The Tales of Three Royal Beds – Stories about the Royal Beds of Kings and Queens of the Past
These days we’re likely to worry about the lack of sleep we’re having – whether that’s due to social life, work schedule or energetic children. However, many centuries ago, the case was quite the opposite. People would actually fear going to sleep, rather than not getting their 8 hours.
During Medieval and Tudor times, sleep was always met with suspicion. People believed that their beds, and going to sleep, made them vulnerable to all sorts of spiritual and physical dangers. For example, sleeping without a pillow would allow spirits to enter through your mouth and steel your soul. Nowadays, we’re only scared about spiders creeping in!
Despite their reservations about sleeping, Royalty of these times still ensured their beds were as extravagant as all of their other beautiful, lavish furniture. And it was in Tudor times that the four-poster-bed was first introduced in Europe, representing the great wealth and social standing of those who owned them.
Owning the most extravagant bed soon became a competition between royals – which led to their bedchambers becoming a social place where they could show off their wealth to others. And it wasn’t long before the bedchambers became the place where all of the kingdom’s most important events happened: births, deaths, knightings and even wars were declared from the royal bed. And often it was all witnessed by friends, family and other high society members.
There are many stories to be told of the goings on in the royal bedchambers. And we’ve chosen three of our favourites to tell you about…
(1) The royal bed of King George II
The life of King George II was played out in front of an audience, with his bedchambers open to many a guest. It was common for people to be invited to the royal bedchamber to witness ‘The King’s Rising’, which was essentially watching him wash and get dressed in the morning. Similarly in the evening, the King would undress and wash before bed in front of an audience – a routine known as the ‘Couchee’. To be invited to be amongst this audience to watch the King go about his daily business was an incredible honour.
While washing and undressing was thought to be an exciting event to be privy to, the great state bed was also where the King would conduct important regal duties before an audience of courtiers, politicians and family members. The bed was in fact the most powerful place in the palace.
(2) The royal bed of King Charles II
Firstly, King Charles II was a bit of a ladies man, so his bedchambers were always going to be an eventful place. And at the time when Charles asked Catherine to marry him, he had several mistresses. Not to mention a mistress named Barbara who was pregnant by him.
Charles and Catherine’s marital bed was the first English royal bed to use a bed rail, which was designed to keep their visitors at a distance (unless invited in of course). It also came with a distinguishing feature – engravings of the letter C, whether this was after him or his new wife, we don’t know.
Despite Charles’ marriage, Barbara went on to have at least five children by him. And it is thought that he was father to possibly a further seven illegitimate children around this time.
As well as mistress and mother to five of Charles’ children, Barbara was also the Lady of the Bedchamber. This meant that she would dress the Queen, tend to her every need all day long, and put her to bed in the evening. An awkward situation to say the least! But despite Catherine’s protests, Barbara held her position.
Sadly, Catherine was unable to give Charles a child after miscarrying several times. Yet despite this and his many mistresses, Charles stayed with Catherine until the day he died.
(3) The royal bed of Mary of Modena
A revolution was started from this bed, so it’s a good job that the bed itself was as impressive as it’s story! Queen Mary’s bed really was the best of the best, laden with rich Genoa velvet from Italy, which was one of the most luxurious materials that could be used for beds at that time.
It was in this beautiful bed that Queen Mary – wife of King James II – gave birth to their son, James Francis Edward Stuart, on the 10th June 1688. A huge 200 people were present at the birth, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, ministers of the state and ambassadors. So you’d be surprised to find that despite all these witnesses, a plan was hatched by William II to oust Catholic King James II and replace him with William’s Protestant daughter Mary, by falsely claiming that the baby was stillborn. Supporters of William II – including King James’ daughter Ann – said that they saw a different child smuggled into the bed in a warming pan.
This was to be the start of decades of Jacobite rebellion with Catholic supporters attempting to claim the English throne. In turn, people’s tolerance of Catholics was wearing thin. The increasing friction eventually led to the Glorious Revolution. And it all began in a bed.
Interested in learning more about the history of beds? Check out our infographic which takes you from 10,000 BC to present day in just over a minute. You can also have a look at our full range of mattresses.