History of Four Poster Beds

There was a second set of hangings for the four poster bedstead, described as "The Summer furniture for  the same roome"-­in this instance four curtains "of sad colour tabby, with the tester head cloathe and counterpane of pink colour satten embroidered with gould, fringd with silke and gould fring". The cups were covered with the same material as the curtains and supported "mix feathers and white spriggs". In some instances the chairs were upholstered to match the bed, as in The Yellow Satin Room at Ham. The Queen's four poster bed stead had "four guilt feet", doubtless resembling those on the bedsteads at Knole and Glemham, where the pattern of these feet closely correspond.

In the private dining-room at Hampton Court may be seen a four poster bed (Fig. 31) hung with crimson velvet trimmed with silver galon and a deep fringe. The corners of the four poster bed tester are surmounted by openwork vase-shaped finials holding ostrich plumes, the back and curtains being lined with crimson silk. The present height to the top of the plumes is 17 feet, but the cornice has been removed, which accounts for the vases appearing out of proportion; otherwise the entire structure exactly corresponds with the fashion of the end of the century.

The Palace Accounts mention the purchase from Lord Jersey of a crimson velvet four poster bed "for his Majesty's State bed-chamber at Hampton Court", an entry which almost certainly refers to this example. Between 1699 and 1701 there are many items relating to repairs and alterations to "his Majesty's" “Crimson Velvett four poster Bed". How costly was the covering of such furniture in proportion to the woodwork may be seen by comparing the £470 paid to Francis Lapiere by the first Duke of Devonshire for a set of hangings in 1699 with the following entry in the Account Books:

1706. For a large wainscot four poster bed sted with 10 large iron screws and nutts to hold it, together with 2 posts 13 foot high with a double sacking bottom and a large carved tester and a carved set of cornishes, and a large carved Headboard, etc., £15. Os. Od.

Of four poster beds based upon designs by Daniel Marot and other prominent French architects of the late seventeenth century only a few specimens survive, but the blue damask bed from Hampton Court, Leominster, is typical. The cooed cornice of the tester is surmounted by a cresting of delicately fretted scrollwork. The head-board is formed of a cartouche with elaborate scrolling and drapery below. This ornament is carved wood with the material glued on, the whole being outlined with tufted fringe.

The folds above the four poster bed head-board and those composing the valances are heavily fringed. The pattern of the damask is identical with that of a Canopy of State in the First Presence Chamber at Hampton Court Palace for which a large quantity of this damask, in crimson, was supplied at 24s. per yard in 1700. There were, until recently, four poster beds of this type in the Bohemian Chamber at Combe Abbey, and in the Green Velvet Chamber at Stoke Edith. Marot is now known to have received large payments from William III, on his private account, for designs supplied to Hampton Court , and the resemblance of some of these State four poster beds to the architect's published designs suggest that he exercised considerable influence.

The four poster bed from Melville House, Fife, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Fig. 29) is strongly reminiscent of Marot in style. It was made for George Melville, first Earl of Melville (created 1690), and bears his monogram C.M.G. on an escutcheon above the four poster bed head-board with an Earl's coronet on either side. The treatment of the cornice, carved in openwork and decorated with six coronets, is highly fanciful. It is covered with crimson velvet, the festooned and tasselled valances and curtains being of the same material. The interior is lined with figured oyster-colour damask of Chinese origin, the four poster bed, tester and head-board, is in embossed relief, being outlined with silk braid trimmed with fringe.

This magnificent four poster bed is in a remarkable state of preservation, and has strong claims to be regarded as the finest specimen of the period, c. 1690-1700, now in existence.

The accounts of the upholsterers employed by the Crown contain several allusions to "French four poster beds" at this time, and the description probably indicates that, if not actually imported, their design was based on contemporary French models. The names of several contemporary craftsmen who supplied furniture to the Royal palaces and great houses indicate their origin. The upholsterer Francis Lapierre, for example, in 1697 provided the State Bedroom at Chatsworth with a bed at a cost of £470.

Though early in the eighteenth century the cornice on important State Four Poster beds was sometimes formed of bold archi­tectural mouldings with corbels and pendants, reflecting this foreign influence, the ornate character of the hangings sometimes dictated a more austere design. In the Queen's Bedroom at Hampton Court is a State four poster  bed which has no elaborate carving or complex mouldings (Fig. 35). It is hung with a large-patterned velvet in claret, on a white satin ground. A straight, projecting cornice is covered with velvet pasted tightly over the mouldings; the hangings are simply trimmed with narrow galon, for fringes and tassels had gone out of fashion by 1714, the date of the bed. A warrant signed by the Lord Chamberlain proves that it was originally made for Queen Anne's use at Windsor, whence it was subsequently removed to Hampton Court. Furniture for Her Majesty at Windsor:

For the bedchamber a standing bed without bedding, a large arm chair and eight square stools, all of Crimson gold and white figured velvet trimmed with a figured silk arras lace of the same colours, and false cases, and a case curtain to the bed of gold colc, red silk; the curtains of the bed to be lined with white satin, likewise three pair of large window curtains.

Sgd. SHREWSBURY
27th Day of July, 1714

The bill for these splendid hangings was sent in by John Johnson and Company, Mercers, in May of that year. The 321 yards of velvet at Is. 8d. a yard included the material for window curtains and the armchair. These costly and elaborate hangings have been attributed to Spitalfields. Little is known of the silk manufacturing there at that date, but though their origin has not been established, they are not, like most costly velvets at this period, described as " Genoa " in the accounts; while the pattern supports the inference that they are of native origin. Ten years earlier another Treasury Warrant had been issued, "to take down her Majesty's White Satin Indian embroidered four poster bed and hangings in her Majesty's bedchamber at Windsor and the bed to be mended and set up at Hampton court for her Majesty's Service there. . . . "       Calendar of Treasury Books Vol. xix, 1704, p. 289-290), showing that two State four poster beds were removed from the castle to the palace for Queen Anne's use in the course of her reign.

» back to top