THE EARLY BRITISH STOOL
A Brief History, A Little Trivia, & What's Available Today :
Likely the first place for man-and-woman-kind to rest their seats
was a well shaped rock - most hopefully with a smooth concave surface!
Obviously, we have no records of that event.
But somewhere early in pre-history (and well before the backed chair), came
the very earliest form of furniture - 'the stool',
accommodating all bottoms,
from the 'humblest' sitter, warming ...
to the 'holiest' of scribes, writing ...
... and anyone in between.
Note above - there were even stools for lowly feet!
Most that we know about the 'ancient' stools comes from ancient art and artifacts,
whilst about 'Medieval' stools, from illuminations, as those shown
Of particular importance regarding 'early British stools' are the Neolithic stone stools unearthed
at Scotland's Orkney Islands 'Skara Brae', the settlement dating from 3,200-2,500 BC.
That dating interestingly parallels the introduction of Mesopotamian and Egyptian stools -
the stool also considered the earliest furniture from the Egyptian culture.
As well, during Egypt's Second Dynasty (c2890 - 2686 BC),
a low back was added to the stool -
such backed stools originally reserved for royalty and high ranking citizens.
This important 'custom' survived in part until the 18th century.
regarding that 'custom' further on...**).
Following, during the Greco-Roman societies, both 'stool' and 'backed' chair enjoyed a rich life,
with sophisticated and elegant designs - the x-form, 'curule', fluting to legs, animal feet, etc.
The 'curule' stool was even a seating of choice for Emperors on Roman Imperial coinage.
However, to the 5th century nomadic conquerors of Roman grandeur,
stools (and chairs) meant little or nothing.
They were apparently used to squatting, continuing their tradition well into the post-Roman era.
For several hundred years after fall of Rome, the average household seating
might be a handy bucket or small chest - or simply, the floor.
The once proud stool became a crude utilitarian furnishing, raised on either 3 or 4 peg legs -
3 (as shown in the first illumination) sitting better on uneven Medieval floors.
A bit later, the stool's plank seat was supported by upright 'boarded' and pegged ends.
exception was the
which even in the 9th and 10th centuries,
might serve as an elegant 'throne', cushioned and draped with the very finest silk.
illumination below depicts a
stool' with animal feet,
from the 'Old English Hexateuch', 11-12th century.
The Early Renaissance :
From the late 15th century (1400s) throughout the Renaissance,
stools - both lowly household and aristocratic - were on the 'aesthetic' rise again.
Finer stools could feature intricate geometric Gothic designs, or
well carved portrait medallions :
Stools were even being included in Royal wills.
The Royal Palaces of Henry VIII (1509-47) listed
"large numbers (of stools) covered
with velvet, silk or cloth of gold, embroidered with the King's arms and richly fringed".
Below is a rare c1540 oak Henry VIII 'box stool', and a c1600 embroidered cushion cover,
the metallic threads depicting "wild and garden flowers and plants", each specimen encased
in a heart, the border retaining part of its original gilt lace trim. (the cover, V&A Museum)
**And with this finery remained the aforementioned 'custom' :
a 'Court Tabouret Etiquette' .
The chair, or 'stool with a back', was still regarded as a 'symbol of authority',
and reserved for the monarch, or master of the house and distinguished strangers.
'Court rules of etiquette' governed the allotments of seating (on stools, or 'tabourets'),
even determining that a lady's right to sit on a stool in the presence of the monarch "
depended upon the rank or position of the lady's husband ".
This privilege was lost at his death unless great exertions were made to retain it.
Even during the 17th century reign of Charles II, 'tabouret etiquette' has been described
"extremely strict", not only in Court, but in the private house!**
17th Century :
"Lathe using spring bow and device to allow eccentric turning"
From Jacques Besson 'Theatre des Instrumens', Lyons, 1593
During the 1500s,
the joint, or "joyned", stool had remained the predominant form, made by
of mortise and tenon
construction, with sturdy splayed and sometimes carved legs.
