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In Bed with the Tudors

by Enochadmin

The nightmare of Henry I in 1130, from the Worcester Chronicle, c.1130-40. Courtesy of British Museum Photos.

Historical past is the ‘shipwreck of time’. Innumerable examples of home furnishings from early fashionable England have been misplaced due to pure wastage, altering fashions and the destruction of the Civil Battle. Except preserved in ecclesiastical contexts, historical home furnishings sometimes exists in fragments; the headboard from Henry VIII’s marriage mattress, now within the Burrell Assortment, Glasgow, is an instance. Every so often, these fragments have been cobbled along with fashionable woodwork to create ‘minimize and shut’ antiques.

Regardless of this, items of medieval furnishings do survive and sometimes materialise. The problem is to attempt to verify their authenticity. Somewhat over a decade in the past, a four-poster mattress replete with English royal heraldry was bought for £2,200 from a resort in Chester as a Victorian replica. Materials evaluation has subsequently revealed that this mattress’s construction and carved panelling is made virtually completely from one tree; its DNA locations it in central Europe (there’s only a two per cent likelihood of the oak coming from England). Crucially, using wooden from only one tree means the mattress isn’t minimize and shut; it’s a real vintage.

The surfaces of this mattress additionally protect fragments of paint, together with deep blue from the rock lapis lazuli, which are per the categories and utility of pigment from Fifteenth-century England. The ornate headboard additional attests to the mattress’s age. It depicts Adam and Eve trampling evil, with different imagery evoking unification and fertility. This and different particulars, together with its heraldry, confer with the 1486 marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York that helped mark the top of the Wars of the Roses. The invention of their marriage mattress – the place Henry VIII was probably conceived – in 2010 was a massively important discover.

One other surviving mattress with related ornament was virtually definitely made for Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby. Stanley was Henry VII’s stepfather which helps to explains the existence of two remarkably related state beds from the daybreak of Tudor England. {A photograph} of Stanley’s mattress, taken in 1913, has not too long ago emerged and data the mattress’s type when it was bought from the Orchard, a manor home in Rochdale. Noteworthy are the mattress’s cover and double-decker footboard replete with Henry VII’s royal arms and Stanley’s gartered protect; these components have now disappeared and due to this fact can can’t be examined. The mattress itself has vanished into a non-public assortment.

In the course of the twentieth century the Stanley mattress was disassembled and restored no less than twice; these so-called enhancements essentially reformulated its look. The footboard was eliminated, virtually definitely to make it conform to assumptions about historical beds. It’s extensively accepted that medieval beds didn’t embody footboards that had been designed to be seen. Such footboards are believed to be a part of the Nineteenth-century Gothic Revival spearheaded by Augustus Pugin. The double-decker footboard that had been hooked up to the Stanley mattress by 1913 has, due to this fact, been dismissed as wholly Victorian, primarily based solely upon acquired opinion. Sadly, we would not have the flexibility to evaluate and check it scientifically.

Such assumptions about medieval beds are, nevertheless, hampered by the truth that few examples survive and stock descriptions hardly ever provide significant element. We can not construct a whole image of a typical mattress’s look from this time. A small group of early Tudor beds from Lancashire does exist, although one was transformed right into a bookcase earlier than being given to Chetham’s Library in Manchester in 1827. It’s not possible to say how consultant these examples are, outdoors Lancashire.

As an alternative, for over a century, historians have turned to the following finest supply given the dearth of bodily proof: visible depictions present in manuscript illustrations. Bedding is usually proven extending over the foot of the mattress, overlaying the entrance rail and forming a valance (or ‘mattress skirt’). Given that the majority English beds illustrated in manuscripts conform to this mannequin, the affordable assumption is that medieval beds had a modest foot rail reasonably than a big and elaborate footboard between the legs.

As with the Stanley mattress, the royal mattress’s footboard has been dismissed as Victorian frippery and a few have used it to name into query the age and authenticity of the entire construction, regardless of the carved ornament preserving fragments of a medieval paint scheme. However due to the restricted variety of surviving Tudor beds – not to mention royal ones – it’s doable that the carved footboard just isn’t the Victorian addition some have assumed it to be, however as a substitute, a tangible instance of what a royal mattress from 1486 may appear to be.

An investigation of beds depicted in medieval manuscripts and early Sixteenth-century printed designs, in addition to bodily examples, reveals that carved footboards meant for show had been very a lot a part of up to date design language. Maybe essentially the most important instance is present in a manuscript held by Corpus Christi, Oxford. Depicting Henry I’s nightmares, the scene reveals the king on a mattress the place the pierced headboard, together with its capping and nook finials, is replicated on the foot of the mattress, too. This footboard rises rather less than the headboard, however it’s nonetheless above the extent of the bedding. Under no circumstances was this board designed to be hidden. After all, this mattress was virtually definitely hypothetical, however it nonetheless demonstrates that the idea of a carved and uncovered footboard existed in English visible tradition as early because the twelfth century.

Uncovered footboards might be present in quite a few different depictions of beds, together with in Leonhard Beck’s print, Saint Leo (1517), and Jacques Sacon’s plate for Biblia cum concordantiis (1718). A very distinguished instance is illustrated on the foot of the ostentatious double-canopied state mattress in an engraving made by Peter Flötner round 1540, and a extremely ornate Gothic instance is included in a Sixteenth-century retable now held in Musée Boucher de Perthes in Abbeville.

These examples not solely show that the footboard was a part of the visible language of Sixteenth-century beds, however that this idea existed as early because the 1140s in England. Dismissing footboards on Tudor beds as Victorian interventions after we would not have enough proof to make conclusive pronouncements is a very acute illustration of the problem going through historians of Tudor materials tradition.


Peter Lindfield is Lecturer in Historical past and the Nation Home at Manchester Metropolitan College.

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