Monday, August 17, 2009

Your Bedroom or Mine?

You already know that the gals here at the Otherworld Diner are all paranormal writers. But my paranormals tend to be historicals too, whether they originate as a historical or start as a time travel that take my characters from the present into the past, or vice versa. Therefore, I’m always interested in historical research along with the paranormal. This past week my family took a vacation into the past. Me, the hubster and our two kids spent three days touring historic Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. While there, I made some interesting observations about our ancestors and their sleeping arrangements. First, I’d like to make a side-note that I read just as many historicals as I do paranormals. I find in the majority of Regency books I’ve read, the aristocratic hero and heroine often start out in separate bedrooms with a door connecting the two. Obviously, since these are romances, that situation doesn’t last for long. But as I walked through the almost three hundred year old homes in Williamsburg and peered into how our ancestors slept, I wondered when that odd sleeping arrangement came about.

We toured the Jamestown settlement first where we could walk through several reconstructed mud and stud houses. No separate bedrooms there. In fact, you were lucky if the kitchen and bedroom weren’t one and the same. Even if the bedroom was its own room, often there were at least two, if not more, beds and/or pallets squeezed into the tiny space where the entire family slept. Privacy was not an option.

Williamsburg followed the next day. Our first stop was the Governor’s Palace. Built in 1722, then reconstructed in 1934, we saw that all nine governors who lived at the palace before it burned in 1781 shared the same bedroom with their wives. Next we toured Wetherburn’s Tavern, established in 1738. It was interesting to find out that there were public rooms and private rooms. In the public rooms, you slept in one large room with complete strangers. Quite literally. Mr. Wetherburn prided himself on putting no more than two people to each bed. Yep, if you were a weary traveler and stopped there for the night in the 1700s, you had to share a bed with a total stranger, who probably smelled of horse, dust, sweat, and who knows what else. Of course, the men were put with the men and the women with the women. If you could afford it, you could rent a private room. These had two beds in each room, meant for families or traveling companions who wanted to share the cost of a room but not a bed. The last stop on our tour was the Peyton Randolph House. Again, we found only one master suite, but this one had two beds – his and hers. The Randolphs had no children. With separate beds, you can guess why.

So when and why did married couples start sleeping in separate bedrooms? It’s hard to tell but through my research, the habit seems to have taken root in the 1800s and had more to do with a show of wealth than anything else. If you could afford to build a big house, you could afford to have his and her bedrooms. Plus, in a time when most marriages were made for social connections and status instead of love, connubial bliss was low on the list of priorities. Once the heir and a spare was provided, the married couple never had to sleep with each other again if they didn’t want to. Of course, since we write romances, those separate bedrooms don’t stay separate for long.


  1. Oh to have the wealth to have separate bedrooms nowadays. However, couples don't bother with that nicety any more...they just divorce! Makes sense I guess, but one still needs some wealth to get through that.

    An interesting historical journey through the bedrooms of the past...

  2. Interesting post. Separate bedrooms--who knew?


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