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The Castle And Its Furniture

To form some idea of the few pieces of furniture required in early mediaeval days, it is necessary to picture the castle, tower, or occasional residence of the baronial lord in those days when England was in a somewhat disturbed state, for petty warfares between powerful chieftains were of common occurrence. Those were times when the furnishings of the home were of small account. They were rough and ready days, and the knights of old had no time or inclination to trouble much about the comforts of home life. The furniture used when the lord and his retainers were in residence was scanty indeed. It was necessarily so, for life in such a place, excepting perhaps in the larger and more important strongholds and the Royal residences, of which there were comparatively few, was uncertain—it changed frequently.



The great hall was in turn the place where feasting and sumptuous entertainment went on, the scene of battle and riot, the meeting place of conspirators, and often a deserted building left alone amidst the solitary grandeur of stone walls, turrets, and courtyards, outside of which were woods and forests, often the dwelling-places of outlaws. We can picture in the mind's eye the hall of feasting, with its simple trestle tables, ranged above and below the salt. They groaned often with the weight of meats, not always too choice. There was drink in abundance, and a somewhat noisy crowd occupied benches and stools, or stood in attendance upon those who were feasting at the table. The lord of the castle would sit in his chair of state, and his men-at-arms were ready to do his bidding. At such times the bare walls of rough stone were obscured by skilfully worked arras, hung on hooks driven into the walls for that purpose ; pikes and bows, and perchance armour, would be piled in the corners and against the walls. The floor was covered with rushes, and as the feast proceeded some one or other frequently became quarrelsome, and misdirected blows often left marks upon the scanty furniture of oak. In a moment the scene might be shifted, for at the signal given by the watchman on the tower the feast would be hurriedly cleared away, and the few pieces of wooden furniture and vessels of metal and leather would be carried in haste up the stone stairs to a place of safety in the towers. In the hall, which had a few moments earlier been the scene of feasting, stern men-at-arms would await the attack of some stronger invading party, or they might man the walls, knowing full well that the great hall of the castle would be where they would make the last stand.

Again, from some urgent reason the lord and his family, and perhaps most of ,his retainers, would journey over rough roads to some far distant castle. On those migrations the walls were stripped of their tapestries, which were bundled into the chests, soon to be taken along with the cavalcade, and for a season the strong walls of the mediaeval castle would be left almost as the masons had left them. With such conditions prevailing in the residences of the nobles we can well imagine that the homes of the retainers, mere mud and plaster shelters within the walls of the outer keep or clustering round them for protection, would be scanty indeed in their furnishings. Such conditions explain the reason why there are so few remains of the earlier mediaeval days in England left, and that this period in English cabinet-making is only represented by a few chests and coffers, and here and there by an old chair preserved be-cause of some special interest which clung to it.

The so-called historical chests and seats other than purely ecclesiastical furniture are limited in number, and of the few pieces, the authenticity of which is proved, scarcely any are without evidence of having been added to or restored in later days.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



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