While Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Princess and the pea is just a fairytale, it does shine a light on the sometimes bizarre bedtime needs of royalty. As a courting ritual, it’s a bit excessive to ask someone to sleep on a pile of 20 mattresses rather than – I don’t know – meeting her family, but it isn’t a million miles away from some of the antics of some historical Kings and Queens:
Edward III (1312-1377)
According to the writer Geoffrey Chaucer – who actually spent time as a Yeoman to the king’s chamber – 14th century luxury consisted of a feather bed ‘rayed with gold and covered with black satin from over the seas’, which frankly sounds a little bit Jay Z.
Henry VIII (1491-1547)
When Henry VIII became king, he had a collection of ornate beds installed in each of his 60 palaces across the country, thus relieving himself from the horror of roughing it on a mere Lord’s bed during campaigns. To save himself being bitten by bedbugs, he’d take a piece of fur to bed with him so that the fleas could hang out in that instead.
Louis XIV (1638-1715)
According to the inventories of his palaces, Louis XIV of France had 413 beds, which is, frankly, showing off. Many of these would be laced with pearls and gold, such as the great bed at Versailles with its crimson velvet curtains. They’d embroidered “The Triumph of Venus” on to the curtains, as a nice touch, but so much gold was used that the velvet could barely be seen. Indeed, the bed was deemed to be an even greater symbol of royal power than the throne.
Queen Anne (1665-1714)
Towards the end of her life, Queen Anne made the slightly morbid decision to commissioned a bed that she intended to die in. Described by successors as one of the greatest beds in the universe, it was the height of Baroque fashion and cost the equivalent of £78,000 to make. Unfortunately for Anne, she died before it was finished.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
Queen Victoria’s bedroom was involved in a political scandal in 1839, when Queen Victoria invited Tory politician Robert Peel to form a new government. He said he would do so if she was to get rid of her ‘ladies of the bedchamber’, many of whom were wives or relatives of leading opposition politicians. The Queen refused the request, considering her ladies as close friends and confidantes.
Queen Elizabeth II
Not much is known about the current Queen’s bedtime arrangements – whether she kicks off her fluffy mules and settles down to a spot of telly and cocoa, while Prince Philip checks the locks and puts the bins out – but it’s unlikely she’ll settle for any old futon, seeing as Buckingham Palace has 52 royal bedrooms and another 188 staff bedrooms!