Marie Antoinette Online Forum

How did they sleep?
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Author:  kickshaw [ Wed Feb 14, 2007 3:46 pm ]
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They did sleep bolstered up on pillows, at about a 45 degree angle. It had nothing to do with height, the average height of people has grown only slighlty over the past 200 years, although the French royal family was notoriously short. Louis XIV in particular was barely over 5 feet tall. However, there were plenty of tall people then as well. The reason for thier sleeping sitting up was due to pluracy/asthma/bronchitis/indegestion/acid reflux etc -- it was thought that your lungs drained better if you slept sitting up and your stomach rested. It also has nothing to do with hairstyles. Those are wigs and are removed before going to bed. The wigs were often not cleaned thoroughly and they could harbor nits but they were worn only during waking hours. In fact, women wore bonnets to bed for warmth, modesty, and for protecting the head from bed bugs etc.

Author:  Pimprenelle [ Wed Feb 14, 2007 3:49 pm ]
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Ah ? However, Louis XVI was very tall.

Author:  kickshaw [ Wed Feb 14, 2007 4:02 pm ]
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I didn't know that Louis XVI was tall, so there you go! I knew Louis XIV was short because that is why he wore tall heels on his shoes... Other tall people of the18th century include Thomas Jefferson. I know there are probably lists out there that give the heights of famous 18th century people and there will be many men around the 6 ft. mark, and women over 5'8".

Author:  Louis-Charles [ Wed Feb 14, 2007 4:07 pm ]
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Louis XVI was tall according to the majority of testimony. He was to measure approximately between 1m80 and 1m90. :D

Author:  Pimprenelle [ Wed Feb 14, 2007 4:57 pm ]
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Perhaps it was different in France from in America. This serious study I posted before (see the above mentioned link) states that women did not exeed 1m50. That is rather short, I agree... :wink:

Author:  Sillage de la Reine [ Thu Oct 16, 2008 4:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

I read in magazines and other articles that people in the 18th century, particularly women, slept almost upright because of all the poufs and coiffure hairdos. It was quite expensive to get it done, so women would wear a cover over their head like a convertible car but for hair and sleeping sitting up would prevent it from getting messed up, which lead to them not washing their hair for days, and many women had all sorts of pesticides in their hair including lice. The other reason I read was that people centuries ago believed that sleeping horizontal will make the blood rush to the head and it can kill them just like how the world believed the earth was square. That explains the reason why many beds then were small.

Author:  Hellou_Librorum [ Thu Oct 16, 2008 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

I went to little farm in the Netherlands and the beds were tiny that is because even the poor farmers slept upright so they could actually breathe. Imagine all the soot from fires pollen, dirt. Lying down trying to sleep in those conditions would be difficult if not impossible.

Author:  Wesley [ Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

Does anyone know the exact height of Louis XVI? I am very curious to know... I have previously not heard that he was tall. I looked for this information on Google but was unable to find anything. I don't trust anything said on Wikipedia either... anyone who has read the article there on Marie Antoinette will know that Wikipedia has more inaccuracies than facts.

Author:  jimcheval [ Mon Dec 29, 2008 4:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

for we have no actual measures.

That's not entirely true. The Metropolitan Museum, for instance, had an exhibit a few years ago of French costume, consisting mainly of dresses and suits which had (rather miraculously) survived until today. Not a bad basis for a concrete measure.

In "Stature, Living Standards, and Economic Development", John Komlos says the school and military records have often been used. ... cg#PPR7,M1

And in an essay - ... entury.pdf - he says:

Evidence on human physical stature is rare for the early 18th century. There are two
exceptions, however. The French army was the first to record systematically the height of
soldiers beginning with 1716 (Komlos et al. 2003), and the Saxon military followed suit in
the 1730s (Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden, Musterlisten). Yet, other evidence is scarce. In
contrast, data for the second half of the century are plentiful, and these do provide some
information on the height of men born beginning with the 1730s. In addition to the military,
the institutions of indentured and convict servitude also provide some scattered evidence on
European physical stature, inasmuch as a number of servants ran away from their owners,
and advertisements in North American newspapers seeking their return did often mention the
servants’ physical description (Komlos 1993a, 1999). Hence, the extant information on
Europeans serving in North American armies is a significant source for the physical stature
of men born in this period.1

I would imagine that skeletons and coffin size have also been used as well.

This study, by the way, is called "historical anthropometics":

PS As it happens, I spent some time on the Warner Brothers lot years ago and often went to the company's wonderful museum. One of the exhibits showed all the Batman costumes and those of the major villains, all of which were made to measure for the stars involved. Some interesting revelations on size there as well.

Author:  Hellou_Librorum [ Mon Dec 29, 2008 6:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

This is completely random, I thought that perhaps that height of doors could help determine how tall people were back then, I always thought that castle doors were smaller because people were smaller, as it turns out that this was a defense mechanism. It was a defense mechanism because if you have someone chasing after you and since you live there you know to duck, the attacker does not.

Author:  jimcheval [ Tue Dec 30, 2008 4:12 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

In terms of sleeping positions, there are some images to consult:
Even if many are of classical scenes or studies for such.

Neither of these two looks too different from modern practice:

Though the second looks like someone using one of the bolsters often found today in French hotels:

Author:  dreamoutloud [ Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

I don't think the point of those images is exactly to portray people sleeping as they actually slept... Seems like a better example of playful sexuality in rococo art. Very... "Oh look! Beautiful nude girls 'sleeping' in conveniently innocently provocative positions!" They're not trying to portray a realistic image of how people slept. The second one was also dated to 1719-26, well before the era of the pouf. No date listed for the other painting.

Author:  jimcheval [ Fri Jan 02, 2009 2:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

Perhaps. I doubt Bouchardon was trying to be sexually provocative here:

At any rate, there's a number of other images, some of which do indeed show people semi-upright, others of which don't.

There's probably a class issue here too. Did the poor so much as have pillows?

Otherwise, are there any textual sources that speak of sleeping upright? A quick search on Google Books brings up many French 18th century references to putting one's head on the pillow, or using something else in its place (as when on a military campaign, etc.)

Author:  dreamoutloud [ Thu Jan 08, 2009 1:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How did they sleep?

The only context in which I am familiar with people sleeping upright (and not even that, just propped up some by pillows) is in the context of the 1770s pouf hairstyles. While men wore wigs, women's hairstyles were mostly a creation of hair extensions being woven into their actual hair, so it required some form of nighttime maintenance. So I'm only talking about the context of fashionable ladies of the 1770s; that's the only instance of upright sleeping I'm aware of.

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