If my bed was as beautiful as this Tudor ‘Bed of Roses’ I don’t think I would ever get out of it. Ornately carved from dark wood, this four poster bed stands 9ft tall and is currently on display at Hever Castle. Its story is remarkable and when Dr Jonathan Foyle, an architectural historian and broadcaster, made a long train journey to inspect a ‘Royal Tudor bed’ he assumed it would be a fake. What he actually discovered was astonishing.
Jonathan says he initially thought it was ‘a great piece of Victorian replica work’ and his primary challenge was to prove it bogus. ‘I thought well, you need to find one problem with this bed to disprove it and we can say hats off to the Victorian who achieved such a thing.’ But it wasn’t that simple. For the past two years the bed has undergone rigorous testing to assess its authenticity and now Jonathan is convinced that not only is it genuine but it’s the bed made for the marriage of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486. The carvings depict biblical tales of redemption and portray Henry and Elizabeth as saviours rescuing mankind from evil. Symbolising the fact the marriage forged a connection between the two great houses of Lancaster and York and brought an end to the ‘War of the Roses’.
Installed in the ‘Painted Chamber’ at Westminster Palace, the bed was originally decorated with a red-brown, grained paint effect and marbling. Some parts of the frame still retain traces of lapis lazuli, the most expensive of all medieval paint materials and, measuring 6ft 6” long and 5ft 6” wide, the contours of the bed frame perfectly match the shaping of the mural which served as its backdrop.
What happened to the bed after the death of the royal couple has led to a tale of travel and fraudulent dealings and it can all be discovered, alongside the Tudor ‘Bed of Roses’, at Hever Castle until 22 November 2015.
With thanks to Vivien Oldfield for inviting me to the exhibition launch at Hever Castle and allowing me to publish images. Many thanks are also due to Dr Jonathan Foyle for allowing me to use quotes from his speech.
*This article was previously published in the May issue of Bygone Kent magazine