About 1600, leg
i.e. wood being worked and chiseled into balusters,
balls, bobbins, etc.,
whilst turning on a lathe by a
- was introduced for the joint stool.
'Turning' patterns had actually arrived into England from Byzantium (Turkey),
possibly as early at 1300, by way of Anglo-Saxon and Swedish 'Varangian Guards'
(the 'trustworthy' northern European bodyguards to Byzantine Emperors)***.
These turnings could be simple or extremely complex, first primarily applied to stool legs.
also gave rise to the
originally a backless stool with one turned leg extended upwards, and wide flat seat pad.
By the mid-1600s, the single upright had expanded to two uprights,
resulting in the rectangular 'backstool'.
In addition to turned legs, backstools usually had turned stretchers and uprights,
the rectangular backs with turning and carving identifiable to their individual 'regions'.
The name "backstool" was used to describe single 'side chairs' for many years to come.
As well, during the mid-1600's, Charles II returned to the British throne from France,
bringing with him both Continental tastes - and craftsmen.
This combination of tastes and construction resulted in a new exuberance for stools,
with rich upholstery and often florid carving to their frames and large stretchers
evolution in turning is illustrated :
a c1620 Charles I turned joint stool;
a 1680 Charles II turned and joined oak backstool, Yorkshire;
and a c1685 Charles II
turned and carved oak and walnut upholstered stool.
18th Century :
The 'joiners' and 'turners' of the 16th & 17th centuries were succeeded in the 18th
by England's community of fine 'cabinetmakers' - as
William Kent, Thomas Chippendale, Ince and Mayhew, and Robert Adam, to name just a few.
The skills and attention to detail of these incredible craftsmen imbued stools
with the full elegance of their earlier years, plus more :
exquisite forms, sometimes with subtle simplicity, sometimes delicacy,
sometimes grandeur, sometimes extravagance,
but always with great a sense of artistry.
Drawings for "Lady's Dressing Stools", 1759-63, Ince & Mayhew
Stools Available Today :
Very few stools remain from the 16th century. The above Henry VIII
box stool is a rare survivor.
Fortunately, 17th century stools are still available, even from the early 1600s -
joint, and boarded and pegged, carved, and with plank seat or upholstered.
During the early 18th century, the 'rules of etiquette' began to relax.
At the same time, chairs became both more available, as well as graceful.
Many inherited stools of the past were slowly cast aside for the new fashionable 'chair',
Thus early stools became rarer, and often more expensive, than the contemporary chair.
Personally, I find early stools among the most charming and versatile objects of British furniture.
They can serve as seating as well as tables, with a style for any taste or time period.
They are portable. Both the early oak and walnut are durable.
They can be simple, rustic, refined or even fancy.
And they bring with them the longest possible history of furniture use in the world.
EARLY STOOLS AVAILABLE FROM OUR COLLECTION :
(Listed Chronologically, c1670-1740)
Charles II Upholstered Oak Stool
with 'turned' legs and raised padding to the seat
English or Franco-Flemish Turned Walnut Long Stool c1680-90
with 'turned' legs and stretchers, the stretchers 'round into square'
William III / Queen Anne Turned & Upholstered Walnut Stool
the needlework seat above
'turned' legs and scrolled x-form stretchers
George II Upholstered Walnut Stool
with cabriole legs, raised padding and upholstery to the seat
George II Irish Upholstered & Carved Mahogany Stool
with cabriole legs,
protruding fetlocks, and a shaped apron centering
the mask of a
Celtic "Green Man"
AND THE 'BACKSTOOL' :
As described, in the mid-1600s, 'turners' began adding rectangular upright backs to stools.
And voila - the 'backstool'.
