Beds are a status symbol: the Tudor royals and noblemen showed off their wealth through their huge four-poster beds and elaborate drapes and hangings, and many people today covet a spacious and beautifully designed bed in their home.
The difference in the quality and comfort of beds has always separated rich from poor and continues to do so. While some of us enjoy the luxury of fine Egyptian cotton sheets, others around the world still prepare for the night by rolling out a simple sleeping mat.
Beds in the ancient world
The earliest beds were little more than piles of straw or other natural materials to ease the discomfort of lying on a bare, cold floor. An important change occurred ...view middle of the document...
Curtains were hung on it to block out draughts and light. Gradually bed covers became more elaborate, often incorporating gold cloth and decorative fringes. In the early 14th century, feather beds imported from France became popular in English homes. In the wealthiest households a feather bed was placed onto the matted truss (mattress) of straw, with a layer of canvas in between. The woollen blanket also appeared around this time.
The great four-poster bed was first introduced in the 15th century, probably from Austria. These beds were typically enormous with huge intricately carved pillars up to 18 inches in diameter carrying the vast weight of the wooden panelled tester. Carvings on the bed included the family coat of arms, monsters, griffins, Cupids, and knights, and drapes and tapestries were heavily embroidered in splendid colours and exotic designs. When lords travelled between manors, they frequently took their beds with them. Portable beds were known as 'trussing' beds and the hangings were referred to as 'the portable chamber.'
In 1600, the bed in a poor household would consist of a timber frame with rope or leather supports. The mattress was a bag of soft filling, usually straw or sometimes wool. However, a tradesman might have several feather beds in his house, often with an elaborately carved back and posts.
The origins of the modern bed