Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber

Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber

Queen Charlotte's bed, Hampton Court Palace

1 March 2013

A new exhibition exploring the Bedchamber of the 17th and 18th century royal court.  These are beds, but not as you know them!

27 March until 3 November 2013 at Hampton Court Palace

This spring independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, will transform Hampton Court’s Baroque Palace with a special exhibition full of intrigue, drama and surprise – at its heart will be six magnificent, royal beds. For the first time ever the world’s largest and rarest collection of early state beds will be presented in one dramatic display which tells the story of how and why the bedchamber became the most public and important destination in the Palace. The exhibition will also offer a chance to view architect John Vanbrugh’s Prince of Wales’s Apartments – opened for the first time in 20 years.

Through the stories of their royal owners and servants, visitors will be able to explore the elaborate, sometimes bizarre bedchamber rituals, unusual sleeping arrangements and enjoy the luxurious excesses of the Stuart and Hanoverian courts.  Discover what really took place in the royal bedchamber where heirs were born, marriages consummated, monarchs were struck down and died, and all the while important affairs of state were conducted in this most personal of rooms. Most strange of all, these events took place before an audience of courtiers, politicians and family members, who turned everyday life for the monarch into a grand performance.

Inspired by the French fashion of the levée, the monarch would meet courtiers and ministers during an elaborate morning ceremony, during which the most privileged of his servants, woke, washed and dressed the King before the business of the day began. Discover how courtiers would fight for the illustrious and intimate positions to serve the bedchamber to get close to the monarch, such as the ‘groom of the stool’ or the ‘necessary woman’. For an extraordinary century, the state bedchamber became the most sought after room in the palace for the rich and the powerful, where privileged access brought honour or the king’s favour. At its heart was the great, state bed, from where the monarch could conduct affairs of state.

These remarkable state beds have undergone extensive conservation and restoration over some fifty years.  Each bed has a dramatic, and often poignant, tale to tell.  For the first time the tragic story behind Queen Anne’s magnificent velvet state bed will be revealed – ordered by a dying queen in her final year, childless after many sad losses, she faced the prospect of her dynasty ending with her death. Left unused and forgotten, it was described by the thrifty George III as a ‘venerable old relic’. Another splendid bed featured is the infamous ‘Warming Pan Bed’, the state bed of James II’s Queen, Mary of Modena, and was the scene of the royal birth that sparked the quiet revolution that led to the end of the Stuart line.

An exceptional but modest survivor is the unique ‘travelling bed’ of George II which comes apart into 54 pieces and is testament to a time when the King and his court were often on the move.  This particular king took his bed as far afield as his second home in Hanover and even to the battlefields of Europe!  Each State Bed reveals the intense competition between monarchs, and their courtiers, who expressed their taste and magnificence through their beds - the largest and most expensive objects in their homes.  These beds could cost the price of a London town house and yet, incredibly, might never have been slept in!

The new exhibition, supported by Savoir Beds, will create an experience which takes a contemporary twist on the distinctive Baroque style of the palace. Through new research and interpretation, visitors will be plunged into an immersive, interactive world of the Stuart Court, showcasing rarely displayed and amazing objects from the Royal Collection and other important lenders, all within the backdrop of the beautiful architecture of the State Apartments to create an experience unlike anything seen at a royal palace before.

Historic Royal Palaces’ exhibition curator, Sebastian Edwards, said:
“Visitors to the exhibition will discover that, far from being restful places of privacy, the state bedchamber was the seat of power – the equivalent of the modern day boardroom, from which the business of the Kingdom was conducted.  Events which took place in and around these beds had enormous consequences for society, politics and history. Courtiers were knighted, wars were brokered, marriages consummated and mistresses wooed all in the shadow of the royal bed.  These are extraordinary beds – but not as we know them today."

For further information please contact Katrina Whenham or Laura Hutchinson on 020 3166 6307/6338 or press@hrp.org.uk

For high resolution editorial images, please visit our online press image library at http://hrp.newsteam.co.uk/

Notes to Editors

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace.  We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.

We receive no funding from the Government or the Crown, so we depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors. These palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

We believe in four principles.  Guardianship: giving these palaces a future as long and valuable as their past. Discovery: encouraging people to make links with their own lives and today’s world.  Showmanship: doing everything with panache. Independence: having our own point of view and finding new ways to do our work. www.hrp.org.uk 
Registered charity number 1068852     

Savoir Beds hand crafts the world's finest mattresses here in the United Kingdom.  Savoir's first bed was commissioned by The Savoy Hotel in 1905, and for many years the business was owned by The Savoy.  The "Savoy Bed" became legend amongst the hotel's guests, with many placing orders before departing.  Savoir now exports around the world, with showrooms in many major cities, including New York, Paris and Shanghai as well as in London.  Each bed is made to entirely to order using the most luxurious natural materials available, including long, curled horsetail and cashmere wool, and takes between 30 and 120 hours to for a skilled pair of hands to create.  See www.savoirbeds.co.uk or for press information email azelle@azelledesignpr.co.uk 

Savoir Beds Logo

Downloadable Resources

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    Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber
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    Key Objects List
    (Microsoft Word document, 307KB)

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