History of British Furniture & Reigning Monarchs
September 21st 2022
Henry VII 1485-1509
Henry VIII 1509-1547
Edward VI 1547-1553
Mary I 1553-1558
Elizabeth I 1558-1603
Sub Period – Elizabethan 1558-1603
The house of Tudor was an English Royal house founded by Henry VII who ruled from 1485 through 1509. The Tudors originally descended from the Tudors of Penmynydd, Wales and succeeded the house of Plantagenet as rulers of the kingdom of England. The first monarch, Henry VII of England, descended through his mother from a legitimised branch of the English royal House of Lancaster, a cadet house of the Plantagenets. The Tudor family rose to power in the wake of the war of the roses which left the Tudor-aligned House of Lancaster extinct in the male line. Most recognisable is the Tudor rose, which is a combination of the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.
The Tudor Rose
By Sodacan This W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Inkscape. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12740207
Elizabethan furniture became increasingly popular during the era as open plan entertaining became prominent. Typically, during the Tudor period heavy dark oak was used when constructing furniture, however the Elizabethans started to move away from this wood and moved towards a slightly lighter and more elegant Walnut. Complete with heavily carved theming on most surfaces the furniture became a staple and instantly recognised even today. During this time four poster beds truly became a fine art.
Credit: An extremely rare and documented Elizabeth I oak so-called Glastonbury chair, west country Circa 1570. Bonhams “The Oak Interior Sale” 19th February 2020 Lot 116 www.bonhams.com
James I 1567-1625
Charles I 1600-1649
Sub periods – Jacobean 1603-1625, Caroline 1625-1649, Interregnum 1649-1660
Charles II 1660-1685
James II 1660-1685
William III 1689-1702
Mary II 1689-1694
Sub Period – Restoration 1660-1714, William & Mary Period, Queen Anne Period
The Stuart period began with James I and ended with Queen Anne in 1714. It was a very different period to the previous Tudor period displaying newly found techniques with inlay, veneer and exceptional colouring. The era was plagued with internal and religious strife, and a civil war which resulted in the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The interregnum, largely under the control of Oliver Cromwell were active during this time even though the Stuarts were in exile. Cromwell’s regime collapsed and Charles II took back the throne in 1660. Cromwell’s short-lived republic is still today the only one we have known in the United Kingdom. Due to the large-scale disruption a strong court culture emerged and with that a refinement in the design and production of fine furniture.
Credit: William and Mary Walnut oyster veneered cabinet-on-stand. Lyon and Turnbull Auctioneers Edinburgh, Scotland www.lyonandturnbull.com
The “William and Mary” era is highly regarded in the trade. The huge influence of William of Orange – William III. Born in Binnenhof, The Hague, Netherlands gave a helping hand to the English furniture style and was widely embraced showing inclusion of Dutch taste. Furniture transitioned away from a bulkier, heavy and dark medieval style to a refined, elegant and more comfortable style. Padding and upholstery became prominent in this era along with splayed legs making furniture less likely to fall over and more ergonomically designed chairs giving more fitment for the body when seated.
George I 1714-1727
George II 1727-1760
George III 1760-1820
George IV 1820-1830
William IV 1830-1837
Sub periods – Georgian 1714-1837, Regency 1811-1820
The Georgian era, named after the Hanoverian Kings George I-IV. It included multiple popular areas when talking antiques referred to as; The Rococo, Chippendale Style, Neoclassical and The Regency period, . Regency was defined by the regency of George IV as Prince of Wales during the illness of his father George III. The definition of the Georgian era is often extended to include the short reign of William IV which ended with his death in 1837. During this era, it was a time of immense social change with the industrial revolution, agriculture revolution, the beginnings of integrated transportation systems and the emergence of rival political parties. The era was not without warfare, with France as the primary enemy. The most well-known episodes known as the Seven Years’ War. Britain won the majority of the wars except the American Revolution due to the combined forces of the United states, France, Spain and the Netherlands. The loss of 13 American colonies was a national disaster, however expansion into Asia was very successful largely down to the British East India Company and Captain James Cook probably the most prominent geographical explorer.
Credit: A William Kent Chair with ornate gilded features taken from the Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth House www.chatsworth.org
Georgian era furniture was known to include influences from around the world. William Kent was known as one of the most prominent names in the period. Kent introduced the Palladian style of architecture into England. He was particularly influenced by Italian baroque and Palladian style. See ‘William Kent: designing Georgian Britain’ article online at the Victorian and Albert Museum. Kent using his inspiration from Italy began to introduce gilt wood into Georgian furniture and added flares of brightly coloured upholstery coupled with elaborate scrolling motif arms and legs. This style of furniture was boldly favoured over Anglo-Dutch of the Stuart era after the death of Queen Anne in 1714.
