History of Four Poster Beds

Cradles in the Tudor Period

Hush-a-by baby, on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock.

Having dealt in their turn with the children of the chest and of the table, it would scarcely do to leave this short reference to the bed without a note about the cot and cradle. Cradles are probably as old as any article of furniture, for wherever women worked some convenience to keep the baby from the danger of the ground would be a necessity. Peasant and native craft today show many of the cradles of bark and wicker that could be suspended from a bough or a roof rafter when not carried by the mother, and which probably resemble the ancestors of the mediaeval cradle. Although there are many detailed descriptions of these, only one authentic cradle made before the Tudor Renaissance seems to have survived. This is in the London Museum and was most likely made during the end of the Wars of the Roses (about 1460). It rocks freely between two end-posts. This type gave way to the kind that was mounted upon 'rockers', and these were made until Queen Anne's time, when the older suspended cot was again reverted to. This continued until the present fixed cot was introduced.

Cradles and Day Bed

Cradles and Day Bed
1 and 2. Cradles of the Rocker Type (Jacobean)
3. Day Bed of Charles II's Time


KING EDWARD   IV   1461-1483
KING HENRY V   1413 – 1422                     KING EDWARD V  1483
KING HENRY VI  1422 – 1461          KING RICHARD   III   483 – 1485
KING Henry  VII   1485 – 1509

The Low Countries (about 1500-about 1630)

The four poster bed was a highly regarded piece of furniture. Included among the designs published by Hans Vredeman de Vries in 1580 under the title Differents Pourtraicts de Menuiserie are some for four poster beds of architectural character which have richly carved frames and headboards. They are obviously intended to stand in the centre of the four poster bed chamber, but another type of four poster bed common at the period was built into the corner of a room, such as the example from Dordrecht dated 1626, which shows how the panelling of the four poster bed forms an integral part of the room itself.

Design for two Four Poster Beds

Design for two Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) by Hans Vredeman de Vries,
from Differents Pourtraicts de Menuiserie, about 1580

Oak Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)

Oak Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) from Dordrecht, dated 1626. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam England

About 1500 - about 1630

The influence of Flemish Mannerism may be seen on the Great Bed of Ware - with its exuberantly carved caryatid figures and the elaborate inlay decorating the headboard. Apart from its exceptional size, this four poster bed has many features typical of the great Tudor Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) such as the bulbous vase-shaped supports, strapwork ornament and heavily panelled tester. There are still traces of paint on the carving, a reminder that much furniture of this period was brightly painted. The woods used were usually indigenous, the most common being oak.

Bed of Ware

The Great Four Poster Bed (4 Poster Bed) Bed of Ware, whose carved decoration reflects the influence of Flemish Mannerism. English, about 1580. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

X. Beds and Cradles

Of  four poster beds, none earlier than the second half of the six­teenth century have survived intact, and particularly of this period it can rightly be said there were four poster beds and beds, the one a marvellously ornate structure, with panelled carved and carved head framing supporting the returns of a richly carved and moulded cornice, and a like tester frame, the front corners of the tester being supported by huge oak columns swelling out into one or more bulbous forms, often topped with crude Ionic caps, the shafts fluted, gadrooned, or enriched with arabesques and strap work. These Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) columns were carried on pedestals with moulded caps and bases, panelled on all sides and often carved (Fig. 24).

The four poster bed frame itself was very low, and was attached to the head framing only; at the foot it stood free on its own stumpy legs. The side rails were holed and grooved for the cord lacing by which the stout canvas or rush­matting mattress was held taut, and, incidentally, this held the tenons of the side rails securely in their mortices the corner posts. Richly embroidered hangings and curtains completed an effect of true magnificence. The other, a very simple but pleasing affair, though devoid of tester and columns at foot, being, as a matter of fact, very much like some wooden beds of today, except that head and foot were connected by oak side beams holed as already described.

The head, about 4 feet high, was simply panelled Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) and sometimes carved. The foot was very low, in some cases embellished with a row of short turned balusters between rails, the corner posts being stout and usually turned. These were the English four poster beds, and it was not until the Restoration that the few Italian importations of the first half of the century began to influence native work, when there sprang up a fashion to make less of the carved oak and more of the upholstery; consequently, the great columns gave place to more slender posts entirely obscured with rich curtains.

There are some very interesting examples of seventeenth­century oak cradles in the Victoria and Albert Museum South Kensington. They take the form of a low rectangular box, generally rising at-one end in a shaped hood. There are posts at the corners, finished at top with a turned finial, and the four sides are panelled similarly to the chests. Under the ends cross- bearers are fixed, shaped as rockers. On those more carefully finished an inscription and date are often found (Fig. 25).

With cottagers they continued in use throughout the eighteenth century.

4-poster bed

In this instance constructed in walnut and inlaid with marquetry. This illustration clearly shows the low bed frame secured to the head framing and standing free of the columns at the foot.The continuous groove in the rails contains a series of holes through which the ropes passed in securing the canvas mattress. Observe the quaint attempt at classic detail in the carved Ionic caps to the columns also the Elizabethan rendering of a classic cornice. Height, 7 feet 6 inches. Length, 7 feet I I inches. Width, 5 feet 8 inches Victoria and Albert Museum

Oak Cradle dated 1641

Oak Cradle dated 1641. Constructed with panelled framing on the same principle as contemporary chests. The mouldings are worked "on the solid" being mitred at the top corners, and at the bottom of the stiles are cut back to fit the continuous splay on the bottom rail.The dowel pegs can be clearly seen. Length, 3 ft. i in. Width, i ft. 4 in. Victoria and Albert Museum.