Famous beds: 6 historical beds of note around the UK
Dotted around historic properties in the UK are some famous beds. Here are six famous beds to know about & a few you can see for yourself...
1. The Spangled Bed at Knole
It’s easy to see how the Spangled Bed got its unusual name: this beautiful piece of furniture is covered in satin, silver cloth, gold and silver thread, and thousands of sequins, giving it a uniquely glittering appearance. It was made in 1621 for Anne Cranfield, Countess of Middlesex (and the wife of one of James I’s courtiers). Companion pieces of furniture were also created in similarly impressive style. Today you can see the bed in all its glory at the National Trust-owned Knole House in Kent.
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2. Queen Charlotte’s state bed
Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, was one of the last monarchs to order a state bed as the phenomenon waned and politics moved out of the bedroom and into parliament. Her beautifully adorned bed cost the equivalent of 10 London townhouses, and work on it began in 1772, though it took six years to complete. Its textiles reflected the Queen’s interest in botany, with 4,200 individual flowers depicted, all of them botanically accurate and intricately worked by the women and girls of Mrs Phoebe Wright’s ‘Royal School of embroidering females’, a charity supported by the Queen. This bed is part of the Royal Collection.
3. ‘Mary of Modena’ bed at Kensington Palace
The Mary of Modena bed is one of the most significant beds in British history as it was the site of the scandalous ‘warming-pan incident’. Mary of Modena, the second wife of James II, gave birth to a son in this bed at St James’s Palace in 1688. James was an unpopular ruler – and a Catholic – and after the birth a rumour was put about by English Protestants that the baby had been stillborn and another baby brought in to replace it in a warming-pan. The seed of doubt sowed by this rumour helped fuel the movement to revolt, and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ that came shortly after the birth saw James lose the throne.
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4. The state bed at Calke Abbey
The pristine condition of the State Bed at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire can be put down to the fact that it was hidden away in a packing case from the time it arrived at the Abbey in the 18th century until its rediscovery in the 1980s. The extravagant bed may have been made in 1715 for George I and is thought to have been a royal gift to Lady Caroline Manners in 1734. The bed’s intricately embroidered Chinese silk hangings have retained their glorious colours thanks to the lack of exposure to light over the past three centuries.
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5. Queen Anne’s ‘death bed’
When Queen Anne realised she was nearing the end of her life, she ordered an elaborate state bed, 15-feet high and lavishly draped in velvet. It’s thought that she intended this to be her death bed but, unfortunately, the ailing monarch didn’t live to see it. The bed (today part of the Royal Collection) was completed after her death in 1714, but was as magnificent as she might have hoped, described 100 years later as ‘the most splendid bed in the universe’ by George III. It was also an item of huge expense, with the silk hangings alone reputed to cost £674 (the price of a good-sized property at the time).
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6. The Great Bed of Ware
Arguably one of Britain’s most famous beds and at over three metres wide, certainly one of its largest, the Great Bed of Ware is now housed at the V&A in London. The only known example of a bed this size, it’s thought that it can accommodate four couples! Constructed at the end of the 16th century, possibly as a tourist attraction for an inn in Ware, its fame was such that it was mentioned in Ben Jonson’s Epicoene and William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
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