Medieval Great Hall
Description of the Medieval Great Hall
The room in the Medieval castle called the Great Hall was intended for the main meeting and dining area and used by everyone who lived in the castle. The Great Hall was a large one-room structure with a loft ceiling which was located in the Inner Ward. The life of the Medieval castle revolved around the Great Hall. All of the meals were served in this room. Pages and servants waited on the tables. Servants ensured the Hall was cleaned, the fires were laid, the lighting was adequate. Entertainment was a major feature of Medieval castle life with music, dancing, masques, jugglers, acrobats, jesters, plays etc. Heralds, or Harkers, would present all visitors. The Steward supervised all of the events in the Great Hall.
Living Conditions in the Medieval Great Hall
Torches were used to light the interiors of large areas such as the Great Hall. Central hearths with canopies and escape louvres in the roof at first provided the heating in the Great Hall but these were later replaced by fireplaces with chimneys. As the Medieval era progressed cleanliness improved and lavers ( stone basins used for washing ) were provided at the entrances of the Great Hall! A limited number of Carpets and mats were introduced to castle interiors but floors strewed with straw or rushes were generally favored during the Medieval times. Sweet smelling herbs such as lavender, camomile, rose petals, daisies and fennel were added to disguise the bad smells of the castles which were prevalent due to the inadequate plumbing systems!
Decoration of the Medieval Great Hall
The way a Great Hall was decorated and furnished indicated the wealth of the owner of the castle. At first the interior of the hall was whitewashed. Tapestries and shields and banners displaying coats of arms decorated the walls. Different colored paints were used in considerable quantities - gold paint was a luxurious item which was used in vast quantities! In the later years of the Medieval period a process called wainscoting was introduced in which wooden panels were used to line the walls of a room. Art came to Medieval castle interiors! Medieval Artists were employed and wall paintings covered the walls above the wainscoting.
Dining in the Great Hall and the Dais
At the end of the Great Hall was the Dais which was a raised platform for the high table where the highest ranking Lord and Nobles were seated. In medieval England salt was expensive and only afforded by the higher Nobility. These Lords sat on the dais at the 'high table' and their commoner servants at lower trestle tables. The salt was placed in the centre of the high table and only those of the appropriate rank had access to it. Those less favoured on the lower tables were "beneath the salt". The Lord, Lady and Nobles of the castle would eat their food from silverware. Other inhabitants would eat their food from wooden or horn dishes - the following link provides full details of Medieval Food and Drink. Every person had their own knife. Spoons were rarely used as any liquid food was drunk from a cup. Forks were not introduced until the late 14th century.
Furniture in the Medieval Great Hall
The Medieval Furniture in the Great Hall was centred around the dining arrangements which were based on the Feudal System in which the status of the inhabitant dictated their lifestyle. Medieval castle furniture was painted! Red and green were the most popular colours used but there are also details in Medieval accounting documents of white, yellow, and black paint. It became fashionable to paint heraldic designs on special pieces of furniture belonging to the Lord of the castle. Individual chairs were quite a luxury and wooden benches were more commonly used furniture to sit on. Trestle tables were used for dining. There were some free-standing tables which were occasionally covered with a linen cloth. Most medieval tables consisted of trestle-tables which enabled quick removal after the meal to make room for entertainment or for the servants to sleep. Buffets - these were a series of wooden planks with a number of stepped shelves. The number of shelves indicated rank! The more shelves the higher the rank. The 'Stepped Buffets' were covered with rich drapes and assembled for use at Banquets and Feasts. The Nobles finest plates of gold or silver were displayed on the 'Buffet' and servants served from them.
The Lord's family at first slept at the extreme upper end of the hall located beyond the dais. These sleeping quarters were only separated by a curtain or a screen. This sleeping arrangement quickly changed and private rooms were added to a castle called the Lord and Ladies Chamber and then the Solar.
Medieval Entertainment in the Great Hall
Various types of Medieval Entertainment was centred in the Great Hall. These included feasts, banquets, masques and plays.
The Minstrel's Gallery
The room in the castle called the Minstrel's Gallery was intended for the Lord's musicians and situated on a raised gallery overlooking the Great Hall. There were many Medieval Musical Instruments which fell into the following categories:
- Stringed Musical Instruments - instruments which were played with a bow or plucked
- Wind Musical Instruments - instruments which were blown like trumpets or bagpipes
- Percussion Musical Instruments - various forms of drums and bells
The minstrels played music to accompany dancing in the Great Hall. Names of famous Medieval dances include the following:
The Great Hall
Facts and information about the Minstrels Gallery - an essential part of a Medieval Castle life!