On Pirates, Heroines, and Bed Linens of the 17th Century

copyright shutterstock/CURAphotography

copyright shutterstock/CURAphotography

I happen to love the sensuality of good bed linens. There’s nothing like the feel of a cotton sheet with astronomical thread count against one’s skin. Combine that sheet with a full set, fluffy pillows, a pillow top mattress, and just the right weight of comforter or duvet, and I’m in Heaven. Knowing this kind of decadence awaits makes my bedtime that much easier. Pile the bed with decorative pillows, perhaps a canopy with side curtains, and you’ve got a retreat within the retreat of your bedroom.

So easy for us in modern times. High count, soft, and comfortable sheets are available almost everywhere in the United States, where our more practical ancestors would think us mad or rich to want such things.

A blanket on a pile of straw, a rope bed that had to be cinched up from time to time (hence the “sleep tight” saying), a single blanket before a banked fire, a bed shared with an entire family. All sound barbaric to us know. Grass, horsehair or peapod stuffed mattresses, the bedding of the past is varied and uncomfortable to modern standards made for lumpy sleeping.

Of course, the rich had the best bedding, with embroidered counterpanes, sheets, pillows, bed curtains, to mention several luxurious things. For a price, you can still get pillowcases embroidered with your monogram, which is a sweet, old-fashioned touch.

What to know what was involved in creating such 17th-century luxuries? Here’s an article about a group of needleworkers who restored a 1600’s set of bedding for an Ohio mansion. Volunteer Needleworkers Restore 17th-Century Bed Linens

Here’s another about the cost of a 17th-Century bedsheet in the estate of one Madame Ursula Cutt, the wife of John Cutt, known as the first President of New Hampshire. Her best set of sheets was valued at 3 pounds, where a cow was worth 2. Inventory of Ursula Cutt

As for the use of linen and flax for bedding, here’s an interesting article about Irish linen and how English laws and edits changed textile production in Ireland. History of Irish Linen

So when writing about pirates and Highlanders seducing heroines, it literally pays to do the research on bedding. Only a successful 17th-Century pirate with expensive taste and success would have access to soft sheets, pillows, and mattresses. The same would go to hunky Highlanders, knights, and paranormal beings. It would take a great deal of talent, ahem, to distract a woman from scratchy sheets, lumpy or missing mattresses, or ones without the comfort of a springs mattress or memory foam.


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Ramona DeFelice Long

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