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Elizabethan Beds & Bedroom Furniture

The Elizabethans, particularly in the later period of their history, lavished especial care on the construction and decoration of their bedroom furniture, beds, and bed posts, headboards, and cornices.

In the Elizabethan period the bed chamber was a social place. Visitors were often received and entertained there, and births in bedrooms were near public spectacles.

Beds of the Wealthy

Elizabethan beds in palaces, mansions, and great manors were expensive items, enormously built and heavy, and ornately decorated, carved, and inlaid. Elizabethan beds basic construction was of panelled headboards attached to bed frames with a wooden canopy extended from the top to the front posts. They were made of oak and were often called "standing beds". See pictures.

Bed headboards were often massively and intricately decorated with arcading and pilasters to the point where the headboard was divided into compartments.

Large foot posts with heavy bulbs supported on huge pedestals and architectural style plinths were notable features.

Elizabethan Oak Bed
Elizabethan Oak Bed.

For many observers it seems that Elizabethan age beds, in the case of oak bedsteads in particular, were far too over-decorated and worked upon. The bedposts seem bulbous caricatures of Ionic columns on tall bases, every spare bit of space being carved in low relief; the frieze and tester are loaded up with decorative carving; arcaded panels separated by carved figures and crowded with ornamental devices appear on the head of the bed: the simple early Tudor beds, with their slender posts ornamented with a little chip carving, were replaced by these overpoweringly ornate displays of national prowess.

Elisabethan beds were so richly adorned, as well, with bed hangings, and were of such size and importance to households that they were often included in wills with detailed descriptions while other items of furniture were consigned to only brief mentions.

The Great Bed of Ware

Great Bed of Ware
Great Bed of Ware

Held in the Victorian and Albert Museum the Great Bed of Ware is a famous example of Elizabethan style beds. Standing 8ft 9 and 10ft 8 wide and long it is believed that the Great Bed of Ware was not unusual in its size.

Beds of the Lower Class

For the poor of the age of Queen Elizabeth the first it is likely that many still slept on straw on the floor, or straw in a shallow box. For those aspiring to the middle class uncurtained or "stump" beds were common. These were made without the customary four posts or a ceiling although many had some fairly industrious carving.

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