History of Four Poster Beds


His Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) is at Glemham Hall, where he lived, and in possession of a member of the same family. The cornice to the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)tester headed by ostrich plumes, and the four bold mouldings, are covered in crimson velvet of the finest quality, and em­broidered on the lower member with a delicate arabesque of flowers in cream-coloured silks; from this hangs a valance of crimson velvet with a deep border of white, buff and silver guipure and embroidery, edged with a thick fringe of brown, cream and tawny tassels; the valance is panelled at the corners with a very highly raised embroidery, the edges being frogged and looped. The ceiling of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester is of cream embroidered satin, the back being in alternate plain and draped panels of the same, and the early scrolling above the pillows is also covered with cream satin; the quilt matches in material and design. The Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) posts are small and octagonal, and were originally covered with cream satin; the feet finish in removable bases of scrolled design, painted and carved with gilded cherubs. This Four Poster Bed (4 Poster Beds) is of about the date 1670, and was slept in by Charles II.

Fig. 236 is another of these state four poster beds, preserved in Rushbrooke Hall, and some few years later in date. Here the cornice to the tester has lost the early simplicity, and is composed of a series of beautiful flat scrolls covered in deep crimson velvet, alternating with large acanthus leaves of embroidered white velvet; the pleated velvet valances are headed, divided and bordered, with rich fringes of white and canary coloured tassels, the curtains and lower valance being treated in the same way; the ceiling of the tester and the elaborate scrolled and acanthus heading above the pillows are covered with white satin embroidered in a beautiful design, and edged with the white and canary coloured tasselled fringe; the quilt is a brilliant canary colour embroidered with flowers. The feet terminate in open-work scrolls painted black and gold. The whole four poster bed is most rich and yet refined in colour; it is rather smaller than the preceding specimen, and was also slept in by Charles II.

By this time the four poster bedrooms of the nobility were universally furnished with a degree of luxury that up till now had been confined to the few who had been remarkable for lavish expenditure, and the introduction of gorgeously upholstered chairs, cabinets and other articles of furniture into the four poster bedrooms became general amongst the rich. We read in an extract from a document of the time, that at Kimbolton, in 1675, Robert, third Earl of Manchester, slept beneath an Indian quilted counterpane within yellow damask curtains, while no less than three elbow-chairs of yellow damask had arms open to receive him, and stools of the same bright hue were ready to support his feet. My lady reposed 'in a room hung with six peeces of haire, called silk watered moehaire, the bed hung with moehaire curtaines garnished with Irish stitch and fringe and four Irish stitch slips, all lined with white watered tabby, with counterpanes suitable to the four poster bed, kept down by four guilt Lyons' clawes'. The document goes on to say that the remainder of the furniture might have found place in the sleeping-chamber of a Queen. In other rooms there was a profusion of all needful furniture, and the little waiting-room near the great hall was hung 'with sadcullor bayes and had one pair of tables, tablemen and boxes, one chess bord and men, and one bord to play at fox and gouse'.

The characteristics of important upholstered four poster beds after the reign of Charles II were the elaborate mouldings and ornaments to the cornices and testers, the sometimes excessive height of structure, and the comparative absence of ornate tasselled fringes. The hangings up till this time had principally consisted of silk damasks, plain velvets embroidered in silks and gold thread, or of needlework tapestry. During the reigns of William and Anne, the hangings were sometimes composed of chintz, but mostly of figured velvets or damasks trimmed with galon. Embroidered bed-hangings, though exceptional, evidently still continued to be occasionally bought and sold, and were highly esteemed. In 1704 a bed is advertised in the Postman as 'a prize in a lottery by Her Majesty's permission', though it does not follow that the make of this Four Poster Bed (4 Poster Beds) is exactly contemporary with the notice.

