The most important room in a castle was the great
hall. This room
housed most of the main ceremonies and feasting in the town. It was
where the people who worked and lived in the castle ate. The room
and the seating arrangements were in accordance with the medieval feudal
structure: the lord and other important members raised up and at the
front of the rooms, and the lower members of the fiefdom spread out
farther and farther away from the main table.
The lord and his guests sat on a dais at one end, from which he could look
down upon his lesser subjects. Also, at the far end of the hall, was an
open space for entertainers to perform. These entertainers were often
minstrels, poets, or an acrobat that could
liven up the sometimes dreary atmosphere of the castle..
In the Middle Ages, forks did not exist, but everyone used their
knife, spoon, and their
own square pewter trencher, along with wooden bowls and a drinking
vessel. People generally shared bowls, cups, and plates. In some places,
people ate off of hard pieces of brown bread
called trenchers. Trenchers were rarely eaten, because of their bad
taste. The lord would
often have many elaborately decorated bowls and cups adorning his table,
displaying his wealth to his subjects.
The lord's table would each get their own bowl of food, but the people of
lower rank would have to share with
up to four other people. These halls often became crowded and quite
smelly with all the people gathered
together for prolonged periods of time.
Feasting after Christmas
Eating was one of the main uses of a great hall. Grace was said
every meal as part of the daily prayer ritual. Additionally, servants
washed more important people's hands before and after they ate. The first
the day was breakfast, occurring after Mass. It was usually composed of
bread and wine. It wasn't very large. The main meal of the day was
around ten or eleven o'clock.
The food consisted of fresh game when it was available, caught by the
lord's trappers or by the lord himself. These meats
were usually coneys, geese, pigeons, or the occasional deer. There was
no means of preserving meat, so it was always fresh. There were also
more exotic spices and wines consumed. Of course, they also ate bread
made locally. They also had most of the
same fruits and vegetables as we do today.
There was also generally another smaller meal in the evening.
food was prepared in the kitchen, which was
separate from the great hall to prevent any sort of fire that might occur
in the kitchen from spreading into the great hall
quickly. There was, however, a large hallway connecting the two rooms, to
make sure that the food arrived promptly and hot for
the hungry visitors.
Feasts occurred for special occasions, such as a wedding, a noble's
christening, saints' holidays, and Christmas. There was also
a large town feast to celebrate the harvest each year. The feast was a
major celebration for the town and all around. It usually
lasted for up to four hours, and the meal
contained four to five courses. The main course would include salted
beef; fresh fish; a variety of fowl;
and tough, chewy pork. The meats were made to taste more interesting (
hide the tastes of rotting) with expensive imported spices. Salt was also
favorite spice, and important nobles and guests were always seated nearest
the elaborate saltcellars at the tables. Honey was used from the castles'
beehives to sweeten the foods.
The lord of the castle and his guests drank milk; wine; mead, which
a kind of beer. Water had to be boiled before drinking, so most people
Structure and Decoration:
Great hall shares a wall with inner curtain
The great hall was the largest building of the inner
ward. It was often half the length of the wall it was built into. The
great hall was often nestled back into a corner of the inner ward. In
this way two walls of the great hall could actually be parts of the inner
ward wall. This saved time and building space. The great hall was
usually the tallest structure in the inner ward, except for the massive
towers. Its high, pointed roof was supported by a series of parallel
arches. These arches were in turn held up by corbels. These were stone
outcroppings built into the wall that the wooden arch could sit on.
sides of the hall usually had many stained glass windows to let in light.
Also, along the sides there were three or four fireplaces to heat up the
room. Tapestries were also hung on the walls to help keep in warmth.
There were also two or three doors in the hall, one usually leading to the
Rest and Business:
The great hall was also the main sleeping area before
approximately 1200. Local knights would often sleep on tables, and
servants would sleep on the floor. Sometimes, the tables were made to
come apart. If so, they were taken apart and straw mattresses called
palliasses were brought in.
The people slept on those. The lord usually
had his own room with a bed,
however. Later, after about 1200, separate servant and guest quarters
were built in other buildings.
Business matters were also primarily worked on in the
great hall. The lord managed his large lands from here. He heard
petitions from people in need. He settled punishments, and meted out
fines. He also levied taxes and checked to make sure they were
properly paid. He made laws and other decisions from the great hall.