When an antique dealer in the UK purchased an intricately designed bed frame, he inadvertently made the find of a lifetime. Purchasing the ornately designed bed festooned with lions, serpents, and a representation of Adam and Eve, for £2200 ($2500), antique dealer Ian Coulson expected to find a “profusely carved Victorian four-poster bed with armorial shields,” just as the online catalog described.
“At that stage, I thought it was a supreme example of the Arts and Craft movement,” he told National Geographic.
The Arts and Craft movement had its heydey in the Victorian era, spanning the early 1830s up until 1901, but when Coulson arrived home with his purchase he soon realized it was far older than previously thought.
There were numerous clues to the bed’s age: Multiple signs of repair, which isn’t common in well cared for 150-year-old antique beds. Marks in the timber itself show it was hewn with medieval hand tools, not mechanical saws common to the Industrial Age.
But perhaps the biggest clue is this: The armorial shields, which feature the English Royal Coat of Arms.
It wasn’t long before Coulson understood he’d come across something that was quite extraordinary, and he began a journey encompassing nine careful years of research. Over time, he and a number of respected experts became convinced that this beautiful work of art, blackened by age, is the long-lost bed commissioned between October 1485 and January 1486 for the wedding of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The wedding signified the end of the long and bloody Wars of Roses, civil wars that pitted the House of Lancaster — which featured a Red Rose on its coat of arms — against the House of York, which bore a white rose on its coat of arms.
King Henry VII. Image license Public Domain, United States by the National Portrait Gallery, London via Wikimedia Commons Elizabeth of York. Image license Public Domain by National Portrait Gallery, London via Wikimedia Commons
No royal furnishings from the House of Tudor survived the English civil wars, having been destroyed by anti-royalist Parliamentarians. So if indeed this remarkable find is the royal marriage bed, it’s an astounding discovery.
“This has to be the most important piece of furniture in England, arguably the most important royal artifact,” noted Jonathan Foyle, a Tudor historian and former curator at Historic Royal Palaces. He’s convinced the bed is authentic. “Even the Westminster coronation chair has less to say than this.”
Adorned with splendid carvings and iconography that denote its late 15th-Century styling means it very likely belonged to King Henry VII, Foyle said.
“You have the royal coat of arms, the cross of St. George, the roses of the Houses of Lancashire (Lancaster) and York, fertility symbols such as the acorn,” he said. “Whoever carved this had a deep understanding of the iconography of the time. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming along later, carving this headboard and just happening to get everything right.”
The DNA analysis of the wood used to construct the bed shows that it comes from an oak tree that ranges from southern France to Belarus, LiveScience reports. It also shows that all of the wood came from the same tree. Specks of ultramarine paint (considered rarer than gold in medieval times) have been found under the varnish on the headboard. Made from lapis lazuli that was imported from Afghanistan via Venice — making it that much likelier that this bed was used by royalty since only the well-heeled could afford it.
After such pomp and circumstance, through the passage of time, the bed somehow made its way to the honeymoon suite of a hotel in Chester, the United Kingdom, where perhaps other honeymooning couples enjoyed the comforts of this illustrious bed. But over time it was discarded, dumped in a parking lot, where it was discovered by an antique dealer. Then it was discovered by Coulson, who purchased it online in 2010 and spent the next nine years researching this medieval wonder.
Fully restored, the bed stands nine feet tall, measures six feet long and five feet wide, according to The Langley Collection, where the bed now resides. Each of the bed’s four posts features finely carved lions, and there are carvings of crests, vines, and heraldic shields on its framework. The elaborate headboard includes a triptych that features Adam and Eve.
While there had been some doubts as to the bed’s authenticity because carbon dating to test the wood was inconclusive, further DNA testing by a company that specializes in detecting illegal logging practices provided evidence that the bed is very likely authentic and the place where England’s King Henry VIII was conceived.