A 500-year-old chest owned by an amateur collector of early furniture has been identified as a wedding gift commissioned for the marriage of James IV and Margaret Tudor.
The oak chest was recently acquired by Aidan Harrison, who noticed carvings that led him to suspect it related to the 1503 wedding – one of the most pivotal moments in Scottish/English history. The oak chest features the famous love knot that came to symbolise the union, which can also be found in the Book of Hours commissioned for the celebration, and on the floor tiles for Linlithgow Palace, which James bestowed onto his bride.
Aidan took his initial research to leading art historian Professor Jane Geddes from the University of Aberdeen, who confirmed its provenance.
The marriage of the ‘Thistle and the Rose’, which took place at the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh on 8 August 1503, joined the ruling families of Scotland and England – the Stewarts and the Tudors – and would 100 years later put a Scottish king – James VI (and I) – on the English throne.
Prof Geddes said: “Aidan came to me and said ‘I think I’ve got something rather exciting here’, and he most certainly did. The carving and woodwork strongly point towards its creation for the wedding of King James IV and Margaret.
“As part of the celebration, an exquisite Book of Hours was commissioned from a Flemish workshop and we hold a facsimile copy of this at Aberdeen.
“The similarities between the carvings on the chest and the illuminations in the Book of Hours are striking. Three illuminated documents relating to the royal wedding all show the IM monogram (James and Margaret) tied together with a similar love knot, just as it is carved on the chest. This was such a trademark for the union that even the floor tiles for Linlithgow Palace were made with the same design.
“The tassels on the knot are shaped as thistles, a reminder of the king and his country.”
She added: “A wooden chest was one of the most important items of medieval furniture, because aristocratic families spent so much time travelling with pack-horses all around the country to their various homes.
“All the royal bride’s personal items would be kept in a chest like this. It is remarkable that it has survived for so long before its significance was fully appreciated.”
The marriage chest was this week displayed at the annual conference of the British Archaeological Association, held at the University of Aberdeen. It is hoped the chest will soon go on public display in Scotland.