Page:EB1911 - Volume 06.djvu/120

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107
CHESTER, EARLS OF—CHESTER

geometrical parquetry. Perhaps the most elaborate type of English parquetry chest is that named after the vanished Palace of Nonesuch. Such pieces are, however, rarely met with. The entire front of this type is covered with a representation of the palace in coloured woods. Another class of chest is incised, sometimes rather roughly, but often with considerable geometrical skill. The more ordinary variety has been of great value to the forger of antique furniture, who has used its carved panels for conversion into cupboards and other pieces, the history of which is not easily unravelled by the amateur who collects old oak without knowing much about it. Towards the end of the 17th century chests were often made of walnut, or even of exotic woods such as cedar and cypress, and were sometimes clamped with large and ornamental brass bands and hinges. The chests of the 18th century were much larger than those of the preceding period, and as often as not were furnished with two drawers at the bottom—an arrangement but rarely seen in those of the 17th century—while they were often fitted with a small internal box fixed across one end for ready access to small articles. The chest was not infrequently unpanelled and unornamented, and in the latter period of its history this became the ruling type. It will not have been forgotten that it was in an old oak chest that the real or mythical heroine of the pathetic ballad of “The Mistletoe Bough” concealed herself, to her undoing.

Ecclesiastical chests appear to have been used almost entirely as receptacles for vestments and church plate, and those which survive are still often employed for the preservation of parish documents. A considerable variety of these interesting and often exceedingly elaborate chests are still left in English churches. They are usually of considerable size, and of a length disproportionate to their depth. This no doubt was to facilitate the storage of vestments. Most of them are of great antiquity. Many go back to the 14th century, and here and there they are even earlier, as in the case of the coffer in Stoke d’Abernon church, Surrey, which is unquestionably 13th-century work. One of the most remarkable of these early examples is in Newport church, Essex. It is one of the extremely rare painted coffers of the 13th century, the front carved with an upper row of shields, from which the heraldic painting has disappeared, and a lower row of roundels. Between is a belt of open tracery, probably of pewter, and the inside of the lid is decorated with oil paintings representing the Crucifixion, the Virgin Mary, St Peter, St John and St Paul. The well-known “jewel chest” in St Mary’s, Oxford, is one of the earliest examples of 14th century work. Many of these ecclesiastical chests are carved with architectural motives—traceried windows most frequently, but occasionally with the linenfold pattern. There is a whole class of chests known as “tilting coffers,” carved with representations of tournaments or feats of arms, and sometimes with a grotesque admixture of chivalric figures and mythical monsters. Only five or six examples of this type are known still to exist in England, and two of them are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is not certain that even these few are of English origin—indeed, very many of the chests and coffers of the 16th and 17th centuries are of foreign make. They were imported into England chiefly from Flanders, and were subsequently carved by native artisans, as was the case with other common pieces of furniture of those periods. The huche or “hutch” was a rough type of household chest.

The word “coffer” is properly applied to a chest which was intended for the safe keeping of valuables. As a rule the coffer is much more massive in construction than the domestic chest; it is clamped by iron bands, sometimes contains secret receptacles opening with a concealed spring, and is often furnished with an elaborate and complex lock, which occupies the whole of the underside of the lid. Pieces of this type are sometimes described as Spanish chests, from the belief that they were taken from ships belonging to the Armada. It is impossible to say that this may not sometimes have been the case, but these strong boxes are frequently of English origin, although the mechanism of the locks may have been due to the subtle skill of foreign locksmiths. A typical example of the treasure chest is that which belonged to Sir Thomas Bodley, and is preserved in the Bodleian library at Oxford. The locks of this description of chest are of steel, and are sometimes richly damascened. It was for being implicated in the breaking open and robbing of just such a chest as this, to which the Collège de Navarre had confided coin to the value of 500 écus, that François Villon was hanged on the gibbet of Montfaucon.


CHESTER, EARLS OF. The important palatine earldom of Chester was first held by a certain Fleming named Gherbod (fl. 1070), and then by Hugh of Avranches (d. 1101), a son of Richard, viscount of Avranches. Hugh, who was probably one of William the Conqueror’s companions, was made earl of Chester in 1071; he had special privileges in his earldom, and he held land in twenty counties. He was called Le Gros on account of his great bulk and Lupus on account of his ferocity. However, he regarded St Anselm as his friend, and he showed the customary liberality to religious houses. His life was mainly spent in fighting the Welsh and in Normandy, and he died on the 27th of July 1101. Hugh’s only son Richard, who was childless, was drowned in the White Ship in November 1120. Among subsequent holders were Ralph, or Randulph, de Gernon (d. 1153), who took a prominent part in the civil wars of the reign of Stephen, fighting first on one side and then on the other; and his son Hugh de Kevelioc (1147–1181), who shared in the rising against Henry II. in 1173. But perhaps the most celebrated of the early earls was Ralph, Ranulf, or Randulph, de Blundevill (c. 1172–1232), who succeeded his father Hugh de Kevelioc as earl in 1181, and was created earl of Lincoln in 1217. Ranulf married Constance, widow of Henry II.’s son, Geoffrey of Brittany, and is sometimes called duke of Brittany and earl of Richmond. He fought in Wales, was on the side of John during his struggle with the barons over Magna Carta, and was one of this king’s executors; he also fought for the young king Henry III. against the French invaders and their allies. In 1218 he went on crusade to the Holy Land and took part in the capture of Damietta; then returning to England he died at Wallingford in October 1232. After speaking of Ranulf’s unique position in the kingdom, which “fitted him for the part of a leader of opposition to royal or ministerial tyranny,” Stubbs sums up his character in these words: “On more than one occasion he refused his consent to taxation which he deemed unjust; his jealousy of Hubert (de Burgh), although it led him to join the foreign party in 1223, did not prevent him from more than once interposing to prevent his overthrow. He was, moreover, almost the last relic of the great feudal aristocracy of the Conquest.” Although twice married he left no children, and his immense possessions passed to his four sisters. The earl’s memory remained green for a long time, and in the Vision of Piers Plowman his name is linked with that of Robin Hood. In November 1232 the earldom of Chester was granted to his nephew John the Scot, earl of Huntingdon (c. 1207–1237), and in 1246, nine years after John had died childless, it was annexed to the English crown “lest so fair a dominion should be divided among women.”

In 1254 Prince Edward, afterwards King Edward I., was created earl of Chester, and since this date the earldom has always been held by the heirs apparent to the English crown with the single exception of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. Since 1399 the earls of Chester have been also princes of Wales, although the act of Richard II. (1398), which created Chester into a principality to be held by the king’s eldest son, was revoked by Henry IV.


CHESTER, an episcopal city and county of a city, municipal, county and parliamentary borough, and the county town of Cheshire, England, 179 m. N.W. of London. Pop. (1901) 38,309. It lies in a low plain on the Dee, principally on the north (right) bank, 6 m. above the embouchure of the river into its wide, shallow estuary. It is an important railway centre, the principal lines serving it being the London & North-Western, Great Western, Cheshire Lines and Great Central. The city is divided into four principal blocks by the four principal streets—Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, Bridge Street and Watergate Street, which radiate at right angles from the Cross, and terminate in