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Canopy Beds: Origin & History

The canopy bed, at once both a fixture of fantasy and a totally obtainable furniture item, has its roots in medieval times and was a must-have among the landed gentry of the court-and-castle crowd.

What may be surprising, though, is that canopy beds were not exactly a matter of luxury but of necessity. The canopies themselves were a bigger deal than the beds at the time, which remained fairly plain until later on in history.

Canopy Confusion

First, let’s dispel some rumors about canopy beds. There is a historical record of their origin and intended purpose, so we really don’t have to guess, but a couple myths still persist that we can, ah, put to bed right now.

Myth #1: Canopy beds were invented to protect sleepers from dirt and falling debris.

Nope. Beds of any kind were a luxury when they were first introduced, and were found only in homes (re: castles) where “falling debris” was not a concern.

Myth #2: Canopy beds were invented to ward off insects.

Eh … maybe. This isn’t a documented reason for their invention or use, but it’s entirely possible many owners appreciated the bonus.

Canopy Beds & Crowded ‘Bedrooms’

It’s easy to imagine a canopy as an accessory rather than something functional, but it was all about utility in the beginning.

Way back when, nobles of lesser pedigree often slept in the halls of their estates with their servants. It wasn’t so much a tradition as it was a matter of safety, shelter from the elements and a consequence of unsophisticated interior design.

As cozy as the situation sounds, many a noble would insist on added warmth and privacy, and that’s where the canopy came into play. A canopy (or even drapes hung from the ceiling) became a popular way to separate the royals from the commoners – even in the bedroom.

Canopy Bed Evolution

At some point, canopy beds lost the canopy and evolved into the more common four-poster bed.

There’s a great story about how this happened following the defeat of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, when the bed he slept upon prior to the fight was stripped of its royal finery and left a bare four-poster affair, though accounts vary.

But, no matter – you can still find both canopy and four-poster beds in styles that bring fun fantasy to your bedroom décor reality.  

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