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Influence of Norman Civilisation



The gradual influence of Norman civilisation, however, had its effect, though the unsettled state of the country prevented any rapid development of industrial arts. The feudal system, by which every powerful baron became a petty sovereign, often at war with his neighbour, rendered it necessary that household treasures should be few and easily transported or hidden, and the earliest oak chests which are still preserved date from about this time. Bedsteads were not usual, except for kings, queens, and great ladies; tapestry covered the walls, and the floors were generally sanded. As the country became more calm, and security for property more assured, this comfortless state of living disappeared; the dress of the ladies was richer, and the general habits of the upper classes were more refined. Stairs were introduced into houses, the "parloir" or "talking room" was added, and fire places of brick or stonework were made in some of the rooms, where previously the smoke was allowed to escape through an aperture in the roof. Bedsteads were carved and draped with rich hangings. Armoires made of oak and enriched with carvings, and "Presses" date from about the end of the eleventh century.

It was during the reign of Henry III., 1216-1272, that wood-panelling was first used for rooms, and considerable progress generally appears to have been made about this period. Eleanor of Provence, whom the King married in 1236, encouraged more luxury in the homes of the barons and courtiers. Mr. Hungerford Pollen has quoted a royal precept which was promulgated in this year, and it plainly shews that our ancestors were becoming more refined in their tastes. The terms of this precept were as follows, viz., "The King's great chamber at Westminster to be painted a green colour like a curtain, that in the great gable or frontispiece of the said chamber, a French inscription should be painted, and that the King's little wardrobe should be painted of a green colour to imitate a curtain."

In another 100 or 150 years we find mediaeval Art approaching its best period, not only in England, but in the great Flemish cities, such as Bruges and Ghent, which in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries played so important a part in the history of that time. The taste for Gothic architecture had now well set in, and we find that in this, as in every change of style, the fashion in woodwork naturally followed that of ornament in stone; indeed, in many cases it is more than probable that the same hands which planned the cathedral or monastery also drew the designs for furniture, especially as the finest specimens of wood carving were devoted to the service of the church.

The examples, therefore, of the woodwork of this period to which we have access are found to be mostly of Gothic pattern, with quaint distorted conceptions of animals and reptiles, adapted to ornament the structural part of the furniture, or for the enrichment of the panels.





















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