History of Four Poster Beds

XV. Four Poster Beds

The enormous height given to Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) during the reigns of William III and Anne continued under George I a few years; but the growing popularity of mahogany and its fine qualities soon induced important alterations. These firstly concerned the materials with which the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) posts and cornices had been covered; they were now being dispensed with, also the height of the posts was considerably reduced. The cornices of mahogany four poster beds were smaller in scale, and rapidly discarded the fantastic shapes in the gilded and carved cresting; they resembled, in fact, the classic type applied to important cabinets, and were entirely exposed. The four poster posts at the foot, also exposed, were turned and delicately carved in low relief above the level of the mattress; at the base they terminated in short cabriole legs, but about 1750 these were generally omitted, and a small plinth was added to the square post. The Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) head posts were plain square tapered, intended to be hidden by curtains; generally they were in a native hard wood.

During the periods of Gothic and Chinese taste important Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)
were decorated accordingly, and fitted with remarkable hoods resembling pagoda roofs; the Chinese; lattice was also fitted at the head between the posts (sea the Chinese lacquer bed at Victoria and Albert Museum).

About 1760 the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) foot posts became still more delicate, and were generally fluted on the taper above a vase form, In some instances low relief carving appeared in sunk panels on the square lower portions of the foot posts, which now began to taper to a spade plinth. Robert Adam designed some remarkable state beds, In which satinwood and gilding were employed, and also and also many of simple structure in mahogany with beautiful low carving on the posts and cornice.

From about 1765 the so-called Hepplewhite Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) appeared; they were marked by their graceful proportions and refinement of detail; the posts were turned, reeded, and carved with palm leaf and wheat-ear. The cornice was frequently bowed or serpentine, carved, pierced, and inlaid. Painted decoration is to be found on some from about 1780, taking the place of carving.

In the last decade of the eighteenth century, decadence in the design of four-posters becomes apparent; particularly is this noticeable in the hitherto finely executed foot posts, which now began to lose their beautiful proportions, and, although but little increased in diameter, the ornament appears somewhat coarse; this tendency increased after, 1800, the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) designs getting heavy and very ugly in comparison the superb models of twenty years earlier.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) the sideand end beams were tenoned into the four posts, and secured with coach screws. A series of wooden laths replaced the earlier roped-on canvas mattress. The turning of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) long posts was an expensive and difficult undertaking on the lathe of the eighteenth century, and although it is usually impossible to detect the joint, many posts were built up of two parts, and united by a strong dowel; this economized material and enabled the turning to be done on a normal size lathe, as only the best-equipped workshops could boast of a lathe capable of receiving a post about 8 feet long.

A Mahogany Four-Post Bedstead (circa 1765)

A Mahogany Four-Post Bedstead (circa 1765)
The foot posts turned, fluted and carved. The moulded cornice shaped in serpentine curves.
Width, 5 ft. 2 in. Length, 7 ft. Height, 8 ft.
The property of Messrs. Phillips, of Hitchin.

Late Tudorbethan Design Period  1509 – 1603


Though a number of oak four poster beds of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century are in existence, Gothic and early Tudor specimens are all but unknown, the well-known early Tudor four poster bed in the Saffron Walden Museum standing alone as a complete and unrestored structure. Four Poster Bedposts of early sixteenth ll-century date are illustrated on PLATE III., Nos. 1 Beds of the Elizabethan period with elaborate fool posts (often enriched with a bulbous enlargement), corniced testers, and panelled headboard on which the richest inlay or carving is concentrated, present a monumental effect. It must not be assumed that all beds of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century were of the canopied type. Fig. 14 illustrates an example, dated 1700, of a simple bed with panelled head-board and foot consisting of turned balusters and rail, which closely follows an early type.


Length, 6 ft. Width, 4 ft. 6 in. Height, 8 ft. 4 in.

This four poster bed is of different construction to that on the previous page. The occupier of the four poster bed would sleep parallel with the wall. The arcades at the foot are supported by spindles. The turned balusters are supported on square, fluted pedestals, of which the upper portion is carved with acanthus leaves and support the tester, the frieze of which is fluted. The cornice is decorated with shaped nullings, interrupted at intervals with corbels. Between the pedestals is enclosed a carved rail, the ends of which are ornamented with.



The posts at the foot supporting the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester stand free of the four poster bed. The upper portions of these are fluted and partially reeded, and are crowned with Ionic capitals. The lower and bulbous portions of the posts are nulled and stand upon square panelled pedestals. A tier of inlaid panels of the back are arcaded and flanked by pilaster supports, carved with leafwork and nulling, above a tier of plain panels. The frieze of the tester is nulled, and the centre square inlaid with a crude representation of a black bird.

Tudor, 1509-1603

Four Poster Bedsteads were considered by all classes to be the most important article in the home, and were costly items. As such, they were bequeathed in wills, as pieces of great value, to dependants and relatives. In wealthy households a bedstead might cost as much as £1,000, and even in poorer homes a much greater standard of comfort was to be expected by the latter years of the 16th century. In most homes there was one four-poster bed and often several trestle types. The four poster bedsteads were enormous, so that when the heavy curtains were closed, the occupant(s) were enclosed in a small, draught-proof (but also somewhat airless) room. For example, the Great Bed of Ware - so called on account of its size-now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, measures nearly 11 feet square in plan, but this is, of course, unusually large. A heavy wooden carved canopy was supported on a carved bed head and posts at the head, with two further posts at the foot. The bed frame, of wood, was attached to the four poster bed head, and had two small posts at the foot, within the two canopy posts. The whole framework was heavy and solid, and almost the whole surface was decorated by carving. In the Elizabethan period the posts resembled classical columns, and after 1575 were often bulbous. The four poster bed itself had a wood-board or rope-mesh foundation, and on top of this was placed one or two large feather four poster beds, into which the occupant sank deeply. Linen sheets, blankets, pillows, bolster, coverlet and embroidered quilt completed the bedding. In comparison with other items of furniture, and indeed general living standards in a Tudor home, sleeping accommodation was luxurious. The four poster bed curtains surrounded all the bed except over the four poster bed head, and could be drawn back during the daytime; a valance hung all round the tester or canopy. These hangings varied in material according to the wealth of the owner, but were as rich as could be afforded, as in the case of Tudor garments. Tapestry, velvet and embroidered silks, with fringed or velvet band edges, were seen in well-to-do homes, whilst wool and cloth were used in poor one.

Carved Oak Bedsteads

Four Poster Bed Carved Oak Bedsteads