The Mayor’s Chair

By David Bourne

The Mayor’s Chair in Rye Town Hall provides an interesting conundrum as to its origins. I knew that I had seen the Coat of Arms, that were emblazonned on the back, somewhere before.I found it in my copy of “The Art of Heraldry” which is an encyclopedia of armoury by Arthur Fox-Davies. The chair was obviously not made for the Mayor of Rye, but from where did it originate?Chair

There was a report of an assessment of its value and origin in the Rye Observer some years ago but the only comment that was made was that the leather carving was machine made. There was no mention of whose coat of arms was on the back. I am not sure there was an estimate of its age.

Prior to that mention in the press I had asked various members of Rye Town |Council if they knew anything about the chair’s origins but none of them replied to my letters. I recently wrote to Town Clerk Richard Farhall, he replied saying that there were no mentions of it in the Town’s records.

The coat of arms is that of Albrecht Durer. He is described as not only one of the greatest painters but is of the first rank of heraldic artists of his time (1471 – 1578). As with most heraldic art there are references to names and trades or professions within the coat of arms. His father was a goldsmith which may account for the amount of gold in the coloration. The surname is derived from “Thure” (doors) hence Durer and the doors on the shield.

Heraldic colours are gold=or, silver=argent, red=gules, blue=azure, black=sable and green=vert. The colour of the background to the shield is red with three mountains at the bottom, that is the rounded outlines, either gold or green.

The open golden doors not only refers to the family name but also the trade of goldsmith that Durer the Elder followed. The doors open through a gate with, possibly a silver roof. The mantling of the helmet and the shield is red and gold. The wreath is the twisted red and gold cloth circlet from which the wings spout and on which the crest, the demi-negro, sits.

I cannot fathom why the black man should be the crest or why he is rendered without arms. The jacket that he wears is red with lapels of gold. The hat is of the same colour combination with turned up brim being of gold. The wings are either gold or silver. Silver is also another precious metal worked by goldsmiths. When rendered into colour the arms would be very impressive.

The date of 1523 may be the date that Albrecht Durer made the engraving as his initials are below the date.Chair2



Above : A monochrome photograph of the carved leather coat of arms
which decorates the Mayor's Chair in Rye Town Hall 
Left : The Heraldic Coat of Arms from "The Art of Heraldry" by Arthur

If the leather is machine carved then it suggests that this is one of several chairs that were “mass” produced. Otherwise there would be no reason to go to the extent of producing the armature that produced the engraving, but as coats of arms are jealously guarded it is hardly likely that the “mass” production was for sale on the general market. So was this a chair, one of a presumably large set, that had been ‘liberated’ from its original home in Germany during one of the continental wars or was it a generous gift to Rye Town Council from someone who had bought it when the original set to which it belonged was sold, possibly individually?

Patently the connection with anything in Rye must have been tenuous. Someone must know the answer as to when, and where from, this chair came to Rye. It is also interesting that my original inquiries were met with a blank wall, no one replied to me despite my enclosing SAEs.

 “Rye’s Own” January 2006

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