The Langley Collection

The First State Bed of Henry VII & Elizabeth of York
October 1485 - January 1486

Its iconography reveals a very specific late medieval royal language portraying the reversal of Adam and Eve's sins by redeeming monarchs who are making a mutual gesture typical of a pledge of marriage, thus crushing the three symbolic evils of Royal Psalm 91, a theme also used by the late fifteenth-century French monarchy. There is none of the typically Italianate character found in sixteenth-century furniture, but the diaper posts match those used in the court arts of Edward IV, and the wall-joinery of Henry VII, by the evidence of four recently- discovered posts matching this bed, with a 'hR' cipher and fleur-de-lys.

The bed's five royal arms and six single roses are those of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, who were described in terms of redeemers after civil war, and the profile portraits resemble their physiognomy. As symbols of fertility abound, it can only have been made for the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York at Westminster Palace on 18 January 1486, before the birth of their heir Prince Arthur in September that year. The bed's proportions precisely fit the design of the mural in the Painted Chamber Westminster, against which state beds were set until 1512.

This exceptional object escaped the Commonwealth destruction of royal property and chattels because it was taken to Lancashire in 1495, where it influenced the early sixteenth-century Lancashire school of joinery. Its discovery near Huddersfield in 1842, by George Shaw, a copyist who did not understand its origins, only makes sense in this demonstrable historical context. And its obfuscation into the twenty-first century is due to the fact Shaw's smaller, simply varnished and illiterate copies were passed off as the beds of northern aristocrats seeking their family heirlooms. Shaw wanted to hide it, and kept the front crest in his house while the bed eventually wound up in a hotel in Chester, lost in plain sight.

Dimensions: Width 5ft 6" (167.6cm), Length 6ft 6" (198.1cm), Height 9ft (274.3cm).

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