'A Rich Four Poster Bed, seven foot broad, eight foot long and about fourteen feet high in which no less than Two Thousand ounces of gold and silver, wrought in it containing four curtains embroidered on both sides alike on a white silk Tabby; Three Vallains with tassels, three Basses, two Bonegraces and four Cantoneers Embroidered on gold Tissue Cloth, cost £3000, put up at £1400.'

Basses were the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) ground valances; bonegraces (a French invention, from the word bonnegrace - a form of head-covering) were narrow fixed curtains that did not draw, closing the opening between the side-curtains and back of a bed, in order to protect the head from draughts. Cantonnieres were narrow embroidered bands that hung from pendants, uniting the corners of the top valances outside the curtains, and performed the same office of protection and seclusion when the latter were drawn at the foot of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds); it was therefore desirable to have height in a bed of this kind, not only on account of its appearance in the new lofty rooms, but also to avoid the asphyxiation of the occupant. These lofty rooms must have been extremely cold; the bedrooms up to Carolean times had been comparatively small and invariably low, but with the new style of building the size of the windows much increased, while the appliances for warming the rooms decreased, a small hearth-basket or tray, of what was then called sea-coal, being substituted for the roaring wood fires of earlier times.

The half-tester open four poster bedstead, adopted from the shape called 'Duchesse' in France, received but little favour here, and consequently specimens of this style, which was alluded to by Celia Fiennes and other writers of that time as 'half tester beds in the new mode', or 'a la moderne', are almost impossible to find. Other simple forms, such as truckle and turn-up bedsteads, existed, used by the less important members of a household, but examples of these have also practically disappeared. In a letter of Isabella, Lady Wentworth, to her son, Lord Raby, dated 2 January 1711, there is an allusion to one of these turn-up bedsteads, and complaints about the temperature of the tall rooms of that time.

`My dearist and best of the children, Did I not tell you of the Queen's great loss? She had a dog shut up in a turn up bed and soe smothered. The Queen is better natured than I for sartainly I would have put away those that did tit.... It is bitter cold in any roome but this, and this comfortable  warme, but your lodgins  ar e excess if cold, the roomes soe large and soe high if the fyer be never soe great one side freesis while the  other burns.’

Oak bedsteads, even amongst people of quality, were still in use in Anne’s reign, and in another letter written by Lady Wentworth in 1705, she mentions that:

‘Our bedsteads being old and craysy, just as  Betty stept into bed broak all to peesis; it cannot be mended  I hope you will order Mr. Elleson to get a new one.’

A few days later she writes to the same person:

'I have gott my four poster bedstead mended, In my last I was afraid it could not be dun.'

Chintz had no doubt in many instances, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, replaced in Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) the ordinary hangings to oak four poster bedsteads, and Swift, writing in 1712, and satirising the taste for things Oriental, mentions how a country squire from 'being a foul feeder grew dainty: how he longed for Mangos, Spices, and Indian Birds' Nests, etc., and could not sleep but in a Chintz Bed'.

The four poster bed (Fig. 374), unfortunately somewhat mutilated, is connected with a very important event in English history - the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart - afterwards known as the Old Pretender, the youngest son of James II and his second wife, Mary Beatrice D'Este. The Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester cornice, which has lost its top ornaments, shows the commencement of the scrolled and corbelled corners of carved wood, that in four or five years became so prominent a feature on these state four poster beds. The material on the cornice is closely glued to the mouldings, and with the hangings and valances is of fine figured velvet, of English make, dark blue, green, crimson and salmon on a deep cream ground; the fringe is modern. The ceiling of the tester is untouched, and composed of canary-coloured satin, strained on simple architectural mouldings; the stain of the back has been renewed, and certain portions of the embroidery with which it was probably entirely covered, re­applied; the swags of flowers are of the highly raised original embroidery, in pale green and silver, the central and upright panel of ornament being still upon its original canary-satin ground; the ciphers on each side of this under small crowns are those of James II, whilst immediately over the centre interest is still further maintained by the original covering of deep emerald green velvet, trimmed with a gold galon; the arms differ in their lines from the preceding specimen, and curve outwardly; the pendants from the seatrail are broken off.

