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The royal bed of Henry VII & Elizabeth of York


In the twenty-four years that followed his crushing victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry VII both confirmed and consolidated the Tudor dynasty’s grasp on power by a canny combination of sound finance, tough justice and peace abroad. Above all, however, he married wisely and procreated vigorously.

Elizabeth of York, his swiftly acquired bride, was the eldest daughter of Edward IV, and the resulting union of the red and white roses was the surest possible safeguard against any further scheming by his enemies. For the new queen was not only sprung from the requisite royal stock but fertile. Within a year of her marriage she had borne a son, Arthur, and five years later a second boy, the future Henry VIII, would follow. Prince Arthur, the so-called ‘rosebush of England’, was in effect the living embodiment of lasting union between the once contending houses of Lancaster and York, leaving the queen’s other surviving offspring, including two daughters, both as handy insurance policies against the vagaries of sixteenth-century medicine and as priceless bargaining chips in the game of European diplomacy. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that if Tudor England was founded on the field of battle, it would thrive or falter on the fortunes of the royal marriage bed.

The uncanny identification of Henry VII’s ‘first state bed’ in 2010 therefore ranks as arguably one of the most evocative and significant early Tudor discoveries of all time. Found by chance in the car park of a Chester hotel after being dismantled and discarded, it was sold at auction for £2,200, as a Victorian bed, to an antique furniture restorer. When the restoration had been completed, however, the eagle-eyed craftsman duly contacted the chief executive of the World Monuments Fund Britain, suspecting that the object actually belonged to the Tudor period. And though the bed’s origins remain a matter of some academic debate, dendrochronology confirms that the wood was indeed cut in Germany in the 1480s, while written records trace the bed back to at least 1495, when the king went to Lathom to visit the Stanley family, who had been instrumental in securing his victory at Bosworth. Even more intriguingly, however, the headboard depicts Henry VII and his queen as Adam and Eve transmuted into Christ and surrounded by the fruits of paradise, which would appear to symbolise the couple’s imminent hopes for an heir. Notwithstanding the later addition of an inscription from the Matthew Bible of 1537, there is compelling evidence to suggest, therefore, that the bed was actually created at the time of the first Tudor’s marriage on 18 January 1486. If so, it is wholly plausible that not only Prince Arthur but Henry VIII, too, was subsequently conceived thereon, raising the bed’s value, according to experts, to some £20 million.

Extracted from The Tudors in 100 Objects by John Matusiak

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