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The reception of these ambassadors must have taken place in one of the King's State Rooms on the east side of the Clock Court; for the Great Hall, though by this time nearly completed, was as yet not quite ready for use. Its external appearance, of which a good idea can be formed from the annexed plate, was very little different then from what it is now. Its length, which is 118 feet or so on the outside, occupies the whole breadth, and more, of the Clock Court, otherwise called, in the time of Henry VIII., “The Inner Court where the fountaine standeth”; and in height from the ground to the topmost part of the gable-end it stands The range
of small windows in the low storey over which it is raised, appertain to the old buttery and cellars, now subdivided into some thirty wine and coal cellars, storerooms, and other offices. In the corner, on the right hand, is a beautiful bay window, reaching nearly the whole height of the hall, and abutting, in the inside, on the daïs. In the other angles of the hall are octagonal turrets, which rise about as high as the top of the roof, and of which each was formerly surmounted by a leaden“ type,” at the apex of which was a lion, leopard, or dragon, holding a vane gilded and painted with the King's arms, and on the top of the eight crocketed pinnacles, at the angles of the octagon, smaller vanes of a like sort. Similar vanes decorated the pinnacles on the tops of the buttresses.
The outline of the gable is peculiar, the pitch of the roof being cut off obtusely and flattened at the apex in a way which is very uncommon, and which is done so as to conform with the interior. Along the top of the roof there appears to have been a sort of decorated parapet or fret-work; and in the middle rose the "femerell," or louvre, unfortunately destroyed about a century and a half ago—a mass of pierced and fretted tracery, ablaze with gilding and colour, and with numerous vanes fluttering and glittering in every breeze.
As, on the eighty or more old Gothic halls in England, there scarcely survives a single good and genuine example of the mediæval louvre—the best known, that on Westminster Hall, being far from a satisfactory imitation of the original -the records on this point are of peculiar value. The louvre was made of wood, and consisted of three storeys or tiers,
diminishing in size, the sides made of open work, and the tops or roofs cased with lead. From the upper edge of each storey rose a set of carved pinnacles, surmounted with beasts carrying vanes, while at the centre and summit of the whole was a great lion bearing a great vane gilded," emblazoned with Henry VIII.'s arms, and covered with a large close crown.
But imposing as the Great Hall looks on the exterior, rising high above the surrounding buildings, it is its interior which is the most magnificent, and on which King Henry lavished the greatest labour and expense. The first impression it gives on entering is one of an excessive richness bordering on the florid; and this has been laid to the account of the restorations that were carried out about forty years ago. But though the effect is certainly rather too fresh and raw for an old building, the restorer seems to have done little more than follow the indications of the original colouring, which, as the records prove, was of a very gorgeous nature. Most of the panels of the roof were painted blue, while the projecting parts showed the colour of the oak, and were here and there relieved with gilding. The painting of the carved pendants, corbels, and spandrels was of course more elaborate,
About the time at which the roof was repainted, that is to say, between the years 1840 and 1846, all the windows of the hall were reglazed with painted glass, designed and executed by Willement, who, considering the then state of that art, deserves much credit for the taste and accuracy of the restoration. Unfortunately, not a trace of the old glass now remains, most of it having perished in the course of years, and the remnant, we may presume, being removed when the reglazing was carried out.
The dazzling effect of the hall in its present state is enhanced by the brilliancy of the eight pieces of tapestry, wrought with silk, and silver and gold thread, which portray "The History of Abraham."
When we come to inspect the hall in detail, one of the most prominent features that strike us is the great bay window, at the upper end on the right-hand side, extending from the floor to the roof, and lighting the daïs or haut-pas, where stood the King's table. This window contains as
many as forty-eight lights, of which the thirty-six to the front are shown in the annexed print. In the ceiling or vault of the bay is a miniature fan-groin, with pendants, of extreme beauty and delicacy. The raised step, or hal-pace, at this window was formerly paved with green and white tiles, and the rest of the hall with plain tiles. All these, we regret to note, have been “restored” away, and their places supplied by large flag-stones.
At the lower end of the hall, placed across its breadth, is a screen of fine deep-toned oak, behind which are the main entrances into the hall—one, on the south side, leading down a flight of stone stairs to Anne Boleyn's Gateway, and so into the open courts; the other, on the north side, leading down a flight of wooden steps into the cloister, and thence to the kitchens and offices, and to all the interior of the palace. At the back, exactly in the centre of the wall, was a door, now bricked up, into the pantry. The screen is divided, as was usual in mediæval halls, into three compartments, leaving two openings into the body of the hall, through which the company passed, and the servants brought up the dishes when grand banquets took place. Each course was heralded, as is recorded in the old romance, by the music of the merry minstrelsy:
“ Fro kechene came the fyrst cours
With pipes, and trumps, and tabours." The compartments, which, as well as the passage between them, were in olden days commonly called “the Screens," are flanked by heavy oak pillars, with moulded bases and capitals, and are formed into panels with carved tracery, showing the Tudor badges and Henry VIII.'s initials.
Above the screens is a loft, called “The Minstrel Gallery,” which is reached by the spiral staircase in a turret in the south-west corner of the hall. Here were placed the minstrels in their picturesque attire, who played during banquets, interludes, masquerades, balls, and other festivities. The original front or balustrade of the gallery has been destroyed, but a not inappropriate modern one is now substituted.
The most gorgeous part, however, of the Great Hall is the elaborate and ornate roof, probably the most splendid example in the Perpendicular style ever erected in England.