The royal beds

The royal beds

Mary of Modena's bed
Each of the six beds on display in Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber has a unique story to tell.

Mary of Modena's bed

Mary of Modena's bedA revolution was started from this bed!

In this royal bed King James II's Catholic queen Mary gave birth to the baby James Francis Edward Stuart who later became the 'old pretender'. On 10 June 1688 Mary went into labour. She was forced to give birth in this bed to an audience of at least 200 witnesses including the Archbishop of Canterbury and ministers of state, ambassadors and key family members.

Despite crowding the room with witnesses, supporters of William III who wanted to legitimise their plans to oust the Catholic King James II and replace him with his Protestant daughter Mary, claimed that the baby had been stillborn and that a 'changeling' child was smuggled into the bed in a warming pan, or an old fashioned hot water bottle.

Witnesses to the birth changed their story and claimed that they had not seen the child being born. James's daughter Anne defied her father and was a key supporter of this story.

And so began decades of Jacobite rebellion with Catholic supporters of baby James trying, unsuccessfully, to claim the English throne. This led to increasing intolerance of Catholics in Britain and ultimately, to the Glorious Revolution.

This was the ‘Ferrari’ among royal beds when it was designed. Mary chose the rich Genoa velvet from Italy, her home county, which was one of the most luxurious materials for beds.

Queen Anne's state bed

Queen Anne's state bedQueen Anne personally ordered her great bed in her final year when she had been gravely ill. Unusually, she may have intended it as a 'death bed'. She planned to die in her favourite palace, Windsor Castle but a stroke robbed her of this last wish. The bed in which she finally died has recently been discovered to be displayed at Warwick Castle.

This magnificent bed stands 15 feet high. In support of Britain's emerging new industry Anne ordered 'bizarre pattern' velvet from English weavers working in Spitalfields. This was at a time of intense trading competition and war across the globe and this English fabric would have been excessively expensive.

The bed was never completed in Anne's lifetime and so it was never slept in. It was not until over 50 years later that it was even finished, when George III took it for his own bedchamber at Windsor Castle.

Queen Caroline's state bed

Queen Caroline's state bedThe Queen's State Bed was the second great state bed made for Hampton Court's Baroque palace. This magnificent bed was made for the first royal couple to live at Hampton Court since William and Mary – the Prince and Princess of Wales, George and Caroline, who became George II and Queen Caroline. You can see it today in the room it was originally intended for. This bed marks a shift in fashion to a more flamboyant, architectural style than William's and Anne's beds at Hampton Court.

King George I had locked his unfaithful wife in a castle in Hanover so when he arrived in England he had no Queen to rule with. In the absence of a Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales set up court in the Queen's State Apartments. George I and his son had a tumultuous relationship and the Prince and Princess’s court soon became a rival to the king's. The bedchamber was the centre of their court, until they were expelled over a family row.

At the exhibition, be sure to look up when you enter the bedchamber - Sir James Thornhill's splendid painted ceiling is another expression of the new Hanoverian dynasty’s arrival at Hampton Court.

Queen Caroline's private bed

Queen Caroline's private bedThis is a rare Angel Bed, so called because the canopy suspends from the ceiling without the need for four posts. Angel beds were often more associated with women and even royal mistresses.  This particular bed actually came from Raynham Hall, Norfolk where it had belonged to Lord Townhsend, who was an important political figure during the new Hanoverian’s reign.

It has been painstakingly re-upholstered and restored to its former glory. Evidence suggests that originally the bed was covered in chintz, but later recovered in fashionable yellow silk damask.

Angel beds were more appropriate for a private bedchamber and it is now on display in Queen Caroline’s privy apartments. Here she would have received George II in private and this is where she would have slept. 

Queen Charlotte's bed

Queen Charlotte's state bedCharlotte's bed was a modern bed in design and she paid for it from her private purse. Despite the enormous cost of the bed, it was never slept in and was entirely meant for show at Windsor Castle.

Charlotte was passionate about flowers and gardens and was instrumental in setting up Kew Gardens. This bed is covered with over 4000 botanically accurate embroidered flowers. Flowers were often used on beds to symbolise love and fertility.

Whilst the frame of the bed was designed by renowned male architects, the superb embroidery was designed by the distinguished female artist Mary Moser, the first lady to be accepted into the Royal Academy. The exquisite needlework was embroidered by the charity 'Mrs Wright's school for embroidering females' that the Queen supported herself. The young women were orphans from poor but respectable families.

This was the end of the line for royal state beds – no other British monarch commissioned another great state bed of such a size and status.

George II's travelling bed

George II's travelling bedThis little bed is the rarest in the collection. It is the only royal travelling bed to survive from dozens made for the large Hanoverian court. This would have been a 'top of the range' model, which may explain its unique survival.

It is a Travelling Bed or Field Bed designed for dismantling and travelling with the court around the country, to various palaces and sometimes even to the battle field. The bed breaks down into 54 separate parts.

The idea of a Travelling Bed is not new to the 18th century – Tutankhamen's tomb contained a folding bed for his after life, and most medieval royal beds were portable as the court was very mobile.

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