Beds Through The Ages

Some of the earliest beds were little more than piles of straw or some other natural material (e.g. a heap of palm leaves, animal skins, or dried bracken). An important change was raising them off the ground, to avoid drafts, dirt, and pests. Beds found in a preserved northern Scottish village, which were raised boxes made of stone and likely topped with comfortable fillers, were dated to between 3,200 BC and 2,200 BC. The Egyptians had high bedsteads which were ascended by steps, with bolsters or pillows and curtains to hang around. The elite of Egyptian society such as its pharaohs and queens even had beds made of wood, sometimes gilded. 

Roman mattresses were stuffed with hay, reeds or wool. Feathers were used towards the end of the republic, when custom demanded luxury. Small cushions were placed at the head and sometimes at the back. The bedsteads were high and could only be ascended by the help of steps. They were often arranged for two people, and had a board or railing at the back, as well as the raised portion at the head. 

Ancient Germans lay on the floor on beds of leaves covered with skins, or in a kind of shallow chest filled with leaves and moss. In the early Middle Ages they laid carpets on the floor or on a bench against the wall, placed upon them mattresses stuffed with feathers, wool or hair and used skins as a covering. Curtains were hung from the ceiling projecting from the wall. 

In the 12th century, luxury increased and bedsteads were made of wood much decorated with inlaid, carved, and painted ornamentation. They also used folding beds, which served as couches by day and had cushions covered with silk laid upon leather. 

In the 14th century the woodwork became of less importance, generally being entirely covered by hangings of rich materials, silk, velvet and even cloth of gold were frequently used. This century was also the time when feather beds became highly prized possessions. 

In the 15th century beds became very large, reaching 7 to 8 feet by 6 to 7 feet. The mattresses were often filled with pea-shucks, straw, or feathers. At this time many people were in the habit of carrying most of their property about with them, including beds and bed-hangings, and for this reason the bedsteads were for the most part mere frameworks to be covered up; but about the beginning of the 16th century bedsteads were made lighter and more decorative, since the lords remained in the same place for longer periods. 

The 17th century, has been called "the century of magnificent beds", the style a la duchesse, with curtains only at the head, replaced the more enclosed beds in France, though they lasted much longer in England. Louis XIV had an enormous number of sumptuous beds, as many as 413 being described in the inventories of his palaces. 

Iron beds appear in the 18th century; the advertisements declare them as free from insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads. Elsewhere, there was also the closed bed with sliding or folding shutters, and in England- where beds were commonly quite simple in form, the four poster was the usual citizen's bed until the middle of the 19th century. How things have changed!