Time of Charles I
It is very probable that had the reign of Charles I. been less troublous, this would have been a time of much progress in the domestic-arts in England. The Queen was of the Medici family, Italian literature was in vogue, and Italian artists therefore would probably have been encouraged to come over and instruct our workmen. The King himself was an excellent mechanic, and boasted that he could earn his living at almost any trade save the making of hangings. His father had established the tapestry works at Mortlake; he himself had bought the Raffaelle Cartoons to encourage the work - and much was to be hoped from a monarch who had the taste and judgment to induce a Vandyke to settle in England. The Civil War, whatever it has achieved for our liberty as subjects, certainly hindered by many years our progress as an artistic people.
But to consider some of the furniture of this period in detail. Until the sixteenth century was well advanced the word "table" in our language meant an index or pocket book (tablets), or a list, not an article of furniture. The table was, as we have noticed in the time of Elizabeth, composed of boards generally hinged in the middle for convenience of storage, and supported on trestles which were sometimes ornamented by carved work. The word trestle, by the way, is said to be derived from the "threstule," i.e., three-footed supports, and these three legged stools and benches formed in those days the seats for everyone except the master of the house. Chairs were, as we have seen, scarce articles; sometimes there was only one, a throne-like seat for an honoured guest or for the master or mistress of the house, and doubtless our present phrase of "taking the chair" is a survival of the high place a chair then held amongst the household gods of a gentleman's mansion. Shakespeare possibly had the boards and trestles in his mind when, about 1596, he wrote in "Romeo and Juliet " -
"Come, musicians, play!
A hall! a. hall! give room and foot it, girls.
More light, ye knaves, and turn the tables up."
And as the scene in "King Henry the Fourth" is placed some years earlier than that of "Romeo and Juliet," it is probable that "table" had then its earlier meaning, for the Archbishop of York is made to say: -
". . . . . The King is weary
Of dainty and such picking grievances;
And, therefore, will he wipe his tables clean,
And keep no tell-tale to his memory."
Mr. Maskell, in his handbook on "Ivories," tells us that the word "table was also used, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, to denote the religious carvings and paintings in churches; and he quotes Chaucer to show that the word was also used to describe the game of draughts."
"They dancen and they play at chess and tables."
Now, however, at the time of which we are writing, chairs were becoming more plentiful and the table was a definite article of furniture. In inventories of the time and for some twenty years previous, as has been already noticed in the preceding chapter, we find mention of "joyned table," framed table, "standing" and "dormant" table, and the word "board" had gradually disappeared. It remains to us, however, as a souvenir of the past, in the name we still give to a body of men meeting for the transaction of business, and, in connection with social life, in the phrase "the festive board." The width of these earlier tables had been about 30 inches, and guests sat on one side only, with their backs to the wall, in order, it may be supposed, to be the more ready to resist any sudden raid which might be made on the house during the relaxation of the supper hour, and this custom remained in use long after there was any necessity for its observance.
In the time of Charles the First the width was increased, and a contrivance was introduced for doubling the area of the top when required, by drawing out two flaps from either end, and by means of a wedge-shaped-arrangement, the centre or main table top was lowered, and the whole table, thus increased, became level. Illustrations taken from Mr. G. T. Robinson's article on furniture in the "Art Journal" of 1881, represent a "Drawinge table," which was the name by which these "latest improvements" were known. The black lines were of stained pear tree, let into the oak: the acorn shaped member of the leg is an imported Dutch design, which became very common about this time, and was applied to the supports of cabinets, sometimes as in the illustration, plainly turned, but frequently carved. Another table of this period was the "folding table," which was made with twelve, sixteen, or with twenty legs, as shewn in the illustration of this example, and which, as its name implies, would shut up into about one third of its extended size. There is one of these tables in the Stationers' Hall.
It was probably in the early part of the seventeenth century that the Couch became known in England. It was not common, nor quite in the form in which we now recognize that luxurious article of furniture, but was probably a carved oak settle, with cushions so arranged as to form a resting lounge by day. Shakespeare speaks of the "branch'd velvet gown" of Malvolio having come from a "day bed," and there is also an allusion to one in Richard III (The following passage occurs in one of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays: - "Is the great Couch up, the Duke of Medina sent?" to which the duenna replies, "'Tis up and ready;" and then Marguerite asks, "And day beds in all chambers?" receiving in answer, " In all, lady.").
In a volume of "Notes and Queries" there is a note which would shew that the lady's wardrobe of this time (1622) was a very primitive article of furniture. Mention is made there of a list of articles of wearing apparel belonging to a certain Lady Elizabeth Morgan, sister to Sir Nathaniel Rich, which, according to the old document there quoted, dated the 13th day of November, 1622, "are to be found in a great bar'd chest in my Ladie's Bedchamber." To judge from this list, Lady Morgan was a person of fashion in those days. We may also take it for granted that beyond the bedstead, a prie-dieu chair, a bench, some chests, and the indispensable mirror, there was not much else with which to furnish a lady's bedroom in the reign of James I. or that of his successor.