Dr Lucy Worsley has had a busy few months. As chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces, she has been supervising the making of the new exhibition at Hampton Court Palace called ‘Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber’. Alongside this, with the recent birth of a certain little prince, the public’s ideas and interests surrounding our monarchy’s future has boomed. In fact, this interest in securing the next heir to the throne seems to have always appeared with the birth of a new royal baby throughout the centuries, which is one aspect that Worsley will be looking at in this new documentary.
However, the birth of Prince George of Cambridge was somewhat different to the birth of an heir to the throne four hundred years ago. Centuries ago, the birth of a possible heir was not a private affair for the mother-to-be. In some cases, it could be found that up to forty members of state could be present for the birth and invited into the bedchamber! This was at a time where safeguarding a dynasty was key to the country’s political situation. Even when our current Queen was born in 1926, there may not have been forty politicians cramped into the room where she was born, but the home secretary still had to confirm the birth by visiting the house where she was born. It was only when our Queen had her children that her father George VI decided against this centuries-old royal ritual, allowing the royals the privacy they had long been entitled to.
So, with all of this in mind, now it seems appropriate for Worsley to create a programme which allows the public an insight into how the royal bedchambers used to look and how they were run by a vast household of staff. It is interesting to see how a collection of royal beds can hold so much historical significance and political intrigue that we would have never been aware of.
After the bloody period of the Wars of the Roses, Henry VII was determined to secure his dynasty through his bloodline rather than war and murder. From a young age Henry believed he had a right to the English throne because of the royal blood that flowed through his veins. He understood that an heir was key for the construction of the Tudor dynasty, and he achieved this through the royal bedchamber with the births of his sons and heirs Arthur and Henry.
It was the idea of royal blood that made Henry VIII so determined to produce a male heir and go to the extreme lengths that we are all so aware of to achieve this. It was not until Henry was through a significant amount of his reign that his son Edward was born. Worsley will examine how Henry’s bedchamber came under the watchful eye of his secretaries and his public alike as people became more and more anxious about the fate of the monarchy after Henry’s death.
With the restoration of the monarchy in the late seventeenth century, it seems that ideas of the bedchamber being specifically for sex and childbirth lessened somewhat. Worsley will look at how in this period decoration and embellishment of the royal bed becomes highly important as a form of political power and propaganda. State beds became taller, wider, and more lavishly furnished and ornamented than ever before.
It was only in the reign of Queen Victoria that the royal bedchamber started to become a place of privacy and comfort, away from the prying eyes of the royal court. Victoria’s bed at Osborne House includes the carvings of the dates of the first and last nights she spent with her beloved Albert in that bed, revealing how much she cherished the private moments with her husband.
From Lucy Worsley’s previous documentaries, we can certainly assume that this one-off programme will include her genuine excitement and historical enthusiasm for such unusual topics. Worsley isn’t one to just stand around; I expect she shall be eagerly climbing into these royal beds and revealing some of the ways in which they have defined our history.
‘Tales from the Royal Bedchamber’ will be broadcasted on Monday 5th August on BBC Four at 9pm. The ‘Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber’ exhibition will be running at Hampton Court Palace until 3rd November 2013.
Photo credit: BBC/Tiger Aspect/Nick Gillam-Smith