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How to make a bed

I ran across an image today for which I had an immediate mental explanation: of course a fifteenth-century personification of Chastity might hold a spear if she's in conflict with Luxury, who is riding in to attack her. Then I read the contemporary-to-the-illuminations description of Chastity. "Next comes the second lady, Chastity, whose hands wear iron gauntlets against dishonourable contacts. She has in her right hand a long rod for making beds, signifying that she would be the dormitory-maid and keeper of the dormitory of Holy Religion, and should not permit any person to enter who does not wish to preserve chastity."* There's more about her, but it's not pertinent to my question.

"A long rod for making beds"? ("ung baton long a faire lit") Pray tell me, how does one make a bed with a long rod? What is it used for? Beating bed lice out of the bedding? Making straight edges? Smoothing undersheets beneath an over blanket? Waking up late sleepers? What is it for?

* The image and translation come from Peter Rolfe Monks. The Brussels Horloge de Sapience: Iconography and Text of Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS. IV 111. K.V. Sinclair, translation of captions. (Leiden, New York, København, Köln: E.J. Brill, 1990).

Edit: It might be easier to think of uses for a bed rod if you can see the right kind of bed. Happily, the very same manuscript has pictures of beds (among so many other things), so I can show you what is presumably the kind of bed with which a bed rod might be used.

Here are two images: the first shows a neatly made bed behind the main character, the second shows two people sick and dying. While we're at it, I'm hypothesizing the circles tossed all over the floor and beds are herb wreaths to counteract the smell of sickness, but I don't actually know. Thoughts?


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 4th, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC)
My guess comes from my own experience in making my grandsparent's bed. Imagine that horrid horrid time before central heating. What keeps you warm at night? Blankets.. big fricken heavy blankets. My grandparents had heavier blankets than I'm used to even now.. we just don't need them that heavy. Plus they always rolled them back meticulously.. folding back in a large roll. I envision it like unrolling a carpetholding it at one end on either side so that those giant bed covers roll out evenly.

Could be wrong of course but that's my first thought.
Feb. 4th, 2005 09:46 pm (UTC)
That's a good thought. But then wouldn't every blanket need its own rod? Or would it just be to move the blankets out of the way for changing other layers of bedding? Of course, since it's just a symbol, there could be one for every blanket. I wonder what a bed rod would be made out of.
Feb. 4th, 2005 09:51 pm (UTC)
I'd imagine the rod was for poking the servants into making the beds. hehe, but seriously, that boggles me, a bed rod?!?
Feb. 5th, 2005 12:48 am (UTC)
I doubt it'll help at all, but I've posted some pictures of beds from the same ms. It sounds very specific.
Feb. 4th, 2005 11:07 pm (UTC)
Try envisioning how you would actually make up a 15C bed. The mattresses are so light that you'd need at least two or three of them (this is clear in Thornton's "Italian Renaissance Interiors"; but I'm working from memory since I'm at school and your copy is at home), or, if you're a particularly sensitive princess, seventeen. Since they're light, you couldn't tuck sheets and blankets under the matresses and expect them to stay there.

I don't know how I'd make the bed with a rod, but then I don't know how I'd do it without one either. -P
Feb. 5th, 2005 12:47 am (UTC)
You've inspired me to post a few pictures of the beds in question, from the same ms. Thank you! I bet IRI has pictures where it's possible to see more of the bed layers though.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 5th, 2005 12:29 am (UTC)
I must say, I just glanced at this in passing - and when I saw "rod" and "bed" in the same sentence, I leaped to an entirely more earthy conclusion. But then I reread more carefully and see that my interpretation is probably unlikely.
Feb. 5th, 2005 01:04 am (UTC)
Maybe to smooth out the blankets, or strip them off the bed. Wouldn't surprise me to hear they had a tool for such things back then. Sort of how when you got to a fancy restaurant then they have scrapers for getting crumbs off the table cloth. maybe it was something servants used to make rich folks beds. Those wreaths sound like you suggest to me, like the rhyme "pockets full of posies" herbs that were supposed to protect you.
Feb. 5th, 2005 07:53 am (UTC)
This was my thought too--if you're potentially making a number of beds in the morning (as a servant), then perhaps having a rod to smooth sheets, etc. would be particularly helpful? I wouldn't be surprised if there had been such a thing either.

