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The History Of The Four Poster Bed

Queen Elizabeth's Bed

Out of all of the Tudors, the Virgin Queen had the ultimate bed. A wardrobe warrant dated 1581, orders the delivery for the Queen's use of a bedstead of walnut-tree, richly carved, painted, and gilt. The selour, tester and vallance were of cloth of silver, figured with velvet, lined with a changeable taffetta, and deeply fringed with Venice gold, silver, and silk. The curtains were of costly tapestry, curiously and elaborately worked; every seam and every border laid with gold and silver lace, caught up with long loops and buttons of bullion. The head-piece was of crimson satin of Bruges, edged with passamayne of crimson silk, and decorated with six ample plumes, containing seven dozen ostrich feathers of various colours, garnished with golden spangles. The counterpoint was of orange-coloured satins of every imaginable tint, and embroidered with Venice gold, silver spangles and coloured silks, fringed to correspond, and lined with orange sarcenet. A royal patchwork indeed!

Oak continued to be the dominent timber used, particularly with furniture made in England. Walnut was used rarely, and was only seen in palaces and homes of the rich. Jacobean furniture was heavily carved, with Renaissance motifs, and inlay gave colour to the work, with the use of fruitwoods, bog oak, and later ivory and mother-of-pearl. Legs were turned, bulbous on tables and buffets during the reign of James I., then later came the vase shapes in the turning, followed by bobbin turning and the barley-sugar twist legs.

In the seventeenth century, another type of bedstead was introduced from France, and most of the larger houses had one or two of these. The frames and posts were made all in one from beechwood, and they were much taller than the Tudor oak bedsteads. The tall, slender posts, the tester, the cornice and the ceilings were upholstered with the same material as the curtains, quilt and valance, as were the pair of stools at the foot of the bed, and these were often gorgeous. We read of a green and gold bed of a "parcelgilt bed with hangings and quilt of tawny taffety," and velvet and satin were quite everyday materials. The most magnificent is that occupied by James I. at Knole, which was hung with gold and silver tissue. The best bed would usually be left to the widow, a very sacred possession, for this would have been where she bore her many children, and where her husband would have died. The Jacobean's also had plainer oak bedsteads without posts or ceilings, just neatly panelled low backs, which would have been a great deal chillier than those of their wealthier neighbours. There was then the truckle bed, now used by servants, that could have been packed for travelling, or pushed under a larger bed during the day.

There was also the mourning bed, also present during the seventeenth century, which has happily disappeared. It would have been entirely draped in black, the widow would not have had white sheets or pillow cases, and the rest of the bedroom would have been draped in the same way.

In Tudor and earlier Stuart times, the bedstead was considered to be the most important item of furniture in the home, whether of rich or poor status. The Restoration Stuart bedstead was of medium height, made of carved wood, with a valance all round below the cornice, and the hangings over the wooden headboard, arranged to draw around the the whole bedstead at night, as the rooms were loftier, and with small fire-places, bedchambers were still cold and draughty. Drapes were often of the same material as the window and door curtains, so co-ordinated colour schemes were starting then. The bed and bedding varied according to wealth, from plain to ornately carved, from flock or straw, to feather mattresses.

In the reign of William and Mary, the bedsteads became very tall, although they were less wide, in keeping with their loftier rooms. The carved wooden cornice or tester was now being covered with the velvet or brocade material from which the hangings were made. It was glued to the carving to hold the elaborately, decorative carving together. The drapes become more elaborate, especially around the headboard, they were extremely flamboyant beds. During the reign of Queen Anne, the bedsteads had returned to a more sensible height.

Now, we have to follow on the development of the four poster bedstead into the new millenium, using new materials, ideas and technology. We can also take ideas from the past, and develop them to the products that the public are familiar with, and happy to have in their homes, using modern and traditional methods hand in hand, to produce something of high quality at an affordable price, thus allowing everyone to climb the ladder of 'wealth'and own a four poster bed.

Hopefully this is as accurate, factual and informative as possible, but please feel free to write or send an e-mail with any further information about the four poster, if you feel that you can add to this, I would be delighted to include new information, photos and drawings of other designs and so on. I have much more work to do designing and making further beds within the range, including more heavily carved four posters, half testers, and pencil beds. I have even more to learn about the history regarding beds, and will research whenever time allows. I will be researching the American styles in due course, and would like to include this within the website. I hope that you have found this informative, and I look forward to your input.

References:

Yarwood, D, 1979, The English Home, UK, Batesford.
Parker, L H, Parker, J A S, 1861, The English Home: Its Early History and Progress, Oxford & London.
Bradley, R M, 1912, The English Housewife in the 17th & 18th Centuries, UK
Edward Arnold.

Plates:

All the plates were taken from the referenced works, principally: Yarwood, D, 1979, The English Home, UK, Batesford.

Compiled by Stephen Edwards.

 

Other Useful History Links

Greenwood Four Poster Bed
Fluted Pencil Post Bed
Twisted Diamon Four Poster Bed
Lyons Hall Four Poster Beds
Twisted Linenfold Open Canopy Beds
Tudor Four Poster Bed.
Carolean Four Poster Beds
Twist Turned Four Poster Beds
Baluster Four Poster Bed
Linenfold Lyons Hall Four Poster Beds
84" High Half Tester Bed
Georgian Four Poster Bed
Colchester Four Poster Bed
The Four Poster Bed Company
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Tel: +44 (0)1544 340 444
©2013 Stephen Edwards