Credit: A George III Parcel-Gilt Padouk and Marquetry Secretaire-Cabinet by Thomas Chippendale Circa 1775. Christies Thomas Chippendale: 300 Years Sale 16839 2018 Lot 20 www.christies.com
The other prominent name which put certified stables into British furniture making was Thomas Chippendale. Chippendale much like Kent revolutionised furniture how we see it today with many different artistic flares, carving and designs. Whilst Kent was active during the early Georgian period Chippendale worked roughly in the 1750’s – 1770’s with his works published in his own book named ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director’. Chippendale much like Kent continued with the gilt wood theme in a lot of his works. He used newly seen techniques, expensive materials and had a great understanding of the structure, movement and style of furniture which gave him a huge advantage over his time. Chippendale was known to purposely build ‘beathing’ space into his furniture to allow movement of the wood while also having a ‘unique’ self-levelling system for his desks. Chippendale built his furniture to such a high standard a lot of the pieces have withstood the test of time.
The Victorian Era was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign from 20th June 1837 until her death on 22nd January 1901. Following the Georgian era this period began morally and politically with the Reform act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodists, and Evangelical wing of the established church of England. Ideologically, the Victorian era witnessed resistance to the rationalism that defined the Georgian period and a noticeable turn towards romanticism and mysticism with regard to religion, social values and art. This coupled with a huge advance in in technology and innovation saw Britain make huge gain towards power and prosperity. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made Britain the largest empire in history. During this time Britain was not involved in any armed conflict with another major power.
Credit: Victorian rosewood cabinet fitted with a grey veined white marble top. Dreweatts Auctioneers. www.dreweatts.com
The Victorian Era saw a change in fashion and wealth with more people becoming wealthy and demanding that they also looked wealthy. A change in trends meant that rooms were now filled with furniture and a less minimalistic approach was taken. Much of the hand labour was beginning to be replaced with machines due to the industrial revolution and a large gap was created between the designer and craftsmen. The factory process changed and typically the designer no longer had direct contact with the customer. Demand was extremely high, and this pushed the factories to increase output, designers trying to make their mark above others and overall a lesser quality design compared to previous periods. Machines were only able to make a certain design/quality and therefore due to the speed furniture was tailored to the machine and not the quality of the craftsmen.
Typically, the Victorian era was full of ‘revival’ or ‘reproduction’ pieces which typically lacked design and innovation. Dark wood was favoured for the creating of furniture such as mahogany, rosewood and walnut. Angular lines and shapes were preferred to elaborate scrolling designs in the past however due to the reproduction element a large portion of carved scrolling furniture was still remade. A typical feature of the Victorian period was upholstery, the Victorians enjoyed a largely covered seating area with plump cushioning, frills and tassels. This would also be seen across a range of furniture in areas to brighten up the piece or for additional uniqueness.
Edward VII 1901-1910
The Edwardian Era so named after the reign of King Edward VII from 1901-1910 and often expanded to the start of the First World War. It began following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and her successor Edward VII took reign already a leader of the fashionable elite that set a style influence by the art of fashions of continental Europe. Samuel Hynes an American author described the Edwardian era as a “leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag.”. There was a growing political awareness among the working class, leading to a rise in many trade unions across Britain, the Labour movement and demands for better working condition. The aristocracy remained in control of top government offices. The Edwardian era was the last period in British history to be named after the reigning monarch.
Credit: An Edwardian Painted and Caned Settee. Bonhams European Style 20 October 2020 Lot 165 www.bonhams.com
Similar to the Victorian era a large proportion of Edwardian furniture was ‘revival/reproduction’ of early periods. However, unlike many other periods that are associated with different styles, the Edwardian era produced a very eclectic variety, and is not strictly tied to one particular element. The Edwardian era historically is viewed as a more free-spirited era and took departure from a dark, angular and more restrictive Victorian era. As Great Britain’s society began to change, furniture manufacturing also did to reflect this. It became more mobile, multi-faceted and eclectic with the introduction of lighter materials such as wicker and bamboo. Upholstery unlike during the Victorian era became less frequent and often not at all, with pale colours and floral inspiration.
The Edwardian era was followed by First World War, Interwar Britain, Second World War, Post war Britain and the Modern Era.