Exhibition | Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on June 29, 2013

Press release for the exhibition at Hampton Court:

Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber
Hampton Court Palace, 27 March — 3 November 2013

Curated by Sebastian Edwards

state bed

Queen Charlotte’s embroidered state bed, displayed in the
Prince of Wales’s Bedchamber at Hampton Court Palace

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This spring independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, has transformed Hampton Court’s Baroque Palace with a special exhibition full of intrigue, drama and surprise. At its heart are six magnificent, royal beds. For the first time the world’s largest and rarest collection of early state beds are presented in one dramatic display, telling the story of how and why the bedchamber became the most public and important destination in the Palace. The exhibition also offers a chance to view architect John Vanbrugh’s Prince of Wales’s Apartments, opened for the first time in 20 years.

Bed of George and Caroline, Prince and Princess of Wales, ca. 1715, displayed in the Queen's State Bedchamber.

Bed of George and Caroline, Prince and Princess of Wales, ca. 1715, displayed in the Queen’s State Bedchamber at Hampton Court Palace

Through the stories of their royal owners and servants, visitors are able to explore the elaborate, sometimes bizarre bedchamber rituals and unusual sleeping arrangements. Discover what took place where heirs were born, marriages consummated, monarchs were struck down and died – all while important affairs of state were conducted in this most personal of rooms. Most strange of all, these events took place before an audience of courtiers, politicians and family members, who turned everyday life for the monarch into a grand performance.

Inspired by the French fashion of the levée, the monarch would meet courtiers and ministers during an elaborate morning ceremony, during which the most privileged of his servants, woke, washed and dressed the king. Courtiers would fight for the illustrious and intimate positions of ‘groom of the stool’ or the ‘necessary woman’ to get close to the monarch. For an extraordinary century, the state bedchamber became the most sought after room in the palace for the rich and the powerful, where privileged access brought honour or the king’s favour. At its heart was the great, state bed, from where the monarch could conduct affairs of state.

These remarkable state beds have undergone extensive conservation and restoration over some fifty years. Each bed has a dramatic, and often poignant, tale to tell. For the first time the tragic story behind Queen Anne’s magnificent velvet state bed is revealed. Ordered by a dying queen in her final year, childless after many sad losses, she faced the prospect of her dynasty ending with her death; left unused and forgotten, it was described by the thrifty George III as a ‘venerable old relic’. Another splendid bed featured is the infamous ‘Warming Pan Bed’, the state bed of James II’s Queen, Mary of Modena, and the scene of the royal birth that sparked the quiet revolution that led to the end of the Stuart line.

An exceptional but modest survivor is the unique ‘travelling bed’ of George II which comes apart into 54 pieces, a testament to a time when the king and his court were often on the move. King Georg took his bed as far afield as his second home in Hanover and even to the battlefields of Europe. Each state bed reveals the intense competition between monarchs, and their courtiers, who expressed their taste and magnificence through their beds — the largest and most expensive objects in their homes. These beds could cost the price of a London townhouse and yet, incredibly, might never have been slept in!

This new exhibition, supported by Savoir Beds, creates an experience which takes a contemporary twist on the distinctive Baroque style of the palace. Through new research and interpretation, visitors are plunged into an immersive, interactive world of the Stuart Court, showcasing rarely displayed and amazing objects from the Royal Collection and other important lenders, all within the backdrop of the beautiful architecture of the State Apartments.

Historic Royal Palaces’ exhibition curator, Sebastian Edwards, said, “Visitors to the exhibition will discover that, far from being restful places of privacy, the state bedchamber was the seat of power – the equivalent of the modern day boardroom, from which the business of the Kingdom was conducted. Events which took place in and around these beds had enormous consequences for society, politics and history. Courtiers were knighted, wars were brokered, marriages consummated and mistresses wooed all in the shadow of the royal bed. These are extraordinary beds – but not as we know them today.”

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