Updated: May 27
Let's look at The Great Hall in Winchester, the last remaining above-ground piece of the Winchester Castle (not to be confused with remains of Winchester Palace in London’s borough of Southwark). This magnificent building stood the test of time, weathering many storms of English History.
The castle itself was first commissioned by William the Conqueror, in 1067, in order to secure the city shortly after the Battle of Hastings. The Great Hall, however, was built on the orders of his descendant, Henry III two centuries later. Unlike William, Henry had a claim to the city - he was born there and was even known as Henry of Winchester.
During his son’s reign the royal apartments burnt down, never to be restored, putting an end to the Royal Residency. From 14th century onwards, Winchester Castle was being given a more administrative shade.
Edward I. Edward I added an iconic feature to the Great Hall - its Round Table. This is where the connection between The Hall and Camelot truly begins. King Edward was obsessed with the King Arthur. The link is especially significant, as Edward spent the majority of his reign trying to conquer the neighbour lands of Scotland and Wales, and it is from Wales that the ‘original’ King Arthur would had come from. The Welsh are technically the ‘original’ British, since they were there before Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings et al. As a warlord, Edward wanted to squash the Welsh and reclaim their legend, so they couldn’t believe in it anymore. Thus he took the legend by force: he had also reportedly had Arthur’s and Guinevere’s tombs broken into and moved their remains elsewhere. The job was done - the myth was now linked with England with Winchester as a potential Camelot.
Some two and a half centuries later, Henry VII, Edward’s descendant, also latched onto the idea of Camelot. Unlike Edward, though, Henry was born in Wales and could claim to be half Welsh, having been descendent from Welsh Nationalist supporters by the name of Tudur, based in Anglesea.
Also unlike Edward I, Henry VII had to prove his reign was legitimate. As a victor of the Battle of Bosworth, he was left with the crown and a weak claim to it, all other claimants either dead, silenced, exiled or imprisoned. Henry decided to use the Arthurian myth and the prophecy it entailed about a saviour, who’s going to rise up and save the country. In order to advance his PR trick, he had his first son be born in Winchester and called him Arthur. Yet it was his second son Henry VIII, who inherited his crown and became obsessed with the myth himself. He added yet another iconic feature to the Great Hall - he had the mighty table painted, The Tudor rose in the middle of the table and the slightly ‘Henrician’ face of King Arthur himself points squarely at their commissioner.
The Arthurian myth and the Tudor association would not end there. Henry VIII’s eldest child, Mary I also used Winchester to further her cause as the first Queen Regnant - she got married in Winchester Cathedral.
During the Civil War the castle was demolished on the orders of Oliver Cromwell and only the Great Hall remains standing today. Charles II started a new palace project. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the palace building had started but sadly, with Charles’s death it was halted and his brother James II had stopped it indefinitely. (We'll forgive him. He was kicked off the throne.)
The hall is sometimes used for filming - one of the best examples is the Thomas More trial in 'Wolf Hall' (2015), the event that originally took place in Westminster Hall. One historic place 'playing' another historic place. History on film at its best.
In 1981 in celebration of HRH Prince of Wales's marriage they installed new gates, completed with their initials. Best thing - the gates look positively medieval
If he could travel in time, Edward would have got a kick out of our United Kingdom. Just saying. He might have left Scotland alone.
It is curious how the myth of King Arthur and the name Tudor now sound terrifically English to the common ear, much like Trafalgar, Blenheim & Waterloo - none of them actually being English originally.
Today, The Great Hall stands proudly linking the myth and history with some of the most colourful characters of Britain’s past.
Address: Castle Avenue, Winchester SO23 8UJ
Public Transport Access: 12 minute walk from the main train station