Furniture and Beds

Book 2, Chapter 6, The End of the Ninth Century – Anglo Saxon Furniture

It was not usual in the Middle Ages, to possess much furniture, for in those times of insecurity, anything moveable, which could not easily be concealed, was never safe from plunderers. Benches on which several persons could sit together, and a stool or a chair for a guest of more consideration, were the only seats, but these were sometimes covered with tapestry, similar to the wall hangings, and the woodwork was ornamented with carved likenesses of the heads and feet of animals. The word chair is Anglo Norman, and the adoption of the name from that language seems to indicate that the moveable to which it was applied was unknown to the great mass of the Anglo-Saxon population of the island. The Anglo-Saxon name for it was fetl, a seat, or stol the latter preserved in the modern word stool. We find chairs of different forms in the illuminations of Anglo Saxon manuscripts, but they are always represented as the seats of persons of high rank and dignity, usually of kings.

A Faldstol (Trinity College Psalter)

A bed was a usual article of furniture in the bower or chamber, though there were, no doubt in large mansions, chambers set apart as bed-rooms, as well as chambers in which there was no bed, or in which a bed could be made for the occasion. The bed itself seems usually to have consisted merely of a sack filled with straw, and laid on a bench or board. Hence words used commonly to signify the bed itself were baence (a bench), and streow (straw): and even in king Alfred’s translation of Bede, the statement, “he ordered to prepare a bed for him,” is literally, he ordered to prepare straw for him. All, in fact, that had to be done when a bed was wanted, was to take the bed-sack out of the cyft, or chest, fill it with fresh straw, and lay it on the bench.

The clothes with which the sleeper was covered, and which appear in the pictures scanty enough, were seyte, a sheet, bed-felt, a coverlet, which was generally of some thicker material, and bed-reaf, bed-clothes. We know from a multitude of authorities, that it was the general custom of the middle ages to go into bed quite naked. The sketchy character of the Anglo Saxon drawings renders it difficult sometimes to judge of minute details, but it appears that an Anglo Saxon going into bed, having stripped all his or her clothes off, first wrapped round his body a sheet, and then drew over him the coverlet.

These particulars respecting furniture, bedding, &c., applies only to the houses of the noble and wealthy. What kind of habitations were used by the lower classes, and how they were furnished, the chronicles do not say, but the presumption is that numerous retainers of a thane’s household lived in a primitive fashion, eating at the same board with their master, though at the extreme end of the hall, and sleeping there when the day was ended, while agricultural labourers and all who were unattached to any nobleman’s house, passed a rude, rough, and precarious existence.

Chapter 6, Ancient Towns and Highways

Domestic life of the Anglo-Saxons



Bells and Churches

Ancient Towns


Chapter 6, Internal Fittings of Houses



Chapter 6, Anglo-Saxon Furniture

Anglo-Saxon Furniture

Food and Drink


Furniture and Beds

Household Economy

Treatment of Slaves

The Toilette

Costume and Ornaments

Chapter 6, Anglo Saxon Hunting and Travelling


Travelling and Inns


The Calendar

Chapter 6, Anglo-Saxon Language

Anglo-Saxon Language

Local and District Courts of Justice


Categories: Book 2

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