Duvets have been around a lot longer than most of us realise. This is probably because it took a while for them to become popular in the UK and they have been through various transformations throughout their history.
Some archaeological digs have suggested that an early form of duvet was used in China, as far back as 3,000BCE. In Ancient Rome, patrician Romans used both blankets and quilts on their beds (lecti cubicidates) but the first documented use of a duvet dates back to the Viking era. Many of the largest and most richly equipped Viking burial mounds discovered contained beds with several types of bird feathers and down from pillows and duvets. This has included down from the Eider duck and feathers from the Eurasian Eagle Owl, the largest owl in northern Europe. The luxury of owning a pillow and duvet was reserved for the wealthiest in Norse society.
In the mid 18th century, Thomas Nugent, an Englishman on a tour of Europe, passed through Germany and remarked that there was one very peculiar thing about the people there: “They do not cover themselves with bed-clothes but lay one feather bed over and another under. This is comfortable enough in winter, but how can they bear their feather-beds over them in summer, as is generally practised, I cannot conceive.” Of course, if they had used wool then this wouldn’t have been so surprising perhaps… but more on that later!
By the early to mid 1800s, eiderdowns were popular with affluent Victorians and continued to be so until well into the 20th century. These tend to be heavier than duvets and balance on top of the bed, without any overhang. They were used to add warmth to sheets and blankets in the coldest months, and older generations in the UK today will remember these still being popular in their childhood. In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy story ‘The Princess and the Pea’ (published in 1835), the princess has to lie on 10 eiderdown quilts to avoid being b