History of Four Poster Beds

Part of this information has been reproduced from the following publication:
Oak Furniture - The British Tradition by Victor Chinnery,
published by the Antique Collectors Club.

From the Royal Guild archives 7 lecture folder given by experts from lectures at Guild meetings dating from the year 1884 By Royal Guild Tradition the History of Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) Design and Style are dated by the period of the Ruling King and Queen of Great Britain.

Crown Guild of Master Woodcarvers Master Craftsmen can hand carve and hand make Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) to any design required by the Customer.

Four Poster Beds

The remarkable stone bed-nooks at Skara Brae, in the Orkneys (c.1500 B.C.), set the scene for the earliest and longest surviving forms of built-in and enclosed Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bedsteads, which continued to be made in Western Britain, Scandinavia, Holland and Brittany until less than one hundred years ago. These wooden cupboard Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)bedsteads, which might be either free-standing or built-into alcoves in the house, were designed to provide both privacy and warmth in harsher climates. In Britain, they are chiefly found in Wales and North-West England (Figures 3:448-451). They vary greatly in detail, according to date and locality, but from the outside they normally assume the appearance of a large cupboard, usually with some provision for ventilation in the form of pierced panels or open rows of spindles. The doors may be hinged in the normal way, or (more conveniently) they may be made to slide, as in the two Welsh examples shown here. The bed from the Gower has a very cosy arrangement whereby it is closely associated with the fireplace. The occupants have a good close view of the fire, and the front of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bedstead has an attached settle for daytime use (Figure 3:449).

1594…In the stable…a cupboarde Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bedstead…

cupboard beds

Figure 3:448. Joined built-in cupboard beds. English; Waitby, Westmorland. Oak, 1650-1720. The large pairs of doors, ventilated by panels of turned spindles, each enclose a bed space. This and the following examples are derived from a much older tradition of built-in beds.

cupboard beds

Figure 3:449. Fireplace with joined built-in cupboard bedstead. Welsh; Kennixton, Llangenydd, Glamorganshire. The bedstead and its attached settle flank the fireplace in this farmhouse from the Gower Peninsula. Quilts and bedding can be seen inside the bedstead.

Joined built-in cupboard bedstead

Figure 3:450. Joined built-in cupboard bedstead. Oak, elm and pine, early eighteenth century. This is the bedstead from the previous figure, here shown closed.

Joined built-in cupboard bedstead

Figure 3:451. Joined standing cupboard bedstead. Welsh. Pine, circa 1800. The whole framework is designed to be easily dismantled for removal, being held together by iron hooks.

Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) Bedsteads (Figures 3:452-465a)

The need for warmth and privacy remained a prime consideration in the design of Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bedsteads right through to at least the eighteenth century, particularly in the great houses and even Royal Palaces. The middle class farmer or merchant was usually provided with a small self-contained bedchamber, but in the great houses most of the rooms were of a semi­public nature. This meant that, not only were they open to access by all and sundry, but the succession of lofty rooms which opened into each other encouraged draughts.

For these reasons, most Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bedsteads were enclosed, and the use of fabric curtains became standardised at an early date. The medieval great Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bedstead was perhaps the most important piece of furniture in the domestic scale, but it was typified more by its use of fabrics than by the wooden structure itself. The Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)bed consisted essentially of three elements: the bedstock or base on which the bedding was laid; the dosser or headboard which stood up against the wall; and the tester or canopy which formed a horizontal roof over the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) bed. Even at an early date, the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester might be supported by posts rising.


Figure 3:452. Joined tester bedstead. Welsh. Oak, circa 1505


Figure 3:453a. Tester valence (foot end). The holes drilled along the top to take bed ropes are a latter addition,
dating from the time when valences are lowered to forma a bedstock.


Figure 3:453b. Tester valence (side). The tenons which originally entered the tops of the posts are
clearyly visible, with their peg holes.


Figure 3:453c. Tester valence (side). The horseman with a lance near the extreme left may be tentatively identified as Sir Rhys ap Thomas himself.

This is the great Four Poster Bed (4 Poster Beds) of Sir Rhys ap Thomas Dynefwr, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire (d.1527). Only the centre portions of the four poster and three tester valances are original in this ludicrous rearrangement. From the foot of the four poster bedstock; but since so many medieval testers consisted only of fabrics, they were often supported by strings from the ceiling of the room.

But we are more concerned here with four poster beds of the sixteenth century and later, and therefore with wooden four poster bedsteads, in which the curtains and fabrics are a secondary consideration. The wooden Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester and its supporting posts would seem to have made a return to favour around the end of the fifteenth century, though hardly any physical evidence remains to show us how they were constructed, or what they looked like. It seems likely that the first transition was a stage at which the fabric tester was retained over the four poster bed, and carved wooden Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester valances were placed at either side, supported by four posts (or two footposts and a headboard). This is perhaps a correct interpretation of the original form of the great four poster bed of Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Dynefwr (Figures 3:452 and 453), whose armchair we have already seen (Figure 3:28 and details). A few early sixteenth century bedsteads survive (such as Figures 3:45,7 and 458, and the four poster bed at Saffron Walden Museum), but none retains clear traces of the original form of the Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds) tester. For this reason the Rhys ap Thomas four poster bed is a valuable relic. The four poster bed probably dates from about the turn of the century (1505-10), though only the three Four Poster Beds (4 Poster Beds)tester valances and the four posts are extant. It is shown here in the rather ludicrous form endowed on it by later seventeenth century and nineteenth century 'restorations', when the valances were put down to the base and the posts mounted above them. All the other woodwork is spurious and unrelated. We have to imagine the valances once again held up by the posts. The original nature of the dosser is not clear, but the posts are in their original form and they may have supported a fabric hanging more or less as shown. The decoration of the valances is most interesting, comprising some deep bas-relief carving of soldiers, horsemen and other figures, which probably depict some of the exploits of Sir Rhys and his friends. There would certainly have been some Welsh bowmen amongst his contingent at Bosworth, and the men shown in the carvings include longbowmen, crossbowmen and a diminutive harpist. The posts are divided into a series of diapers, which enclose variously the Tudor(?) Rose, heads, figures, and Sir Rhys's own coat-of-arms (Figure 3:27b).

The coat-of-arms of Sir Rhys ap Thomas

Figure 3:27b. Carved bed post. Detail of figure 3:452. The coat-of-arms of Sir Rhys ap Thomas.