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St Edward’s Chair in the Queen Mary Psalter

Kathryn A. Smith (notes)

Abstract

The Queen Mary Psalter (British Library, Royal MS. 2 B. VII), probably made c. 1310-20 for a royal recipient, is among the most lavishly illuminated manuscripts produced in late medieval England.  This study focuses principally on a single picture in the Psalter’s Old Testament preface showing the prophet Nathan’s reproof of a repentant King David, and it identifies in that picture what is ostensibly the earliest surviving depiction of St Edward’s Chair, now commonly known as the Coronation Chair, made at the end of the thirteenth century on the order of Edward I.  The drawing and its Anglo-Norman French caption are examined for the evidence they offer concerning a range of artistic and political issues, among them the chair’s possible use in the coronation of Edward II in 1308.  This study then widens its focus to consider the depiction in the preface of a second artifact associated with the coronation rite:  the dove-topped rod or virga, held by the Egyptian pharaoh in a scene in the Joseph story.  The essay concludes with speculations concerning the messages that these two topical treatments of biblical history might have conveyed to their presumed royal reader-viewer(s) about the nature and limits of royal authority.

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