History of Four Poster Beds

By a strange coincidence of history, the following four poster bed (Figure 3:454-457) was possibly made for a man who was also present at Bosworth in 1485, and in equal prominence to Sir Rhys ap Thomas. This was Sir Thomas Stanley, who personally stooped to pick up the crown that had fallen from the head of the dead Richard III, and placed it upon the head of Henry Tudor, henceforth Henry VII. Stanley, who must have been well acquainted with Sir Rhys ap Thomas, was immediately created the first Earl of Derby. The Stanley four poster bed probably dates from circa 1500-21, and bears many small armorial devices with the achievements, of the Stanleys and their allies. These are to be found on the faces of each of the knops which punctuate the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) posts, giving fourteen devices in all.

Joined tester bedstead

Four Poster Bed Figure 3:454. Joined tester bedstead. English; probably Central Lancashire. Oak, 1500-21. Made for Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby (either ther 1st or 2nd earl). This image shows the bed in uncleaned and unrestored state. Some of the carving is spurious, and the arrangement of the bedstock has since been altered. It is thought one of the griffin finials may be original.

Joined tester bedstead

Four Poster Bed Figure 3:455. Joined headboard, with pierced panels (detail of figure 3:457). This is the present cleaned state of the bed which reveals heavy traces of the original read and green paint.

Fragments of the headboard posts

Four Poster Bed Figure 3:456. Fragments of the headboard posts from a tester bed. These bear the initials 'T' and 'S', and were perhaps from a bed which was initially the property of the Stanleys.


Four Poster Bed Figure 3:457. (Left) Joined tester bedstead. English; probably Central Lancashire. Oak, 1500-21.
This is the Thomas Stanley bed, in its present stored state.
Figure 3:458. (Right) Joined tester bedstead. English; probably Central Lancashire. Oak, 1500-30. This is the
bed discovered by Shaw at Lovely Hall, near Blackburn. The form of the tester is completely conjectural. The
knops of the posts are decorated with crosses, except for one, which bears the initials 'R' and 'J', conjoined
with a lovers' knot.
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The most important of these are the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) head-posts (Figure 3:455). On the middle stage is the Stanley badge itself, which they inherited from Lathom (an eagle preying on a swaddled child, see also Figure 4:53), and the three armoured legs of the Isle of Man (the Stanleys had their main estates in Lancashire and the Isle of Man). Below these are some initials: on the left is a letter 'T', which might stand for either the 1st or 2nd earl (both Thomas); and on the right is another 'T' which is conjoined by a lovers' knot to its companion (now unfortunately obliterated). The 2nd earl, grandson of the 1st earl (who died in 1504), is perhaps the more likely candidate for the original owner, which provides a closer dating of 1504-21 for the manufacture of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)bed; though the possibility remains that the four poster bed may have been made for the 1st earl, prior to his death in 1504.

The four poster bed was bought in auction as a 'a pile of carved wood' some six years ago, after a chequered history. When first put together, it appeared as in Figure 3:454, complete with various nineteenth century additions and repairs. It has now been thoroughly cleaned (which revealed heavy traces of the original red and green paint), and now appears as in Figure 3:457. The four poster beds tester has here been conjecturally restored as a simple cloth canopy, and no further clue may be obtained from a very similar bed (Figure 3:458), which was first noted by Henry Shaw in his Specimens of Ancient Furniture in 1836. Shaw noted that the original Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester was then missing, and it has since acquired the present fanciful 'restoration'. This four poster bed is known as the Lovely Hall bed (after the house near Blackburn, Lancashire, where Shaw drew it), and was discovered locally in Central Lancashire. This makes all the more interesting the similarities between the two four poster beds, since they both belong to the same area (the Stanley Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bed is first tentatively recorded at Rochdale Manor). The similarities are so striking, especially in the details of the headboard, that they must derive from the same workshop, somewhere in Central or South Lancashire. The Stanleys may have had other similar four poster beds, for in the Victoria and Albert Museum are the remains of identical Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) posts (Figure 3:456), with initials 'T' and 'S'.


