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Medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan Antique Furniture (pre-1485, 1485-1603)

Medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan Antique Furniture (pre-1485, 1485-1603)
June 4, 2009 Chris

Anybody who knows antiques and the reproductions that follow them knows that familiarizing yourself with various antique furniture periods can be a big help. That’s why we decided to offer our readers a few useful summaries of the major furniture periods of England, starting with one of the first. This will be the first in a series of seven posts, so stick around!

Named after the long reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the Elizabethan period marks the end of the Tudor style, itself named after the Tudor monarchs, beginning with the accession of Henry VII in 1485 and ending with Queen Elizabeth herself (read more about Tudor history). For the most part, the Tudor style featured a replacement of medieval designs (which followed Roman models) by those that developed out of the Renaissance. Elizabethan period furniture did see a return to some of the older medieval and Gothic styles, manifested partly in the Elizabethan tendency to use heavy furniture.

Significantly, late Medieval and early Tudor styles of furniture, even more than the Jacobean furniture that succeeds them, developed virtually all of the basic furniture prototypes that we use today, including jointed frames and paneling rather than nailed planks. Frames built with jointed, lighter-cut woods rather than thick, nailed planks were less prone to warping and allowed for a greater variety in furniture designs, one of which was the development of the chest of drawers. Prior to that, chests and coffers (the latter of which is distinguished by its top, which was rounded to allow rain to run off) were the primary means of storage in the home and abroad.

Also, fixed-frame tables and chairs were popularized and further developed, whereas previously much furniture folded so that nobles could more easily travel about their various estates. Later designs like the drop leaf and gateleg table, which were developed and perfected in the Jacobean period, owe their folding designs to this precedent. Tudor craftsmen were the first to use upholstery, for which they used silk and other fabrics as well as leather. The use of inlays in addition to carvings was also developed during the 16th century. Inlay materials included ash, holly, sycamore, ebony, bog oak, fruit-wood, bone, ivory, and mother-of-pearl, most of which are still used today.