What is a ‘tester’?

What is a 'tester'?A ‘tester’ is a canopy over a bed, which is supported on the pots of the bedstead or suspended from the ceiling. Formerly the word was used to described the vertical post at the head of the bed which rose to, and sometimes supported the canopy or the framework on which the canopy and curtains rested. The term ‘testour’ occurs constantly in medieval accounts and inventories, together with the word ‘celour’ or ‘celure’ (a ‘canopy covering’). By the sixteenth century tester was generally understood to imply a canopy.

After the fourteenth century, ‘testours’ and ‘celours’ were made of velvets, satins and silks. Curtains, designed to offer privacy and keep out draughts, were suspended from the tester by rings.

Early in the reign of Elizabeth I, the four corners of the tester were usually surmounted by vase-shaped ‘cups’ or ‘finials’, covered with the same material as the valances and holding large bunches of ostrich plumes. An inventory of 1600 refers to ‘fower guilt topps for the iiii corners of ye bed teaster’.

A hundred years or so later, beds of the ‘Angel’ or half-tester’ type were made. The half-tester was a kind of open bed without posts the canopy or tester usually extending only over part of the bed and screening only the head and shoulders of the person reclining.

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