Old-Fashioned Bedsteads Part 2

I have given the Elizabethan era as the earliest one from which we can hope to find examples of bedroom furniture. There was a reason for this, which Mr. Robinson in his English Furniture points out. Not even the royal palaces were proof against the changes of fashion, and beds passed on in their downward career from royal chamber to guard-room, and thence, one cannot tell where. Besides the question of perquisites came in, and in Sandford's "Coronation of James II" is the statement that the Lord Great Chamberlain claimed to carry the King's shirt and clothes to him on the morning of the coronation, and with the help of the Chamberlain of the Household to dress his Majesty. For this service he claimed the bed, bedding, and furniture of the King's chamber, with forty yards of crimson velvet and other perquisites. The Court of Claims disallowed the furniture, but conceded the velvet and other things claimed, and compromised for the rest for £200."

Cardinal Wolsey, according to the records of Hampton Court, had two hundred and eighty beds, most of them hung with silk. It was not until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that much attention was paid to the woodwork of beds, since the hangings were the most important part, and concealed all else.

In John Evelyn's Diary are many notes on the manners and customs of his times. In November, 1644, he mentions having seen a bed at the villa of an Italian prince. " But what," he notes, " some look upon as exceeding all the rest is a very rich bedstead, inlaid with all sorts of precious stones and antiq heads, onyxs, acates, and cornelians, esteem'd to be worth 80 or 90,000 crowns." In the next year he speaks of another gor geous Italian bed, all inlaid with " achats, chrystals, cornelians, lazuli, esteem'd worth 16, crowns." He mentions another fact which may have had something to do with the disappearance of some of these huge wooden beds which is not always taken into account. He says, " The bedsteads in Italy are of forged iron gilded, since it is impossible to keep the wooden ones from the chimices." These are the same little pests with which the American housekeeper is called on to struggle occasionally, and which has rendered so popular in our day and generation these same forged beds of iron, or equally sanitary ones of brass.

The furniture of a bedroom at about the middle of the seventeenth century may be judged by the inventory of Mr. Sarjeant Newdigate, who left his goods to his son. The inventory is published by Lady Newdigate-Newdegate in her " Cavalier and Puritan." It runs as follows:

"A very large bedstead with embroidered curtains and valence of broadcloth lined with carnation-coloured sarsenet, and seven plumes of feathers in the bedtester. Also two embroidered carpets, two armed chairs, four stools embroidered suitable to the bed, a looking-glass, six flower pots, two stands and a hanging shelf, all gilt; a pair of brass andirons, a picture over the chimney and carpets round the bed."

The fashion of putting a bed and the other bedroom furniture in mourning was not at all uncommon. It had prevailed in France and Italy, as well as England, and Catherine de Medici, while not conforming to the rules of mourning considered seemly in her person, had her bed draped with black velvet embroidered with crescents and pearls, and had all the room furniture to correspond. This bed is mentioned in her inventory at her death, in 1589. In the " Verney Memoirs " there is mention of a great, black bed with hangings of the same colour at Clayton, England, about 1640, and it was lent to different members of the family whenever a death occurred. One would think that the sight of such a thing might induce suicide; and perhaps it was such a monument of woe which induced the Lord Treasurer Chfford to try and hang himself from the tester of a four-poster on August 18, 1673.

Then there were the great, upholstered beds of about the time of Queen Anne. They were made after the French fashion, and completely covered with embroidered silk or velvet. Their chief claim to our notice is their extraordinary height, some of them being sixteen or eighteen feet tall, to keep pace with the great height of the chambers in which they were placed. place to see a collection of these enormous structures The best is at Hampton Court, London, where quite a number of beds belonging to royalty have been preserved.

In lower walks of life the bed continued to be an article of parlour furniture into the seventeenth century, and the will of Robert White, of Messinge, Essex, England, a long and elaborate document, has in it this item:

"Item. I give and bequeath unto my said son John White, the loyned standinge bedstead wch is in the parlour, with the featherbed, flockbed, bolster coueringe with other furneyture thereunto belonginge. Alsoe the presse cupbord, the cupborde table and my newest chest, all whch are in the said p'loure to be delivered him after the death of my said wife Bridgett White, or instead thereof the sum of twenty marks of like lawful money."

This will is dated June 2, 1617.

The ioyned standinge bedstead mentioned was not probably as handsome a one as is shown in Figure 205, which belongs to about this period, and which is of the type known as " stump " from the fact that it has no foot -board. This bedstead is of oak, carved, with panelled head-board, and beside it is a joined table and stool. The pewter bell-candlesticks are also of this period, and the room is furnished as closely as possible as it would have been in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.

Fig. 204 Tudor Bedstead, Oak.

There are not many such beds as these already men tioned, and our interest centres on the beds which found their way to this country, some of which still survive, although the very earliest have gone the way of their owners. I find there were four styles of beds in use, say from 1660 to 1830, — the high four-post bed, the field bed, the low four-post bed, and the French bed. In addition are shown a settee bed, stretcher, or day couch, as it was called, and a Dutch bed-chair, because rare specimens of these are still occasionally to be met with.

There was also the slawbank or built-in bed, which was a feature in so many of the houses built by the early Dutch colonists who settled about New York, New Jersey, up the Hudson in Albany, Schenectady, etc. I do not include these, because they were taken out of the houses when the bed was relegated to a room of its own and no longer was part of the furniture in kitchen and best room.

The early records, inventories of property filed with wills, show us how our ancestors lived, and with what simple appliances many of them got along. The bed was generally the most costly possession, and comes first in the list.

In 1640 William Southmead's house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, was valued at £8 ($40), and his feather bed, bedstead, and appurtenances at the same sum. Cornelis Barentsen, in 1656, sued Cristina Capoens for payment for a bed he sold her, payment to be made in fourteen days. The price was six beavers, and Cristina seemed unable to meet her obligations; but payment was ordered by the court at New Amsterdam.

In June, 1666, the administrators of the late Jan Reyerson of Albany, New York, sold some " beasts" (horses, calves, and hogs), as well as furniture, at public sale. The payment for the beasts, " also the bed, boulsters and was to be made in " whole merchantable beavers, or otherwise in good strung seewant, beaver's price, at 24 guilders the beaver." (A guilder was worth about forty cents of our money.)

Nicholas Van Rensselaer, of Albany, New York, who died in 1679, was a wealthy and important member of the colony. There is a list of his entire household furnishings. There were two beds, two looking-glasses, two chests of drawers, two tables, one of oak and one of nutwood, also a table of pine with six stools of the same, a sleeping-bank or built-in bed, twenty pictures, a desk, and many brushes and kitchen utensils. These goods were distributed through four rooms.

In the South were found more luxuries than at the North. Captain Mathews, who died in 1690 at York, Virginia, had in his parlour both a bedstead and a truckle-bed, that is a small, low bed which could be pushed under the large bed when not in use. It ws generally occupied by the children of the family. No matter where you turn, North or South, among English or Dutch, the "ff ether," "feder," or feather bed is always mentioned in the inventories. Sometimes they were not able to have the beds entirely of feathers, so flock beds were used, or, if not flock, the soft dowi from the cattails which grew so abundantly in the marshes.

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Source

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

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