How Many to a Bed!


Following on from last week’s post about sleep, I thought I’d look at sleeping arrangements. You only have to go into a fourteenth century house or a thirteenth century castle to see that space was at a premium. These buildings took a lot of people to maintain them and, where their purpose was military, to defend them. There just wasn’t enough room for everyone to have their own bed, let alone their own bedchamber, although honoured guests in a great castle might be lucky enough to a have both.

For everyone who wasn’t a king or one of his barons, sharing a bedchamber or a bed was the norm. Even in reasonably well-off houses an entire family might sleep in one room, with the parents in one bed and the children in another, or on a mattress on the floor.

In one of my novels, The Winter Love, I give one of the characters a bed to himself, but he is unmarried and it is his house where he lives alone. Towards the end of the novel Eleanor is given a bedchamber of her own, but it’s clear that this is a particular honour and it is in the house of another bachelor. In The Traitor’s Daughter and His Ransom, however, Alais and Richard respectively share beds with other members of the household.

There was very little living space in houses and castles, and most of what there was was dual purpose. The hall, for example, was the place where meals were eaten, celebrations, including dancing, were held, guests received and the servants slept. It was the largest room, often of impressive, or even imposing, dimensions. Food was eaten off trestle tables and the household sat on benches to eat. All of these were easily cleared away. If there was entertainment, stools could be brought out for those who needed to sit, while everyone else stood. When everyone else had gone to bed, the servants slept on the floor, separated from the beaten earth by rushes, or possibly rush mats, and blankets.

The solar was a first storey room, usually at the end of the hall, in a great house or castle. It was here that the lord slept. During the day it was more like a drawing-room for his family and a place where they could be private. In this room the women embroidered and span and members of the family read or wrote. It would be a very comfortable room, often with a fireplace.

Apart from the lord, and, sometimes, his wife, no one had their own bedchamber. Since there was no concept of privacy, this was not a problem. The sexes were segregated, but that was the only concession.  Beds were expensive and not everyone could afford one. Really good ones were dismantled when the owner travelled and put together again when he arrived at his destination.

When travellers stayed in an inn they could find themselves sleeping in a room containing up to a dozen beds, each holding three or four people. They might share a bed with one or more strangers. There were occasionally separate rooms for women, but they rarely travelled alone and were usually accommodated in a bed with their husband even if it meant throwing a single man out.



Filed under Fourteenth Century

6 responses to “How Many to a Bed!

  1. Very informative. A great reminder of how attitudes about personal space have evolved over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel for the poor introverts! There must have been some. Perhaps they found their secluded spots outside? Adds a new dimension to the joy people felt at the appearance of spring. Perhaps better weather meant you could get away from others for a while, however briefly?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The privacy thing is very interesting and I want to do some more reading about it. I know that they had a different attitude to privacy then, but there were some things that you surely didn’t want to do with everyone else around. Ever since I read that Joan of Kent managed to be courted by and married to Thomas Holland and consummated the marriage without anyone else (mainly her parents) being aware of it, all at the age of twelve, I’ve known that there must have been some desire for privacy and some way of achieving it. Even the solar wasn’t really about privacy, it was about the lord being too important to be close to the everyday events in his house or castle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! Joan and Thomas may well have been accompanied by servants who were bribed to keep their mouths shut throughout the wedding-and-bedding, but there’s still that need for time apart from others that some people feel more keenly than others. That’s one of the things so fascinating about the behaviour of our ancestors, and of us. How much comes from the environment we’ve been born and raised in, and how much is natural to our species and therefore unavoidable?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Making the Bed | A Writer's Perspective

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