During the Medieval period, Durham Castle, Palace Green and the Cathedral formed a power-base for the Bishops of Durham. They controlled much of County Durham and beyond, including areas in modern day Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Teesside and Tyne and Wear.
Today, the term Prince Bishop is often used to reflect the power and status of the Bishop of Durham during this time. Not only did he represent the church, but he also performed key military, administrative, and judicial functions on behalf of the monarchy. The position and status of the bishop established Durham as one of the most important areas in the country. A steward of Bishop Antony Bek remarked that:
"There are two kings in England, namely the Lord King of England, wearing a crown in sign of his regality and the Lord Bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown, in sign of his regality in the diocese of Durham".
Warrior Bishop Anthony Bek (1284-1310) built a new Great Hall in the late 13th century. It is a space that has been influenced and shaped by the ever-changing needs of those living and working in the castle. The grand and lavish structure replaced an earlier simple hall, which is believed to have been built in the 11th century on the same spot. Complemented by the 12th century North Hall, Durham Castle boasted two Great Halls and could host lavish double-banquets. One of the first guests to dine in the new Great Hall was King Edward I.
Not to be outdone, Bishop Hatfield (1345-1381) made the Great Hall even grander in the 14th century. He extended the structure, adding double windows and possibly adding the trumpeters’ galleries. The Great Hallreflected the power of the Bishop of Durham, and it is said a throne was placed at each end of the room.
The Great Hall of Durham Castle, looking north towards the 19th-century-stained glass window. Tables are laid out in rows at the front of the picture.
A 12th century reconstruction drawing by Dominic Andrews. The reconstruction drawing features the North Hall, Keep, Gatehouse and Norman Chapel.