I'm going to think on this for a while!
Feb. 5th, 2005 09:04 pm (UTC)
There must be some form of efficiency achieved by using it, or it wouldn't be a standard enough tool to bother making a symbol out of, I would think.
Feb. 5th, 2005 08:30 pm (UTC)
Maybe if the bed is wide and against a wall (like the one in the first image), you might use a long rod for pushing the blankets flat on the far side, where you can't easily reach without climbing on top of the bed?
Feb. 5th, 2005 09:03 pm (UTC)
That makes sense, but it also implies that most beds must have been like that, or why would the rod be a symbol of a bed-maker, especially dormitory ones? It does look like a useful tool for getting a tidy tuck of the sheets underneath the long cylindrical pillows in the image. It could have been a multi-purpose device too. I just wonder what all those purposes are.
Feb. 5th, 2005 09:03 pm (UTC)
Another thought... I found this image and this image of modern rope-frame beds (built along medieval lines, though - the image that he used for the model is this Byzantine ivory). A long dowel keeps the ropes from sagging, apparently (his description/instructions are here. In this case, I think the dowel is a permanent part of the bed, not just inserted occasionally to tighten the ropes - but it might be possible to envision some kind of function along those lines for her pole.

But, looking further, I found this page, about modern-constructed Louis XVI canopy beds, which contains the line "To begin with, beds were big. In the Medieval Era, beds could span as many as four meters and a baton was needed to make up the bed," which would seem to support my first argument better. I still don't know, though :)
Feb. 5th, 2005 09:08 pm (UTC)
The baton sounds like the object I'm wondering about. Size of bed would explain it, especially if you were trying to make a large bed tidy. For a four meter bed, I can see how some sort of long manipulating device would come in handy.

I knew beds tended to be shared, but I wonder how bed division worked out in monasteries usually? Obviously the images from the ms. don't show usual circumstances, but because illuminated ms. that I look at tend to be about saints or Biblical stories or sick people, I can't remember much in the way of monastic images of shared beds, even if that was the norm.
Feb. 5th, 2005 09:18 pm (UTC)
There's this excerpt from the Custumal of St-Benigne, which not only mentions the master of the dormitory having a rod (used to poke students with, though :) but says "Let the masters sleep between every two boys in the dormitory, and sit between every two at other times, and, if it be night, let all the candles be fixed without on the spikes which crown the lanterns, that they may be plainly seen in all that they do. When they lie down in bed, let a master always be among them with his rod and (if it be night) with a candle, holding the rod in one hand and the light in the other." It sounds like communal bedding (the bit about masters sleeping between the boys especially), but it's a bit vague, I agree.
Feb. 5th, 2005 10:40 pm (UTC)
how to make a bed
Perhaps the rod is for putting up and taking down the curtains on the canopy bed.
Feb. 6th, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)
Re: how to make a bed
Or perhaps we are discussing something that goes into the literal fabrication of the bed. That seems likeliest to me in many ways.
Feb. 6th, 2005 10:33 pm (UTC)
Re: how to make a bed
From the pictures curtana linked to, it's clear that there probably was a rod involved in some kinds of bed construction, but it seems less probable to me that that's what the rod Chastity is holding in her hand. It's true that components do get used as symbols of the whole: there are various images of Temperance from this same period which show her holding just the verge-and-foliot portion of a clock. But when it comes to Chastity, it seems to me that would only be a useful symbol if the beds required frequent repair. The text says that it's a symbol of a dormitory overseer, which implies that it might be the symbol of one even if it weren't a personification in particular who was holding it.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )