The collections at Knole

Portaits in the Brown Gallery

This article was written in 2016 and is currently being updated.

Charles, 6th Earl of Dorset, made the most of the perks of his job. The ‘perquisites’ of being chamberlain to William and Mary included the right to dispose of the flamboyant Stuart furniture that had fallen out of favour in the new, more restrained Protestant court.

The perks of the job

Charles, 6th Earl of Dorset, gathered together a vast collection of chairs, footstools, sofas and beds belonging to monarchs dating as far back as James I.  These chattels were loaded on to six wagons and sent to Knole, where they were placed on display in the rooms and galleries.
" They are lovely, silent rows for ever holding out their arms and for ever disappointed."
- Vita Sackville-West (Knole and the Sackvilles)

The importance of furniture

Underneath many seats are printed the marks HC (for Hampton Court) or WP (for Whitehall Palace) – the great Tudor powerhouse that burned down in 1698 and of which the Knole collections contain the last survivors.
Furniture, mostly now mass produced, has lost its intense association with wealth and status. The furniture at Knole would be among the most expensive status objects of their time, the result of thousands of artisan hours, the finest woods, the most expensive fabrics, drawn from across the known world.
Not only the price, but the significance of furniture has also diminished over the centuries, and we now struggle to understand the reverence that a chair might have commanded or its association with rank and privilege. Although the legacy of the importance is to be found in the title Chair – as in Chair of the Board.

The X-frame chairs

Among the most important pieces and sets of furniture at Knole are the X-framed armchairs, fashioned on folding Roman military chairs taken on campaign. Placed beneath a canopy and accompanied by stools and footstools, these chairs were know as Chairs of State and were used as thrones. From here the king of the day would give audience.

The Knole settee

Built after 1660, the original Knole settee (which launched a thousand imitations across the world) is covered in its original red velvet. This, too, would have been used almost like a chair of state. It is possible that a post-restoration queen would have received guests on the settee, sitting beneath a canopy in a state dressing-room, beyond her bed chamber in the palace. The Knole settee is on display in the Leicester Gallery, currently kept behind glass to preserve it in environmentally stable conditions. 
The original Knole sofa: ancestor to the modern sofa
The original Knole sofa: ancestor to the modern sofa
The original Knole sofa: ancestor to the modern sofa

The state beds

Other extraordinary pieces of furniture, unmatched anywhere in the world, are the state beds. Again, their use and status in the royal palaces would have been more formal than beds as we use them today, with the bedroom and its dressing room acting as receiving rooms for very privileged guests. 
There are three extremely important beds at Knole: the Spangled Bed, named after the silver-gilt sequins, now tarnished, that were sewn by their thousands into the red satin of the curtains; the King James II Bed, made in blue green velvet for the king in 1688 (‘Green and gold…of all rooms I never saw a room that so had over it a bloom like the bloom on a bowl of grapes and figs’ (Vita Sackville-West, Knole and the Sackvilles); and the gold and silver King’s Room bed, probably made for King James II while he was still Duke of York.
Please note that the Spangled Bed has been dismantled for conservation and has been packed into boxes, ready to be sent away.  The complex conservation work is likely to take around two years.
Please click here to find out more about the restoration of the Spangled Bed.
The Spangled Bedroom at Knole
The 400-year-old Spangled Bed has been dismantled at Knole, a National Trust property in Kent, to be sent away for conservation.
The Spangled Bedroom at Knole