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Royal Beds and the death of Queen Anne

Amongst the stories that have come to surround surviving historical royal beds, several of these beds appear to have still kept a few secrets of their own. In 2013, an exhibition hosted by Historic Royal Palaces at Hampton Court Palace entitled, “Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber,” showcased six royal beds and described the various fascinating histories that are associated with them.

Amongst these was the so-called “Ferrari” of 17th-century beds, the so-called ‘Mary of Modena bed’ in luxurious Italian velvet, which is believed to be that into which the famous ‘warming pan’ or ‘changeling’ child was rumoured to have been smuggled, when James II’s second wife, Mary of Modena gave birth, despite the fact that a large crowd had been present as witnesses. The baby was a son – born Prince James Francis Edward Stuart in 1688. The birth – traditionally said to have taken place in this bed – contributed significantly to a revolution in British royal terms. Also shown in the 2013 exhibition was the luxurious bed of Queen Anne, commissioned to be her death bed and one of the finest royal beds to survive.

Princess Anne, 17th-century, by the Swedish-English portrait painter Mikael Dahl (Michael Dahl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Today, the Queen’s State Apartments can be visited at Kensington Palace and have been so arranged as to replicate how they may have looked at the time that they were designed for Queen Mary II, joint English monarch with her husband, King William III. The Queen’s Staircase, which modern visitors still climb to visit the Queen’s State Apartments, has been little altered since the 1690s when it was built for Mary II. Her younger sister Anne came to the throne in 1702; Anne was the second daughter of James II and his first wife, Anne Hyde. She and her sister Mary had been able to become regnant Queens of England, due to what has become known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’, whereby the Catholic regime of their father, James II was overthrown and the Dutch Protestant William of Orange together with his wife Princess Mary, were invited to become joint English monarchs by the Convention Parliament, something confirmed in the statutory 1689 Bill of Rights.

Anne married Prince George of Denmark (of whom Charles II famously said “I have tried him drunk, and I have tried him sober but…there’s nothing in him”) in 1683. Anne was devoted to him, but tragically not one of the couple’s eighteen children ever attained maturity. As William III and Mary II both died without any children to succeed them, it was Anne’s personal tragedy that she would not have any surviving children of her own; only five of her babies were born alive and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, lived up until the age of eleven. Anne was the last monarch of the Stuart dynasty and the first monarch of Great Britain, through the historic Act of Union in 1707.

Prince George of Denmark, (After Michael Dahl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Born at St James’s Palace in 1665, Anne came to favour Kensington Palace as a preferred residence. Today, you get far more a sense of Mary II in the Queen’s State Apartments at Kensington Palace; this is because much of Mary II’s taste is still in evidence. Indeed, her style continues to be evoked through examples of Chinese and Japanese porcelain in the Drawing Room, which Mary II avidly collected and loved. So, there is less of Queen Anne to be seen here – although there is still the Queen’s Closet, where Queen Anne famously argued with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough in 1711 – something which led to a shift in the power balance at court, the Queen’s “Favourite” already since having been “supplanted” by another lady-in-waiting, Abigail Masham.

The Orangery at Kensington Palace still survives, created for Anne by Nicholas Hawksmoor; Queen Anne used it for court entertainment. Queen Anne’s Alcove survives near the Lancaster Gate in Kensington Gardens – built for Queen Anne by Christopher Wren, it was originally at Dial Walk, just south of Kensington Palace and was part of the Queen’s formal southern garden.

Anne was already affected by gout by the time of her coronation and had to be carried in a chair by Yeomen of the Guard. She was sculpted by John Michael Rysbrack, albeit in an idealised form. In reality, Anne suffered from recurring health problems towards the end of her life. She suffered a stroke – something which was partly blamed on the colossal strain on her health due to the cares of state – on the anniversary of the death of her son, William, Duke of Gloucester on 30 July 1714. As a result of this, she famously handed over the treasurer’s staff to the Duke of Shrewsbury – a symbolic act which hinted that the end was near.

Anne died in the Queen’s State Bedchamber at Kensington Palace around 7.30am on 1 August 1714. She was buried in the Stuart vault in the south aisle of the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey (the Abbey purchased a seated effigy of her, due to go on display in the new Jubilee Galleries, when they re-open at Westminster Abbey in 2018.)

With the death of Queen Anne, England looked eastwards to Germany for a Protestant successor to the Crown – this was because a whole collection of claimants who stood nearer in blood to the Stuarts could not inherit because they were Catholic; the 1701 Act of Settlement had set out that the Crown of England could be conferred only on a Protestant. So, England found its new king in Germany, in the electorate of Hanover. The future George I’s mother, Electress Sophia of Hanover, narrowly missed being regnant Queen of England herself by a mere two months, which meant that her eldest son, George was the next claimant, through Sophia’s line, which went back to James VI/I, via her mother, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia. Thus, the Hanoverian dynasty was established in England.

However, something of a mystery grew around the bed in which Queen Anne died; this was because she initially commissioned a unique, rich bed – shown in the 2013 exhibition at Hampton Court Palace – as her last bed. This sumptuous bed is of carved wood in white and gold cut-velvet by Richard Roberts but was not completed until around 1715 – a year after Queen Anne’s death. This state tester bed was upholstered in Spitalfields crimson with an inner ceiling lined with cream silk; it had a repeat decoration of vases and flowers. This bed was designed together with “an armchair and eight stools” for Queen Anne’s State Bedchamber at Windsor Castle and was installed at Hampton Court Palace sometime after 1819. The bed cost £26, and King George III apparently described it as “the most splendid bed in the universe.”

The total sum of the upholstery was broken down into what it would cost to make the covering, line with silk and add the lace trimmings as required. White, crimson and yellow velvet was supplied in an amount thought necessary to cover the bed and the remaining armchair and stools. Aquatints and watercolours exist of Queen Anne’s state bed with canopy, as it looked at Windsor, set up in what was formerly King Charles II’s Dining Room, before the transformation of Brick Court at Windsor Castle. These appear to be preparation studies for the hand-coloured engravings featured in William Henry Pyne’s ‘History of the Royal Residences’ (1816-1819), which contained exteriors and interiors of both Windsor Castle and Buckingham House.

A subsequent confusion arose with the existence of the ‘Queen Anne Bed’ at Warwick Castle which was erroneously believed to have been sent down from Windsor Castle, for a planned visit of Queen Anne in 1704, which was cancelled. The bed was thought to have remained at Warwick Castle because it was never returned. The discrepancy in this lay in the fact that this bed existed alongside the unique rich bed which Queen Anne commissioned, which was not completed in her lifetime. It was only in the light of important research carried out in 2012, that it could be established that the ‘Queen Anne Bed’ at Warwick Castle had originally been at Kensington Palace – and has therefore been suggested as the actual bed in which Queen Anne died in 1714.

A local historian writing a history of Warwick in 1807, referred to a “bed… and furniture” given by the King to the Earl of Warwick. It seems plausible, therefore, that the bed in which Queen Anne actually died at Kensington Palace is the one now at Warwick Castle. The ‘Queen Anne Bed’ at Warwick Castle is of green silk, with a blue silk canopy and embroidered braided borders with the Queen’s monogram ‘AR”, with red velvet and gold bed curtains.

Two more remarkable historical royal beds which have survived – one commissioned by Queen Anne and not completed, the second though it seems, she actually used.

The ‘Queen Anne Bed’ in the Queen Anne Bedroom, Warwick Castle (photo: provided by Warwick Castle, ©  Warwick Castle 2017)

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