Saturday, June 06, 2009

Question from Colleen - Sleeping furniture for children

I came up with kind of a weird question a few minutes ago. What did Tudor children sleep in? Specifically early-ish Tudor (as in, not Elizabethan)...I got to thinking about this when doing a little research on the last 10 years of Henry VII's reign. I'm pretty sure that cribs weren't around then, but what about cradles or bassinettes? And when did a child begin sleeping in an actual bed?

Also, I'm aware that royal and noble children slept in nurseries. Were boys and girls separated or just all lumped in together?

Thanks for any info...I Googled but couldn't find anything that answered my specific questions.


PhD Historian said...

The lives of children, even wealthy and aristocratic children, are very poorly documented for the early modern period. And unfortunately, not a lot of research has been done, largely because of the scarcity of documentation. While I have done some limited work on childhood, I have never come across any sources that address what historians call "material culture" related to children, i.e., the kinds of beds they slept in, etc. I suspect your question cannot be answered reliably because historians just do not know. The people of the period did not leave behind the kinds of evidence that we need today to answer the question.

Jacque said...

Alison Weir in her book "The King and His Court" describes the accommodations of Henry's and Katharine of Aragon's short-lived son who was born in 1511. According to Weir, the prince slept in a "vast painted wooden cradle". This goes on to say that the cradle was five by two feet in size, although I know only the very wealthy had such large beds (or cradles, I suppose) so I would guess that those not so wealthy would have had smaller cradles for their children to sleep in, and perhaps ones that were not painted.

entspinster said...

Henry's children had seperate suites of rooms and "sides" of servants literally from birth. Boys were "taken from the care of women" at six or seven years old. After this they would have no women servants except a laundress. Children of, say, a duke and duchess, might share a "mess", or service of food, with a sibling of similar age, and may have shared a room as well. This can be inferred from occcasional references and account books.

Sermons warned against babies sleeping in their parents' bed, for fear that they might be "overlaid" (crushed or smothered). It's hard to see how this could happen unless the parents were dead drunk. Perhaps this was just the cause assigned for the mysterious process now called "crib death".

Older children and adults shared rooms, and even beds, so regularly that it was seldom mentioned. When Catherine Howard was a teenager in the care of her step-grandmother, she shared a bed in the girls' dormitory with another girl. That girl was reported to have complained that she could not sleep, because Catherine and her lover Debenham were so noisy and active in the bed. The presence of young men in the dormitory was against all the rules, but the enforcement in that particular household was very lax.

The poorest of the poor were homeless, and slept (and died) on the ground out of doors, whatever their age.