An Honest Bed: The Scene of Life and Death in Late Medieval England

Writing about her detention for heresy in Beverley in 1417, Margery Kempe notes with some satisfaction that she was given a “fayr chambyr & an honest bed therin.”[1] The same expression appears in Bonum Lectum, a fifteenth-century domestic allegory: readers are advised to make “an honest bed,” or a careful ordering of the soul.[2] In 1522, the phrase turns up again in the will of a London grocer, one John Goodwyn.[3] The description of a bed as “honest” occurs in many contexts in relation to this familiar item of domestic furniture: it points to the bed as an object that has significant financial, social, moral, and esthetic value and resonance. […]

John Goodwyn, the grocer who had his will proven in 1522, and with whom this paper opened, left to his servant Joan Bedell his “honest whole complete bed and all other things therto belonging for a bedde” not only “for hir [her] good and diligent service” to himself and his wife, but also so that Joan would “praie for [his] soule.”


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