Old-Fashioned Bedsteads Part 1

Even in the earliest times some attempts were made to have the resting-place soft and warm. The warrior, coming home from war or chase, threw his wearied frame on a simple couch laid upon the floor and covered himself with furs. Little by little the frame of the bed was raised from the floor, coverings grew more elaborate, greater ease was required, and gradually the elaborate structure we require to-day was evolved. As late as the fourteenth century beds were objects of luxury in England. Many a castle had but one, in which the lord and his lady rested, the remainder of the household sleeping on settles, chests, tables, or on the floor.

After Italy, France soonest had elegant and luxuri ous household belongings, and the palaces of royalty, as well as those of the great nobles, were rich in precious and costly things. Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon were great collectors, and although the queen sold a set of plate of which she was very proud to pay the troops of Du Guesclin in 1369, she soon began to collect again, and the king had a list made of their valuables which still is extant in the French archives. From it we learn that they had statuettes of ivory and gold, sets of gold plates, basins and candlesticks of the same metal, drinking-cups, knives, and spoons, even if there were only three forks. There were sets of hangings for windows and beds, one being entirely of cloth of gold, another of green with stripes of gold, while a tent to put over the queen's bath was of white satin embroid ered with roses and fleur-de-lis. The beds in use at this time were enormous. If only six feet square they were called couchettes or little beds, and they had to be eight feet and a half to twelve feet by eleven before they were called couches or beds. These beds were mounted on wide steps or dais, and hung with exquisite materials. The bedding mentioned in this same list seems to have been kept in chests in the bedrooms. A quantity of white silk sheets are spoken of as being in a coffer in the king's room, and in a gilded chest were towels, tablecloths, and sheets of toile de Reims, also richly embroidered pillows, one of which had on it a knight, a lady, two fountains, and two lions. There were couvertoers, or warm coverings for winter, and couvertures or sheets of fine material to be thrown over the beds by day. One of these is mentioned as being of ermine, fastened to an old sheet of marramas, from which the king had caused a breadth to be cut to make a chasuble.

There were bills from a Marie Lallemande for blue and white stuff for the window curtains of the royal bedroom, and for eighteen feather-beds with pillows. In the midst of all this elegance it is amusing to find duly set down: " Item, an old matrass all torn and a pillow the same which had belonged to King Jean." There is also mention of two banners embroidered with fleur-de-lis and bordered with pearls which had been used to drive away the flies while the king was at table. The bedsteads which accompanied these rich belongings were of oak, carved, but there are none of them left now for us to gaze on with wonder and amazement.

The word "bed" in old deeds and records, in England as well as in this country, generally covers the bedstead and furnishings. Some of tliese ancient ones were very grand affairs of carved oak, with mattress of feathers, sheets of linen, rugs and blankets of fine down, and with coverlets of tapestry, damask, or "cloth wOven of samite " and heavy with gold threads. Richard, Earl of Arundel, in 1392 left to Philippa, his second widfe, " a blue bed marked with my arms and the arms of my late wife." In 1434 Joanne, Lady Bergavenny, devises "a bed of gold Swans, with tapet-tar of green tapestry with branches of flowers of divers colours, and two pairs of sheets of Raynes, a pair of fustian, six pairs of other sheets, six blankets, six mattresses, six pillows with cushions and bancoves that longen to the bed aforesaid." The famous " Great Bed of Ware " mentioned by Shakspere in Twelfth Night is about twelve feet square. It is still preserved at Rye House, near to the Saracen's Head Inn, where it formerly was. The beds now in use in Hatfield House, the historic home of the Marquis of Salisbury, are built on the plan of the " Great Bed of Ware," and the sheets for them have to be specially woven in Germany.

The earliest beds which remain for the edification of the student are those which date from the Elizabethan period. These, like those of an earlier period, are of oak, and there are some in this country which have been brought here from England, and in the great public collections in the latter country there are other fine examples to be studied. In Figure 204 is a choice specimen that claims attention on more than one ac count. It is of the Tudor period, with a canopy, and with four arched panels carved and inlaid, and with carved and inlaid borders at the sides. The canopy is panelled as well as inlaid and carved, and the low foot board is also carved. This bed is but five feet two inches wide and seven feet high. It is in perfect condition, and once belonged to the poet Lord Byron, who gave it to his housekeeper, Mrs. Broughton. Her daughter sold it to the late Mr. Wilson of Tuxford Hall, Nottinghamshire, England, and within a few months, at the sale of his effects, it was purchased by a firm aaIio deal in antiques. These beds, while sump tuous to the eye, were not very soft to lie upon, as they were laced across with ropes. Many beds of feathers were necessary to give them comfort, and as early as 1509 regulations were drawn up with regard to the quality of feathers to be used, and I quote the ensuing words from the Lansdown MSS.:

Fig. 204 Tudor Bedstead, Oak.

"Upholders forbidden to mix scalded feathers and flocks with dry pulled feathers and clear down, in beds, bolsters, and pillows; and also to use horse-hair for down, neat' hair, deer's hair, and goat's hair, which is wrought in lime-fats, in quilts, mattesses, and cushions, because by the heat of man's body the savour and taste is so abominable and contagious, that many of the King's subjects thereby become destroyed. They were to be stuffed with clear wool or clear flocks alone, one manner of stuff. For their own use however, and not for sale, persons might make, or do to be made, any of the aforesaid corrupt and unlawful wares."

These regulations had been called out by the increas" ing use of mixed materials in the beds. In the Paston Letters," which are so interesting, is given the furnish ing of the bedroom of Sir John Fastolf, in the year 1459. He was a rich man, and presumably could have had anything he wanted, yet, as will be seen, his mattresses were not both of pure feathers.

"In primis. I fedderbedde. Item I donge of fyne blewe. Item I bolster. Item II blankettys of fustian. Item I payre of schetis. Item I purpeynt. Item I hangyd bedde of arras. Item I testour. Item I selour. Item I coveryng. Item III curtaynes of grene worsted. Item I bankeur of tapestre warke. Item IIII peces hangyng of grene worsted. Item I banker hangyng tapestre warke. Item I cobbord clothe. Item II staundyng aundyris. Item I feddefflok. Item I chafern (brasier) of latten. Item I payre of tongys. Item I litell paylet. Item blankettys. Item I payre schetys. Item coverlet. Item VI white cosschynes. Item II lytell bellys. Item I foldyng table. Item I long chayre. Item I grene chayre Item I hangyng candylstyk of laton.' Not quite one hundred years later Harrison, in "Description of England," discourses as follows on improvement in comfort in the houses. He considers the first improvement was the use of chimneys.

"The second is the great (although not general) amendment of lodging; for, said they, our fathers, yea and we ourselves also have lain full oft upon straw pallets, on rough mats cov ered only with a sheet, under coverlets made of dagswain or hopharlots (I use their own terms), and a good round log under their heads instead of a pillow or bolster. If it were so that our fathers or the goodman of the house had within seven years after his marriage purchased a mattress or flock bed, and thereunto a pillow of chaff to rest his head upon, he thought himself to be as well lodged as the lord of the town, that per-adventure lay seldom in a bed of down or whole feathers, so well content were they, and with such base kind of furniture; which was also not very much amended yet in some parts of Bedfordshire, and elsewhere, further off from our southern parts. Pillows, (they said) 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 oft through the canvass of the pallett and rased their hardened hides."

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The Collector's Manual by N. Hudson Moore, Amy Richards. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1906.

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