The magnificent Westminster Hall, once the hub of the Palace of Westminster, was built for William the Conqueror’s son, William II (Rufus) in 1097-99, and still stands at the heart of the English government today. Its thick stone walls and the extraordinary hammer-beam roof, installed for Richard II at the end of the 14th century, are awe-inspiring.
Having survived the 1512 fire that destroyed much of the palace at the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign, Westminster Hall was the setting for many important state occasions during the Tudor period: the coronation banquets for all five monarchs and for consorts Elizabeth of York and Anne Boleyn were held here, as were three “disguisings” to celebrate the marriage of Prince Arthur and Katharine of Aragon in 1501. These spectacular entertainments of music, dancing and speeches, a foretaste of the masques of the early Stuart court, were accompanied by jousting tournaments in the adjacent New Palace Yard.
Westminster Hall was also the location for a number of state trials: Sir Thomas More and John Fisher in 1535; Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton, all accused of adultery with Queen Anne Boleyn, in 1536; Lord Protector Somerset in 1551 and the Duke of Northumberland in 1553.
Westminster Hall can be visited today as part of a visit to the Houses of Parliament.
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