History of Four Poster Beds

Another fine example, very little lower than Queen Anne's four poster bed, is in the King's Bedroom at Hampton Court Palace (Fig. 37). The cornice is formed of bold architectural mouldings with projecting corbels supporting vase-shaped finials at the corners. The bed is hung throughout with a large-patterned rose damask silk, the cornice being closely covered and the deep valances projecting in scrolls at the lower corners to receive thecantonnieres and small curtains designed to exclude the draught. The invoices show that this four poster bed was made for George, Prince of Wales, in 1715, when he represented his father, George I, at Hampton Court during the King's absence in Hanover. The structure in this in­stance is of oak, and the head bears the Prince of Wales's feathers. "A long pole with a hook and ferrill to turn the curtains" is among the items mentioned in the bills. A State four poster bed closes this Late Stuart sequence. For­merly at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire, it was made about 1710 for William Blathwayt, who held various important offices under William III and Queen Anne. The cornice is very elaborately moulded, and the back, composed of a head-board supporting two columns with foliated capitals, is highly characteristic of baroque design. The hangings of this remarkable example are of red velvet with yellow applique, the curtains being panelled in olive green. In the back the panel matches the quilt, which is of cream satin embroidered in yellow and red with a pattern of scrolls. Such monumental, elaborate structures, symbols of wealth and power, were necessarily confined to a few great houses.

At this date four poster beds of the "Angel" or half-tester type were occasionally designed, which, save for the absence of the posts at the foot, have nothing to differentiate them from the prevalent fashion (Fig. 36). In 1698 Celia Fiennes found two "half bedsteads" in the Duke of Norfolk's bed­chamber, one "new made of dimity with fine shades of worsted work well made up", the other a bed of "fine Indian quilting and embroidery of silk".

The four poster bed with embroidered satin hangings and gilded enrichments in the State Room at Erthig, Denbighshire, is of this type (Figs. 39-41), and a letter from Simon Yorke, describes a  Half-tester, or "Angel," Bed; serpentine cornice and head .surmounted h.i whorls. c. 1710. (Leeds Castle, Kent.)made for the marriage of the heiress of Erthig, dated April 17, 1720, gives the name of the upholsterer and shows that the carving and joinery were done elsewhere. "I called on Mr. Hunt" (see HUNT, PHILIP), writes Yorke, "to press his sending the four poster bed he is making on Monday next; his Wife told me that the Bed as to their worke hath been finished long since; but the gilding and Carving is not ready nor will be 'till towards the latter end of next week; she saith she is very desirous of having the Bed out of her hands, and for that purpose hath sent severall times to hasten them". The hangings are all of white satin embroidered with silks in the Chinese manner, a style of decoration known as "Indian needlework". The embroidery to which this name was first given was imported from China, but these hangings are an English imitation. Brilliantly coloured peacocks are applied at the corners and centre of the tester, and within the elaborately scrolled head­boards, bordered with gesso ornament. Below are two gilt eagles' heads vigorously carved in relief.

Householders of moderate means were contented with far less important structures and plainer hangings, the type in common use being well represented by the little four poster bed at Hampton Court Palace, supposed to have been used by George 11 after the death of Queen Caroline (Fig. 42). It stands in the Queen's private chamber, and with its hangings dates from about 1725. The large lozenge-shaped pattern of the damask in no way resembles the florid silk design fashionable in the first years of the century. Hangings were now made of linen, chintz, China silk, or needlework, the curtains being still disposed to shut the sleeper in com­pletely. Another fine example of "Indian needlework" is a Half-tester, or "Angel", Bed; serpentine cornice and head surmounted hI whorls. c. 1710. (Leeds Castle, Kent.) married the heiress of Erthig, dated April 17, 1720, gives the name of the upholsterer and shows that the carving and joinery were done elsewhere. "1 called on Mr. Hunt" (see HUNT, PHILIP), Writes Yorke, "to press his sending the Bed he is making on Monday next; his Wife told me that the four poster Bed as to their worke hath been finished long since; but the gilding and Carving is not ready nor will be 'till towards the latter end of next week; she saith she is very desirous of having the Bed out of her hands, and for that purpose hath sent severall times to hasten them". The hangings are all of white satin embroidered with silks in the Chinese manner, a style of decoration known as "Indian needlework". The embroidery to which this name was first given was imported from China, but these hangings are an English imitation. Brilliantly coloured peacocks are applied at the corners and centre of the tester, and within the elaborately scrolled head­boards, bordered with gesso ornament. Below are two gilt eagles' heads vigorously carved in relief.

