The furniture at Knole
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 which had fallen out of favour in the new, more restrained and Protestant court.
A vast collection of chairs, footstools, sofas and beds dating as far back as James I was loaded on to six wagons and sent to Knole, where they were placed in the showrooms and galleries. 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.
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 known as Chairs of State and were used as thrones. From here the king of the day would give audience.
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 the most privileged guests.
There are two state beds at Knole: the King James II Bed, made in blue-green velvet for the King in 1688; and the gold and silver King’s Room Bed, probably made for King James II while he was still Duke of York.
A third very important bed is the Spangle Bed, named after the silver-gilt sequins, now tarnished, that were sewn by their thousands onto the red satin of the curtains.
The Knole sofa
Built after 1660, the original Knole sofa, which launched a thousand imitations across the world, is covered in its original red velvet. It's currently kept behind glass in the Museum Room, in environmentally stable conditions. 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 sofa, sitting beneath a canopy in a state dressing room, beyond her bedchamber in the palace.