"Majesty in Chains" takes place in Richmond, Missouri, somtime in November of 1838. The Prophet and his associates had been taken prisoner at Far West, Missouri, and were awaiting trial at Richmond in some rough log houses situated near the courthouse. Six men at a time were chained around the ankles with a long chain that was held to each ankle by a lock.
The question might be asked 'Why paint this scene? Hasn't it already been done?' The answer for me came in feeling that none of the paintings I had ever seen were an accurate representation of the event. Too many liberties in both the paintings and film versions had been taken and none seemed represent it the way Parley P. Pratt described it. So I decided to paint this scene as accurately and true to the people and the history. Hereıs why I believe this painting is the most accurate representation of the event.
Most accurate in setting: There was no jail in Richmond, Missouri at the time of this event. The men were being held in rough log houses situated near the courthouse. Many paintings show this scene set in some kind of white walled room, or some kind of nicely painted indoor lobby. Rough log houses were just that, rough logs with a grayish plaster between the logs. There would have been nothing but a dirt floor with straw, no wood floors or planks, just a very crude, cold, uncomfortable shack.
Most accurate in lighting and time of day: This event takes place some time after midnight. This would have made the room very dark, with almost no light. Other portrayals show the event as a well-lit, daytime scene. Such was not the case. Perhaps one or two dim candles would be all that might have illuminated the room.
Most accurate in costuming and props: Joseph and his associates were chained at the ankles, not at the wrists with manacles, as is often portrayed. There were six men chained together with a single chain that was padlocked after going around each manıs ankle. Joseph and the other leaders chained to him would have been dressed in their best attire, because they were taken prisoner under the false pretence of being invited to a meeting to discuss a peaceful resolution to the conflict involving the army surrounding Far West. They had their hats and formal attire on to meet with General Lewis (they thought). They had had no opportunity to change clothes since being taken. Although soiled, they would have been wearing coats (always a must for formal gathering) and vests. They would also have been wearing coats and hats because it was November and was quite cold. A few thin blankets would have been all they would have had for bedding in the log house. They would not have been coatless, with only white shirts with no vests, as is often portrayed, because your undershirt was considered your undergarments and immodest to display without being covered by at least a vest. The patterning on the blanket is also a period weave. The costuming and weapons of the guards are also accurate to the period and show how the militia were dressed in a combination of some state issued uniforms and some with only state issued weapons and equipment. The candle is held in a period 'lamp' designed to keep the candle from blowing out.
Most accurate in expression: In many portrayals Joseph is shown rebuking the guards in an angry rage, in a apparent loss of his temper. Parley P. Prattıs description of Josephıs expression is nothing like this. Parley states that during and after the rebuke Joseph stood ³erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel² He then tries to describe Josephıs words and actions by comparing him to ministers of justice clothed in magisterial robes, a congress in solemn session, kings, royal courts, and emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms.² These are not descriptions of someone in an angry rage. Parley finally ends his description with ³but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri.² In my painting I tried to capture the dignity and majesty of someone like a king or an emperor who rebukes from a position of power, who has the ability to decide the fate of someone else but exercises restraint and dignity while giving forth his needed rebuke. In portraying this description I showed Joseph holding his hat, like a king or emperor might hold a crown, or a scepter of power.
Most accurate in likeness: I used the death mask of Joseph Smith for the likeness of his face. I also used a model that was the exact height and build as Joseph. I used photographs of Parley P. Pratt to portray him. Parley doesnıt mention who else was chained to them at the time.
Parley poignantly recounts:"In one of those tedious nights [imprisoned in Richmond in a rough log house] we had lain as if in sleep till the hour of midnight had passed, and our ears and hearts had been pained, while we had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards, Colonel Price at their head, as they recounted to each other their deeds of rapine, murder, robbery, etc., which they had committed among the "Mormons" while at Far West and vicinity. They even boasted of defiling by force wives, daughters and virgins, and of shooting or dashing out the brains of men, women and children.
I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, or any one else, although I lay next to him and knew he was awake. On a sudden he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, as the roaring lion, uttering, as near as I can recollect, the following words:
'SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and bear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!'
He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards.
I have seen the ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, and criminals arraigned before them, while life was suspended on a breath, in the courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal courts, of thrones and crowns; and of emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms; but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri."Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 209-211.