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Tudor Beds & Bedrooms

Beds were more highly developed in design terms than most things in the comfortless days of the early Tudor era. Four poster beds were often of elaborate design, with a headboard of carved panels, posts enriched amply with carving, a tester and valance of embroidered material, and a coverlet of fine needlework also.

Four post beds, with their heavy curtains which really transformed the beds into a separate chamber, were probably suggested by the curtained recesses or closets that formed sleeping places in Saxon days.

Four Post Bed
Four Post Bed.

But the demands of comfort in bedrooms had not made much progress before 1550, although the feather bed is said to have been introduced in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A passage in Harrison's "Description of England" (1577-1587), a work rich in detailed pictures of everyday life in England in Tudor times, contains some useful information on the subject of antique beds and bedding:

The second is the great (although not general) amendment of lodging, for, said they, our fathers, yea, and we ourselves also, have laid full often upon straw pallets, on rough mats covered only with a sheet, under coverlets made of dagswain or hop harlots (I use their owne terms), and a good round log under their heads instead of a bolster (or pillow). If it were so that our fathers or the good man of the house had within seven yeares after his marriage purchased a mattress or flock-bed, and thereto a sack of chaff to rest his head upon, he thought himself to be as well lodged as the lord of the town, that peradventure lay seldom in a bed of down or whole fethers; so well were they contented with such base kind of furniture, which also is not very much amended as yet in some parts of Bedfordshire, and elsewhere further off from our southern parts. Pillows, said they, were thought meet only for women in childbed ; as for servants, if they had any sheet above them, it was well, for seldom had they any under their bodies, to keep them from the pricking straws that ran often through the canvas of the pallet and rased their hardened hides.

Tudor Bedchamber
Tudor Bedchamber.

Such austerities in the Tudor bedroom appall us in modern times, but to the generation that knew the fires of Smithfield, and was inured to such recognised official cruelties, the thought of their servants trying to sleep on a thousand and one needle points of straw was no doubt something not worth considering. Possibly it was felt to be rather a good thing for the "hardened hides" of those in lowly station.

Things improved somewhat for the aforesaid hardened hides in the later time of Elizabethan beds.

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