Householders of moderate means were contented with far less important structures and plainer hangings, the type in common use being well represented by the little four poster bed at Hampton Court Palace, supposed to have been used by George 11 after the death of Queen Caroline (Fig. 42). It stands in the Queen's private chamber, and with its hangings dates from about 1725. The large lozenge-shaped pattern of the damask in no way resembles the florid silk design fashionable in the first years of the century. Hangings were now made of linen, chintz, China silk, or needlework, the curtains being still disposed to shut the sleeper in com­pletely. Another fine example of "Indian needlework" is in the "Embroidered Bed-Chamber" at Houghton (Fig. 43).

In the fEdes Walpoliana,Horace Walpole records that in 1731 "His Highness, Francis, Duke of Lorrain, afterwards Grand Duke of Tuscany, and since Emperor, lay in this four poster Bed, when he came to visit Sir Robert Walpole": lie adds that the needlework is the finest of its kind. The white background is quilted with leaf pattern in white silk thread, the coloured design of flowers and birds being all in chain stitch. Such delicate hangings were easily soiled, and references in contemporary correspondence show that it was often necessary to clean them.

A few years earlier Lady Strall-ord writes from tier new house in St. James's Square that she is extremely pleased with tier worked four poster bed, " for now 'tis clean'd 'tis as good as new and looks very genteel." In the Green Velvet Bed-chamber at Houghton there is a four poster bed designed by William Kent  whose influence on the furniture of his age was very far-reaching. Kent's design had not been carried out when the German Prince stayed at Houghton in 1731, but the bill of " Turner Hill, and Pitter in the Strand " for the hangings is dated 1732, and amounts to £1,219 3s.11 d. The principal items are: £  s. d.

266 yds. dble rich gold clouded lace
209             do
36; „ cord
305      ., Gold Vellum Rivicea do.             Sub total 584 8 12 8 , Small do
202  „ Small Vellum ornaments do.
8        ,         Vellum Corners

Fig. 45. Mahogany Bed: fluted posts with Corinthian capitals. c. 1740. Height, 9.ft. 3 in.; length, 7 ft. 3 in.; width, 6 .it. 2,1 in. (Victoria and Albert Museum.)

£ s. d.
16 yds. Dble rich gold bullion fringe
with a vellum head .I 481 11 12
87    „ Dble rich gold bullion roses
6  ,, gold bullion tassells do.
I I  „  Dble rich gold ornaments with bullion roses and a large vellum bottom for the shell with Flowers do. for the         131 12 12 Tester and Pedestal and a large vellum Flower for the counterpann do.  ,

The gold embroidery was worked, as the bill shows, on a vellum ground and every item can be traced, such as the shell, the large central flower, and roses on the counterpane, and the endless yards of different patterned lace. The four poster bed reaches within 2 feet of the ceiling of the 18-foot room, the back thus affording an ample field for Kent to place a shell of gigantic proportions. Hangings of this elaboration were designed to last an indefinite time: a great part of them was glued down on the framework, and as a thorough cleaning of the structure was a difficult operation it was liable to become verminous. The Gentleman's Magazine for Novem­ber, 1735, contains the following receipt to destroy bugs in beds:

To every single ounce of quicksilver, put the whites of 5 or 6 eggs, mix them and beat them well together in a Wooden Dish with a Brush, till the Globules of the Quicksilver are but just perceptible. Then after having taken the Bedstead to Pieces and brush'd it very clean from Dust and Dirt (without washing) rub in all the Cracks and Joints the above Mixture, letting it dry on; nor must the Bedstead be wash'd at any Time afterwards.

The writer promises that in most cases a first application of the method will be successful, but if it fails a second will certainly destroy the pests.

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