniture, but was probably a carved oak settle, with cushions so
arranged as to form a resting lounge by day, Shakespeare speaks of the "branch'd
velvet gown" of Malvolio having come from a "day bed," and there is also an
allusion to one in Richard III.10
In a volume of "Notes and Queries" there is a
note which would show that the lady's wardrobe of this time (1622) was a
very primitive article of furniture. Mention is made there of a list of
articles of wearing apparel belonging to a certain Lady Elizabeth Morgan,
sister to Sir Nathaniel Rich, which, according to the old document there
quoted, dated the 13th day of November, 1622, "are to be found in a great
bar'd chest in my Ladie's Bedchamber." To judge from this list, Lady Morgan
was a person of fashion in those days. We may also take it for granted that
beyond the bedstead, a prie dieu chair, a bench, some chests, and the
indispensable mirror, there was not much else to furnish a lady's bedroom in
the reign of James I. or of his successor.
Theodore Hook's Chair.
Scrowled Chair in Carved Oak.
The "long settle" and "scrowled chair" were
two other kinds of seats in use from the time of Charles I. to that of James
II. The illustrations are taken from authenticated specimens in the
collection of Mr. Dalton, of Scarborough. They are most probably of
Yorkshire manufacture, about the middle of the seventeenth century. The
ornament in the panel of the back of the chair is inlaid work box or ash
stained to a greenish black to represent green ebony, with a few small
pieces of rich red wood then in great favour; and, says Mr. G. T. Robinson,
to whose article mentioned above we are indebted for the description,
"probably brought by some buccaneer from the West." Mr. Robinson mentions
another chair of the Stuart period, which formed a table, and subsequently
became the property of Theodore Hook, who carefully preserved its pedigree.
It was purchased by its late owner, Mr. Godwin, editor of "The Builder." A
woodcut of this chair is on p. 106.
Another chair which played an important part
in history is the one in which Charles I. sat during his trial; this was
exhibited in the Stuart Exhibition in London in 1889. The illustration is
taken from a print in "The Illustrated London News" of the time.
Chair Used by King Charles I. During His
In addition to the chairs of oak, carved,
inlaid, and plain, which were in some cases rendered more comfortable by
having cushions tied to the backs and seats, the upholstered chair, which we
have seen had been brought from Venice in the early part of the reign of
James I., now came into general use. Few appear to have survived, but there
are still to be seen in pictures of the period a chair represented as
covered with crimson velvet, studded with brass nails, the seat trimmed with
fringe, similar to that at Knole, illustrated on p. 100.
There is in the Historical Portrait Gallery
in Bethnal Green Museum, a painting by an unknown artist, but dated 1642, of
Sir William Lenthall, who was Speaker of the House of Commons, on the
memorable occasion when, on the 4th of January in that year, Charles I.
entered the House to demand the surrender of the five members. The chair on
which Sir William is seated answers this description, and is very similar to
the one used by Charles I. (illustrated on p. 107.)
Carved Oak Chair. Said to have been used by
Cromwell. (The original in the possession of T. Knollys Parr, Esq.)
Carved Oak Chair, Jacobean Style. (The
original in the Author's possession.)
Inlaid work, which had been crude and rough
in the time of Elizabeth, became more in fashion as means increased of
decorating both the furniture and the woodwork panelling of the rooms of the
Stuart period. Mahogany had been discovered by Raleigh as early as 1595, but
did not come into general use until the middle of the eighteenth century.
The importation of scarce foreign woods in
small quantities gave an impetus to this description of work, which in the
marqueterie of Italy, France, Holland, Germany, and Spain, had already made
Settle of Carved Oak. Probably made in
Yorkshire. Period: Charles II.
Within the past year, owing to the extensions
of the Great Eastern Railway premises at Bishopsgate Street, an old house of
antiquarian interest was pulled down, and generously presented by the
Company to the South Kensington Museum. It will shortly be arranged so as to
enable the visitor to see a good example of the exterior as well as some of
the interior woodwork of a quaint house of the middle of the seventeenth
century. This was the residence of Sir Paul Pindar, diplomatist, during the
time of Charles I., and it contained a carved oak chimney-piece, with some
other good ornamental woodwork of this period. The quaint and richly-carved
chimney-piece, which was dated 1600, and other decorative work, was removed
early in the present century, when the possessors of that time were making