Tag Archives: Medieval Bed

The Medieval Merchant’s House – The Bedroom

 

Cradle

The front bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The tour of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton moves upstairs.

Above the ground floor passage is a gallery. It runs between the two bedchambers on the first floor. Only one, at the front of the house, is furnished.  In The Winter Love this is the room I gave to Eleanor and her friend, Isabelle, while Isabelle’s brother, the merchant, sleeps at the back.

The bedchamber is furnished with two beds, complete with bed hangings, a cradle, a stool and three chests.

 

Gallery

The gallery of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The beds each have a canopy, bed hangings and a counterpane.

 

Bed coverings

Bed hangings in the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The bed hangings provided privacy, both from other occupants of the room and from neighbours. There were no curtains at the unglazed window, although there might have been shutters.

One of the useful things I learned in the bedchamber is that the canopy of a medieval bed did not rest on four posts, as I had imagined (influenced by too many beds from later centuries), but it hung suspended from the ceiling by ropes. I already have some ideas about how such an interesting fact could be used in a future novel.

 

Bed canopy 2

Bed canopy in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The bedchamber was open to the ceiling and did not originally have a fireplace. As well as being decorative and providing some privacy, the bed hangings also helped to keep the occupants of the beds warm.  These have been made using medieval techniques.

The bedroom contains two more garishly decorated chests:

 

Chest in front bedroom

Chest in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

 

Other chest in bedroom

Chest in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

This pretty little stool is also in the bedchamber.

 

Stool in front bedroom 3

Stool in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

 

 

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Making the Bed

kingmordrain

Over the last two weeks I’ve looked at medieval sleeping habits and the lack of nighttime privacy. This week I’m looking at the beds in which these activities or non-activities took place.

I write historical romance novels and, inevitably, at some point in the story, the hero and heroine will end up in bed, usually together, but sometimes apart.  Even if I don’t draw attention to it, it helps me to know what kind of beds they sleep in.

In the fourteenth century, as now, not all beds were equal, and many people simply slept on a blanket over the rushes that were all that separated them from the beaten earth floor. If you were a servant in a castle or great house those rushes might not be very clean. The household would bring in all kinds of dirt on their shoes from outside. There might be dogs in the hall who were less than housetrained. Food and drink might have been spilled on the rushes. One of the reasons why the owner of a great house or castle had a solar separate from the hall was so that he would be spared the smells associated with it. Some of the servants might be lucky enough to have a sack filled with straw as a mattress.

The next step up was sleeping on one or even two proper mattresses. At this level the mattress would be made of hemp or canvas and stuffed with straw. The mattress would not be very thick and would get thinner each time it was slept on. The straw would scratch the sleeper and would contain biting insects. The straw might not be very clean and might smell. Sleeping on such a mattress was only marginally more comfortable than sleeping on the floor.

On top of the mattress and the person sleeping on it would be a rough woollen blanket, more than one in winter if they were lucky. 

Wealthier people would have their mattresses on a wooden frame. The frame itself probably harboured creatures which would bite the occupant. The frame would be very basic and the mattress would be placed on ropes stretched across the frame. These had to be tightened each night. The ropes wouldn’t stay tight for long and the occupant or occupants of the bed would find themselves rolling towards the middle of the mattress during the night.

Above this level the frame design remained more or less unchanged. The quality of the wood might vary, as would the size of the frame and the mattress.

Very well-off people had curtained beds. This took the form of a canopy from which curtains hung around all four sides of the bed. The curtains could be tied back to allow exit or entry for the occupant, and possibly during summer nights. A blessing in winter, the curtains must have been stifling in the summer.

These beds would have thicker mattresses sometimes filled with feathers. They would also have linen sheets and better quality woollen blankets and bedspreads. The wealthy would rest their heads on pillows.

These kinds of beds were valuable possessions and would be passed on in wills. Those owned by great were so treasured that they would be taken down when the owner travelled and put up again when he reached his destination.

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How Many to a Bed!

medbed6

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.

 

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