Four Poster Bed Figure 3:459. (Left) Joined tester bedstead. English. Oak, 1508-1630. Note the complete appearance of any posts at the headboard; and the manner in which the feet of the posts stand clear of the bedstock, unlike the simpler beds which follow.
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Whatever the form of their original Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) testers, whether of wood or fabrics, the remaining parts of these four poster beds are set very much in the form followed by four poster tester bedsteads for the next one hundred and fifty years. The Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) headboard is a solidly-made panelled construction, though it still has vestigial posts of the medieval type; the tester is supported by two foot-posts; and the bedding is laid on a Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bedstock made of heavy bars framed together. The fully-developed Elizabethan Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bed is exemplified in Figure 3:459. The vestigial posts on either side of the head are no longer present, and, as with all important beds of this class, the foot of the four poster bedstock stands separately from the posts. In terms of decoration, this bed is more restrained than some, but it is none the less representative of the richer middle classes of circa 1575-1650.

Harrison wrote eloquently of the general improvements in comfortable bedding in the middle part of the sixteenth century, and it is in four poster bedsteads of this type that the improved bedding might be found. The four poster bedstock was provided with a series of holes, through which a tight mesh of ropes was strung.

On this was laid a woven rush mat or mattress, and on top of this was laid a flock or feather bed. Pillows and bolsters were piled up at the head, so that the sleeper lay in a half-sitting position (this is why the lower part of the headboard is rarely decorated, since it would normally be hidden by bedding). On top of this, the sleeper was provided with a series of sheets, blankets, 'ruggs' and quilts. All these accessories were provided by the upholder, and the furnishing of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) was not complete without a set of curtains, valances and (sometimes) lower valances or 'pentes'. The curtains hung from rails or wires which passed around the edge of the tester.

1509... a counterpoynt of popynjaye and blonkett, for a trussyng bed, and a trussyng bedstede...
1541... i trussing four poster bed of wynscot with pillors carved...
1586... A grene fyelde bed of walnutt tree, with a canopy of greene Saye, 5 curtyns with gilt belles, a green Irish rugg coverlett, a  matte, a fetherbed, a bolster, 2 pillowes, 3 white blanketts, 6 bedstaves...
1590... a turned trusinge bed corded with a teaster uppon the head and irones belonginge to it which the courtinges showld runne upon...
1601... a Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)bedstead seeled with tester of wood and turned postes...
a bedstead with turned postes fluted ...
1624... A four poster bedsteade of cutwirke, A teaster and vallans of black and cremysine velvet and frindged with cremysine silke and golde, Curtaines of red and yallowe changeable taffitie, One downe bed, a bowlster, ij pillowes, and ij wollen blanckettes, One red rugge, one quilte of cremysine sarcenet...
1666... a very large Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)Bedstead with embroidered curtains and valence of broadcloth, lined with carnation-coloured sarcenet, and 7 plumes in the  four poster bedtester...
1690... one featherbed and bedstead, one flock bed and matt, 2 blancets, one coverlid, curtains and valyants, 6 bed sticks...
1719… a carved four poster bedstead, a feather bed, two bolster, five pillows, three blankets, one quilt, a sett of curtain rods…

Four Poster Bedsteads are frequently referred to as 'trussing' or 'field' beds, though it is by no means clear what these terms mean. They may both be different kinds of travelling four poster beds, which can be taken apart or folded for journeys (though in fact all large Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) beds were designed to be taken apart when necessary. The major joints were held with removable pegs or iron hooks, and the roped base held the structure tight). We have met the term 'trussing' in relation to baggage chests, and Katherine of Aragon possessed not only a trussing four poster bedstead, but also two suitable "lether cases to trusse it". A French-made campaign bed with a sloping tester, of the seventeenth century, which survives in the Nordiska Museet (Stockholm), may resemble earlier English models such as the "slope little four poster bedsted for the fielde" owned by the Earl of Leicester in 1588. The frame of this travelling Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) is completely collapsible, and the tent-like hangings pack up with the parts of the frame into a very small space. Most Elizabethan references to `field beds' clearly indicate, however, somet mg much more elaborate and permanent than a simple campaign four poster bed.