Sleeping upright?

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

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Adam the Archer
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Sleeping upright?

Postby Adam the Archer » Mon Mar 15, 2010 7:01 pm

An appeal for the truth!
I hear a lot of people say that in the 16th century people slept sitting upright, so that they weren't mistaken for the dead. Is this correct? If so what are the sources for this?

Another thing (while I am on about beds), I attended a house that had holes in the frame of the bed (not for the ropes). The guide said they were for bed staves, which would stop the bed clothes falling on the floor. I had not heard this before. Does anyone have more information?

Best wishes

Adam



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Brother Ranulf
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Re: Sleeping upright?

Postby Brother Ranulf » Mon Mar 15, 2010 7:29 pm

As with most of these claims, there is a kernel of truth that has somehow become distorted in the re-telling.

Certainly after the Conquest in 1066 (not sure about before), those people who could afford to sleep in a decent bed slept propped up on bolsters and pillows, so their heads and shoulders were raised above the level of the mattress. The reasons are not entirely clear, but being comfortable must have been a major element. I have heard it said on a recent television documentary that "medieval people slept sitting up", which is clearly not correct. I guess that the same kind of arrangement applied in your period, but not so as to prove you were alive (people die in their sleep, no matter what posture they happen to be in).

If the preserved bedrooms at places like Audley End House are anything to go by, the same kind of arrangement still applied in Victorian times.

This is a 12th century depiction of Henry I being haunted by nightmares while asleep in bed. He is propped up,but obviously not sitting upright:

Image


Brother Ranulf

"Patres nostri et nos hanc insulam in brevi edomuimus in brevi nostris subdidimus legibus, nostris obsequiis mancipavimus" - Walter Espec 1138

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Brother Ranulf
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Re: Sleeping upright?

Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:56 pm

I have been looking for something from the 16th century to demonstrate how people slept at that time and I found this copperplate engraving by Van der Borcht, probably late 16th century and illustrating the "caladrius", a mythical bird capable of foretelling death or recovery for individual patients. (The chap on the left is out of luck ;( )The two sick people are propped up as I stated, not on bolsters this time but pillows - and clearly not sitting upright.

Image


Brother Ranulf



"Patres nostri et nos hanc insulam in brevi edomuimus in brevi nostris subdidimus legibus, nostris obsequiis mancipavimus" - Walter Espec 1138


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