The King's Seat and Table

Fragments from the King's Table

Pieces of the medieval King's High Table, hidden for more than 300 years, were discovered when archaeologists working in Westminster Hall unearthed a rare find.

Fragments from the King's Table

A renovation project in 2006 which set out to level eight of the massive flight of stone steps across the south end of the hall led to the archaeological dig. Beneath the steps, fragments of the King's Table - a symbol of royal authority and the power of law - were discovered.

King's High Table

Like the crown, the King's Table represented royal might, and was used by the Kings and Queens of England for more than 300 years. Among the 17 monarchs who used the table were King Henry V, King Richard III, King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

Coronations and banquets

At this table the King or Queen took possession of their kingdom and were acclaimed by the lords before their Coronation in Westminster Abbey.

The monarch was presented with the crown, sceptres and other symbols of royal power. The lavish coronation breakfasts and banquets were served to the King or Queen at the table. The early forms of English law were laid down by the judges, and from here the rule of law spread throughout the world.


Video about the King's High Table

Watch a video explaining the functions and importance of the King's High Table in Westminster Hall.

 

From wood to marble

The original table would have been a simple wooden construction. It is thought that this would have been transported around the country wherever the monarch and the court wished to travel.

By the middle of the 1200s the court was more permanently settled at Westminster. The King's Table was replaced by a much heavier, fixed version, made from dark Purbeck Marble as a result of interior refurbishment commissioned by King Henry III in the 1250s. The table may have originally measured about 12ft (3.66m) long, 3ft (0.9m) wide and 3ft (0.9m) high.

The sturdy King's Table now became an important symbol of authority. It represented the source of royal judgement. The King or Queen sat here as the head of the court, with the Lord Chancellor taking their place if they were away.

Table repairs

Over the next 300 years, extra pieces of stone were introduced to extend and repair the original Purbeck Marble table. These additions were made from different types of stone, and in new styles.

The first phase of these alterations relates to King Edward II's coronation in 1307. More extensive work was done at the end of the 14th century . Further developments to the table took place in the late 15th century.

Courts of King's Bench and Chancery

Eventually, at the Reformation under King Henry VIII, in the mid 16th century the table became concealed by the wooden enclosures of the Courts of Chancery and King's Bench. It disappeared completely at the time of the Civil War in about 1649.

It is thought that the old King's table and bench, so central to the early courts, were removed and broken up in the 1600s. The courts of law continued in the hall until 1820, when they were taken away and set up in new buildings nearby.

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