Anatomy of a Castle – The Hall

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In many ways, a castle is just like any other medieval house with more than a couple of rooms. Houses and castles usually have a hall: a large room for meals and receiving visitors. As a result, they were the largest enclosed space in the building. They were also where the servants slept.

In a castle, a hall is obviously much larger than it would be in a house and more grandly decorated. There are some other differences. John of Gaunt’s Great Hall at Kenilworth Castle, pictured above, is very large. It also has huge and intricate windows. The hall was so impressive that it’s the only part of the castle left untouched by the Earl of Leicester when he took over Kenilworth two hundred years later.

Somewhat unusually, the hall had six fireplaces. You can see one of them in the photograph below, which also shows the vaulting of the cellars below the hall.Β  The wall above the fireplace was probably covered by a tapestry. These were very expensive and displaying them was a way of showing how wealthy someone was.

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Fireplace in the Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle

The walls would also have been painted and would have been colourful even when the tapestries were taken down.

Halls were usually on the first floors of castles, unlike in houses, where they were at ground level.

Richard II's Hall diagram

King Richard’s Great Hall, Portchester Castle

As you can see from the photograph of Richard II’s Great Hall at Portchester Castle above, the hall is close to the kitchen, allowing food to be served easily. This hall also had large windows in the wall facing the inner bailey. The wall facing the outer bailey has no windows at all for reasons of security. Halls in houses rarely had large windows. When your only source of heat was a fire in the middle of the floor and windows were usually unglazed, your windows would be quite small in order to retain as much heat as possible during the long, dark winter nights.

Richard II’s windows at Portchester were glazed. It’s recorded that the glass was decorated with coats of arms and heraldic devices. Richard also had a large collection of tapestries, some of which would have been hung on the walls when he visited the palace.

When a visitor to either of these halls entered the door at the top of the steps, they were still not in the hall. They would find themselves in a screened area, mainly used by the servants. An invitation to enter the hall itself was a great honour.

This is a photograph of one of the two halls at Wolvesey Castle, one of the palaces of the medieval bishops of Winchester.

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East Hall, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

The palace had a private hall and a larger, more public hall. The latter (the one in the photograph) was used for ceremonial occasions or when more space was needed. Originally the hall was on ground level, but it was remodelled and raised to the first floor about twenty years later.

Like the rest of the castle, the hall was used to impress upon the visitor the importance, wealth and power of the man who owned it.

Sources:

Kenilworth Castle –Β  Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle –Β  John Goodall

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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26 Comments

Filed under Castle, Fourteenth Century

26 responses to “Anatomy of a Castle – The Hall

  1. Kenilworth is my favourite castle!!! I live twenty minutes away from Kenilworth and visit regularly. Great to see it featured in you post, April.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I bet this Hall was so grand back in its day! I really enjoy this castle series.

    Rachael | https://rachaelstray.com

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Cool addition to your series.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for this educational post, April. I hadn’t realized that halls in castles might be at different levels in different castles, or might be laid out at a higher level than halls in houses. Now I will picture events in novels and in nonfiction a bit differently than before! πŸ™‚ –Timi

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A great post – i did not realise halls could be at different levels and had partitions for servants

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lovely post. I think I remember reading somewhere that when a king traveled from castle to castle they would pack beds, tapestries and just about anything that wasn’t nailed down to take to the next castle. Have you come across anything that confirms this in your research?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Certainly beds were taken down and taken to the next place. I don’t know about tapestries. They might not have fitted on the walls of the next place. I’ve read things that suggest they were taken down and stored, but I haven’t come across anything about them being transported. I don’t know about other bits of furniture being moved. Medieval buildings didn’t generally have much furniture anyway. I’ll make a note to write a post about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This post really brought home to me how spectacular a great hall must have looked when the lord was in residence. Anyone entering for the first time could have found it quite intimidating, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the things I can’t really show with the photographs is how high the ceilings were. Medieval halls were open to the roof. They were long, wide and high. They look fairly small to us, but would have been huge to an ordinary person then.

      The walls were painted and, in castles and the houses of wealthy men, there were tapestries. I’ll come to it later, but there’s also the matter of furniture. Ordinary people didn’t have chairs, but a man with a hall sat on a chair.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful series, April, packed with fascinating information – well done, you. I had an idea of ‘anatomy of…’ – etc – sometime back, but haven’t got round to it. You have done it in a really logical, easy to understand way. Wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I wonder where people who lived in castles went back then when they needed quiet and privacy? Or maybe that wasn’t something that happened very often back then?

    I’m thinking specifically of being introverted here. Spending time with other people is lovely, but I also need time alone to recharge. Maybe introverts in this era would go on long errands or something? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not only was there no privacy, but there was no concept of privacy. On the plus side there weren’t many occasions when people were with lots of other people. If you lived in a castle that would mainly be meal times. If you were a soldier you would have to do your physcial training with all the other soldiers every day, but that would mainly be done in pairs,

      Like

  10. Really interesting. I love castles and always wondered about the hall. Your descriptions are kind of like I pictured them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Anatomy of a Castle – the Kitchen | A Writer's Perspective

  12. Pingback: Anatomy of a Castle | A Writer's Perspective

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