The Great Hall
The Great Hall was built for James IV around 1503. It was part of a huge building programme at the castle designed to provide a setting for major royal gatherings, in part to impress his new queen, Margaret Tudor.
The Largest of its Kind
The Great Hall was by far the largest banqueting hall ever built in medieval Scotland. Two high windows lit the dais – the platform on which the king and queen sat. Five enormous fireplaces provided heating. A hammerbeam roof soared above.
Two royal baptism celebrations were held in the Great Hall. The first was at Christmas 1566, when Mary Queen of Scots hosted a three-day spectacle for her only child, the future James VI.
The entertainment culminated in a banquet in the Great Hall. The guests sat at a round table, in imitation of King Arthur and his knights, and the food was brought in on a mobile stage drawn by satyrs and nymphs. A child dressed as an angel was lowered in a giant globe from the ceiling and gave a recitation. The banquet ended with a great fireworks display – the first ever witnessed in Scotland.
The second celebration came in August 1594, when James VI celebrated the baptism of his firstborn, Prince Henry. The climax was a banquet, the highlight of which was the fish course. This arrived on a model Ship of State, over 5m long and more than 12m high, floating on an artificial sea. As it sailed around the hall‚ 36 brass guns on board fired off a salvo.
In the 1800s, the Great Hall was used as soldiers’ barracks. The great roof was replaced and the interior subdivided. But when the castle ceased to be a military depot in 1964, work began to recreate something of the Great Hall’s splendour.
The restoration took 35 years. The building was repaired with 780 tonnes of stone, and 350 oak trees were felled to make the new hammerbeam roof, modelled on the early 16th-century roof at Edinburgh Castle. On 30 November 1999 – St Andrew’s Day – Her Majesty The Queen formally declared the restored Great Hall open.Great Hall highlights