Westminster Hall's main use during the earliest days of its history was for feasting and entertaining, starting with William Rufus's Whitsun Feast of 1099.
Ceremonial meetings of the King's Great Council were often accompanied by a banquet in the Hall, as on Christmas 1241 when Henry III threw a banquet for the great men of his kingdom.
In fact, almost any great event was likely to be marked by a banquet in the Hall. Some of these included
- In 1235 a banquet to honour the Archbishop of Cologne who was taking the King's sister to marry the Emperor Frederick II
- In 1260 to entertain the Scottish King and Queen, Alexander and Margaret
- In 1269 to mark the placing of Edward the Confessor's remains in the new shrine in Westminster Abbey
- In 1306 upon the summoning of knights to fight Robert the Bruce in Scotland
- In 1357 to mark the arrival of France's King John as a prisoner following the Battle of Poitiers
Marriage feasts were also held in the hall; some three thousand dishes were served at the marriage feast of the Earl of Cornwall in 1243.
The role of the banquet
During the Middle Ages, the banquet became increasingly important as a means of displaying the state and largess of the monarch, the dignity of his household, and the ranks of his servants.
The food served at banquets was richly decorated with gold and jewelled salts and served on expensive plates, and accompanied by the music of minstrels.
Feasts for the poor
Interestingly, the pious Henry III also provided feasts for the poor in Westminster Hall.
In 1237, the Treasurer was commanded to feed 6,000 poor people at Westminster in celebration of Queen Eleanor's coronation. In 1247, the poor were again fed in the Hall between Christmas and New Year's Day. No subsequent king provided charity on such a large scale.