A Famous Mattress in Fiction
Possibly the most renowned mattress in history is not alone in its infamy, but those of a multitude stacked to prove an identity.Â The Princess and the Pea tells us that she had to sleep on a stack of 20 mattresses. Modern readers forget these are not the fluffy and padded hygienic beds of today, but rather something that would resemble an oversized body pillow. Depending on the time frame of the story that bed would be filled with hay, cotton or wool.Â The casing for these beds would be coarse cloth.Â Depending on the wealth of the family, cloth of silk, brocade or velvet would be added to protect the sleeper from the filling.
Hands pulling cotton for stuffing into a bed mattress would likely not be as cautious as those hands when the cotton was being spun. Perhaps it would even have been a child learning the skill at his or her mother's side. Wool would have to be sheared from the sheep, then washed and cleaned before it could be fluffed and stuff into the bed. As a bed in a king's household it would be less likely to contain pea husks or straw unless it was an older bed. Just think that she felt the pea when all that other stuff was floating around the mattress.
She was also granted 20 feather beds. The feathers were more likely to be goose, but could have any bird feathers added. Those feather beds would have made feeling the pea even more unlikely. This is a children's story after all. Feather beds and mattress toppers have come back into favor these days, but today many feather beds are made with artificial feathers or at the least those that have been trimmed of their quills for added comfort.
The vast amount of comfort was provided to make the test more accurate. Beds even in the 1830's when Hans Christian Anderson wrote down the story were not those we think of today. Box springs didn't exist, but rather the mattress structure is provided by something similar to a wicker box inside the mattress cover. The box would be filled by the all sorts of natural fibers such as horsehair, coconut husks, cotton and wool. Nicer fabrics like linen or good quality cotton would be used as the cover. Eli Whitney had just patented his cotton engine in 1794, so much of the cotton was still likely cleaned and processed by hand.
Remembering the bedding conditions of such a classic story will make the test more meaningful.