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The History of the Four Poster Bed

For centuries, the bed has been a sign of wealth, the richer the nobleman, the better the bed, which is probably why many people still aspire to owning a four poster bed, the bed of kings, and the king of beds.

Saxon and Norman furniture would have been basic in quantity and quality. The two essentials in their lives were "bed and board," a phrase still used today, the 'board' was literally a board or boards, set up on trestles or tree stumps used for a table and a bed.

The bed clothes would consisted of pillows, quilts and fur rugs, and would have only been for the wealthy, everyone else would have slept on the floor of the hall, around the fire.

The Saxon bed was usually made up against a wall, as a type of bunk or cabin, sometimes in a recess, with a rough mattress placed on boards, together with covers, and curtains suspended from above. The curtains could be drawn to keep draughts and light out, but warmth and illness in. The bedstead referred to the place (stead) where the bed was made, but when the bench developed into more elegant furniture, it still kept the name.

In the later Saxon period, some bedsteads were wooden platforms with bedding placed on them. The Norman bedstead was similar, but sometimes had curtains drawn at the sides, hung from horizontal iron rails, which were attached to and projected from the wall.

The truckle bed was progress from the rough plank. It was a plain, low framed bedstead, ( later used for many years as a bedstead in the basic servant's quarters). A lady's maid would sleep on the floor beneath the bedstead of her mistress, and the trenchor chaplain would "lie upon the truckle, whilst his young master lieth o'er his head." (Hall's Byting Satyres, 1599)

In the 13th century, a canopy or tester was introduced, suspended by cords from the beams above, on which curtains were hung. This developed into a bed chamber which was becoming more common by the 14th century. Then came an elegant bedstead, called the Arabian, and perhaps first found by our ancestors during the crusade, with bed curtains hung from wooden or metal rails.

The four post or great standing bed was introduced in the 15th century, and was probably brought from Austria, they developed into an enormous size. The Great Bed of Ware (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum), filled half the chamber, which measured 11 feet square, this was however an exceptional size, and not the norm.

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