Is it time to climb back into the Medieval bed box? As a bed in a closet, they’re ultra space-saving. As a bonus, you can add drawers below for the children.
Since the late medieval period, the box or enclosed bed has slept its way throughout Europe: Brittany, Scotland, Austria, Netherlands, and Scandinavia.
Besides, who doesn’t find the double-decker box beds intrinsically hilarious? A whole genre of early 20th comic postcards is staged around Brittany’s famous bedding. Look at these for folky farce and carry-on!
The boxed bed or lit-clos was the main furniture of rural houses in Brittany until the 20th century. Often beautifully carved and decorated, it was the pride of its owners.
The opening was furnished with sliding doors or curtains – so that the occupant could entirely shut himself in. No small thing, when everyone slept in one room.
Traditionally a large oaken chest, as high and broad as the bed itself guarded the bedstead. It was always “the seat of honour”, and served as “a step to assist mine hostess in mounting to her exalted couch”.
If the enclosed beds look rather small to us, it’s because they were. At 1.60 to 1.70 m length, it was long enough for people of Brittany, who were rather small.
The enclosed beds from the 16th and 17th centuries were indeed shorter, and for a simple reason. People slept in an almost sitting-up position. Some were propped up with thick bolsters or pillows; the poorest made do with a log.
A little foot, a little hand.
It may be snug and warm, but the cozy nook has a creepy history. Imagine Red Riding Hood crossed with Hannibal Lecter and you have the legend of the closed bed.
“The closed beds were designed to protect themselves from wolves … In the villages and farms, these animals were said to have entered the houses, seized infants asleep in their cradle by the fire and carried them away….It is also a protection against the pigs that everywhere swallow their snout indistinctly , and hens birds of prey that come in and out unceasingly from the cottages and do not look twice at what they tear or burst : an eyelash , an ear, a little foot, a little hand. “
Some unfortunate factory apprentices slept in shifts in box beds. 3 to a bed, the night-time shift was locked while the door was left open for the day sleepers. If an apprentice stepped foot out of the door, he was immediately put to work.
3 in a box bed
In case you wondered how many people can fit into a box bed, one bawdy French tale tells us: three. In “The Three Hunchbacks”, a bored housewife, hiding them from her jealous husbands, crams three hunchbacks into the box bed. Unfortunately, they all suffocate.
A tale with a useful message for when we return to sleeping in box beds, as the Vintage News assures us we will.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.