Saturday, 2 February 2013

A Historic Bed

The picture above shows the ornate 17th century tester bed on display in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute House, with the detail on the right showing its intricately carved headboard. The headboard incorporates three coats of arms: those of Henry Prince of Wales, King James I, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Prince Henry was the eldest son of James I, while Frederick was married to James’s daughter Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and Frederick became engaged in 1612, and the wedding took place in February 1613. But by that time Prince Henry was already dead – he died in November 1612. So it’s a pretty safe bet that the bed dates from 1612, and was probably made as a wedding gift for Elizabeth but never used due to the death of her brother.

If Henry had lived, he would have become King on the death of James I. As it was, the succession passed to his younger brother Charles, who was crowned as Charles I. Elizabeth was the middle child – younger than Henry but older than Charles – but male children had priority over females in the line of succession. However, following the Act of Settlement of 1701, the succession was formally handed over to Elizabeth’s line of descent. So all British monarchs from George I onwards have been more closely related to Elizabeth than to Charles!

The Montacute bed has another connection to the Royal succession – albeit a fictional one. In the 2004 film The Libertine, which was partly filmed at Montacute, Johnny Depp plays the Earl of Rochester. In one of the most memorable scenes, he is seen lying in this very bed in an extreme state of ill health. But he drags himself to his feet in order to travel to London and make a speech against the proposed Exclusion Bill – a real bill that was put before Parliament in 1681. This was a forerunner to the Act of Settlement that, if passed, would have excluded Charles II’s younger brother James from the Crown. But in the film, Rochester’s impassioned speech swings the vote, leaving the way clear for the eventual succession of James II!

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