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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Elizabethan Bedbugs

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Elizabethan Bedbugs, PJs, and More

Shakespeare for Kids

Hortus sanitatis. London, 1536 (Detail)

An Elizabethan bedroom would have looked very different from a bedroom today. Often, only wealthy people had separate rooms for sleeping, and having a bedroom to yourself was very unusual. Most houses had the beds in rooms that were also used for other purposes.


Not only were bedrooms often shared, but bed sharing with other people was common. Even Catherine Howard, who later married Henry VIII and became queen of England, had to share a bed when she was growing up!


People who could afford to decorated their bedrooms with tapestries, which not only looked nice but helped to keep drafty rooms warmer. They also might write sayings, or poesies, onto the walls or ceiling. Poesies were short sayings, often about sleep, that they could look at and think about while in bed.


Some people kept candles next to their bed, and they might also have a favorite book or two nearby. The Bible was often kept at the bedside.


Most people changed into pajamas before going to bed. Men wore nightshirts and women wore nightgowns. Sometimes, these were beautifully decorated with embroidery, as the picture at the top of the page shows.


Keeping beds clean was very important! Mattresses were usually made from straw or feathers, which bugs liked to to live in. Many books had instructions on how to keep bugs out of bedding, or get rid of them if they were already there.


What is the woman in the picture doing?


Replica early 17th-century man's night shirt

The New Testament of ovr Lord Iesvs Christ. Bound with: The Whole booke of Psalmes. London, ca. 1610

Richard Brathwaite. The English gentlewoman, drawne out to the full body. London, 1631 (Detail)

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