New Approaches to the Late Medieval English Bedchamber

Rachel Erin Butcher, Fordham University


Despite the bedroom's obvious importance to medieval domestic life at all social levels, there is no comprehensive introduction to the bedchamber's layout, contents, functions, and symbolic resonances. The current study is intended to fill that gap by providing a broad introduction to the late medieval English bedchamber as a space through a detailed investigation of the furnishings that defined it, with a special emphasis on the bed itself. My focus is on the master bedrooms of the relatively wealthy members of society, including craftspeople, merchants, husbandmen, and high-ranking members of the clergy. In order to study the meanings and associations of the bedroom as a space, I have created two databases intended to catalog individual items of furniture kept in English bedchambers. My first database is derived from descriptions of bedroom furnishings found in a selection of English wills and inventories, while my second keeps track of the contents of the bedrooms represented in select late medieval manuscript illuminations. The contents of these two databases form the backbone of the analysis; however, paintings, literary witnesses, extant furniture, and architecture are also included to aid our understanding of this important space. These sources are brought together in order to answer the following questions about the late medieval English bedroom: How did the bedchamber fit into the larger space of the house? What did people typically keep in their bedchambers? How can we understand the function of the bedchamber in light of these contents? As answers to these fundamental questions are offered, larger trends in bedchamber decoration and use are considered in relation to the categories of region, class, gender, and time period. A reflection on the larger significance of the space will follow by way of a conclusion.

Subject Area

Art history|Economic history|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Butcher, Rachel Erin, "New Approaches to the Late Medieval English Bedchamber" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI1601572.