Upholstered Four poster bed

Four Poster Bed Fig. 374. (Left) Upholstered four poster beds. Height, 9 feet 8 inches; length, 6 feet 8 inches, width 5 feet 9 inches. Property of Sir Algernon K. B. Osborn Bart.
Four Poster Bed Fig. 375 (Right) Upholstered four poster beds. (A) Height, 16 feet; length, 8 feet, width 6 feet 4 inches. (B) Height, 8 feet 6 inches, length, 7 feet, width, 4 feet 1inch. Hampton Court Palace.

The next example in this series of  four  poster beds is Fig. 375 (A), five or six years later inn date, and used by William m, James's nephew and usurper of his throne; it is now placed in one of the small dining-rooms at Hampton Court Palace. The height of this magnificient bed is 16 feet, and the almost total disappear­ance of the curtains (their remnants being tied to the posts) adds to the loftiness of its appearance. The cornice consists of a series of fantastic scrolls supported by corbels at the centres and corners with large vase-shaped finials of elaborate form, from which the plumes have been removed; the ceiling of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester is dome-shaped and matches the cornice in design; the double valances are bordered with a broad galon, and meet at the corners in scrolled projections, from which the cantonnieres (now missing) hung; the pillow-heading is elaborately carved in scrolls and finials. The whole of the wood-work is covered in brilliant rose damask of English make, finished with a galon trimming, the curtains, valances and back being all to match; the bonegraces, whose uses have already been explained, are still left hanging; the feet are splayed, scrolled and covered with the damask. Some notion can be obtained of the arrangement Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)  bedding in those days by the inspection of these mattresses and quilts that are covered in their original cream satin, with green and red button-tufts; the long bolster is also covered with the same cream satin. By the side of this tall state Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) made for so short a man, a small bed (B), used by George II, is shown, on which the inner leather covering to the feather mattresses can be seen, the satin having been removed.

A four poster bed similar in construction and taste to that of William III's, but from which the vase-shaped finials have been removed, is Fig. 376, preserved at Hardwick. The Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) cornice is carved in the same manner, but here pendants form the corners; the scrolls that held the cantonnieres are also of carved wood, covered with rose-coloured damask with which the entire bed is upholstered, the trimming on the escalloped valances being bordered with a broad rose galon; the bonegraces, which can be seen where the back meets the sides, are decorated with one straight line of galon; the panel of silk immediately above the pillows is a restoration, and the quilt is comparatively modern. This bed is of about the date 1690, at which time the galon-scrolled trimming, centring in buttons, began to take the place of elaborate fringes on upholstered furniture.

The lavish expenditure that continued in the decoration of important four poster beds shows that these still held the position of former times, and although it was no longer the fashion in England for men of high position to give audience in bed, ladies of quality still received in this manner, and royal beds were both in England and France guarded with especial precautions. In 1694 the Marquis de Dangeau mentions in his diary, that the Queen of England 'receives the Court whilst on her Four Poster Bed (4 Poster Beds)'. Here he refers to Mary Beatrice D'Este at St Germains. In the Etat de France of 1694, there are interesting directions for the protection of royal beds, and the appointment of ladies of the bed­chamber for the Queen, in place of the valets who had hitherto sat within the rails to guard the four poster bed during the day, and these directions are stated to be founded on English Court ordinances of the time.

Plate XXVII shows another of these royal Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) made for Queen Anne. The cornice is comparatively simple, surmounted by vase-shaped finials covered

in velvet, and the double valances are straight; the whole bed is upholstered in a richly patterned velvet of English make, and by tradition the Spitalfields looms; it is tawny, olive green and claret on a cream curtains are lined with cream satin, and the two mattresses, quills bolster still in existence are covered with the same material. No galon is used in the decoration of this four poster bed, and its appearance somewhat bare.