In the late 17th century, several international influences also enhanced English furniture,
adding options for chairs as caning and cyma-curved backs from China;
and c1700 via France, the curved
cabriole (goat's) leg (also stemming from early Rome)
The pair of backstools below is a Queen Anne interpretation,
still with 17th century rectangular upright backs and
but fully upholstered seat and back, front carved
and a wonderful early 18th century graceful
curved 'rake' to the back legs
Good Pair of Queen Anne Walnut Upholstered Back Stools
The front cabriole legs, intersected below the shoulder by a
ILLUSTRATIONS & NOTES OF INTEREST
(in order of viewing)
A Charles I Oak Joint Stool (at top), England, c1620, of substantial weight with fine patina;
From our 'sold' archives (click here to view)
A Peasant Warming by the Fire, "Manuscript, Book of Hours" (the 'Margaret de Foix Hours'),
France (Rennes?), ca. 1471-1476; France. Sitting beside a fire is a usual illustration for the month of 'February'.
MSL/1910/2385 folio 2 r, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
"Portrait of Ezra the Scribe, Folio 5r", at the start of Old Testament, from the Codex Amiatinus.
"When the sacred books had been consumed in the fires of war, Ezra repaired the damage.
"The Codex Amiatinus, is the earliest surviving manuscript of the nearly complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version.
It was produced in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria as a gift for the Pope, dating to the beginning of the 8th century.
(Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Amiatinus 1) WikiCommons
"Skara Brae" is a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the west coast of Mainland, Orkney archipelago of Scotland.
It was occupied from about 3180 BC to 2500 BC and is Europe's most complete Neolithic village.
It was uncovered by storms in 1913 and again in 1924. The dwellings contain a number of stone-built
pieces of furniture, including cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes.
Graeme Smith Photographer / Creative Commons
"Roman Denarius" (silver coin), Macrinus on a 'curule stool', ruling April 217- June 218 AD.
A 15th / early 16th-century 'curule seat' survives at York Minster, originally entirely covered with textiles.
This distinctive form found its way into both French and English fashion c1800, after Napoleonic Mediterranean campaigns
(Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles Auction)
"Old English Hexateuch", early 11th century Anglo-Saxon illustrated adaptation of the
first six books of the Bible, British Library, London
Henry VIII Oak Stool, Height 1' 6"; Length 2' 1", English Furniture, Age of Oak, Percival Macquoid,
pl.61b; Published 1919, Public Domain
Rare & Documented Henry VIII Boarded Oak Box-Stool, c1540, The Oak Interior,
Bonhams, Oxford, England (Bonhams)
Embroidered Cushion Cover, England, c1600, satin embroidered with silk and metal thread metal thread
in satin-stitch and couched-work, edged with silver-gilt bobbin lace, some spangles attached.
Probably London V&A T.21-1923, ©Victoria & Albert, London England
"Edward I Presiding Over Parliament c1278", Anonymous. Although this is not "court etiquette",
it depicts the structured seating, ostensibly on cushions or stools : the lords spiritual seated to the king's right,
the lords temporal to his left, in the centre, the justices and law officers. WikiCommons
"Lathe using spring bow and device to allow eccentric turning";
From Jacques Besson 'Theatre des Instrumens', Lyons, 1593, World History Archive (Alamy)
***The Varangian Guard (recruits from northern Europe, mainly Norsemen from Scandinavia, and
after 1066, Anglo-Saxons from England) was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army from the 10th to 14th century.
They served as personal bodyguards to the Byzantine Emperors as early as 874,
sought as they lacked local Byzantine political loyalties.
These early Scandinavian warriors navigated the many rivers of Eastern Europe, to Istanbul and beyond,
bringing Eastern artifacts and culture (including 'turning') back to Medieval Europe and England.
Perhaps the most famous of the Varangian Guards was Harald Hardrada,
who, as King of Norway, made a claim on the British Throne in 1066 - above, landing at York.
("The Life of King Edward the Confessor" 13th century), Public Domain
A c1620 Charles Joined Oak Stool; a Charles II joined oak backstool, c1680 Yorkshire; and
a Charles II Walnut & Upholstered Oak Stool, c1685, (Backstool & Upholstered Stool, Bonhams)
"Lady’s Dressing Stools, from Universal Systems", Ince & Mayhew, 1759-6,
"English Furniture, Vol. 3", Ralph Edwards, 1924, fig.73. Public Domain
Stock Photography : Millicent F. Creech