The oak-panelled waggon roof dates from 1502-3. The bosses on the ceiling are, unusually, made of metal. They bear the arms of Henry VII; royal badges of leopards’ heads and Tudor roses; and the earliest surviving examples of the arms of the College. The bosses also display the dolphin, the device of the Warden at the time, Richard Fitzjames.
The volumes in the Library were originally kept flat, on lecterns, or desks, and chained to them. Methods of chaining changed over time. Evidence from bindings suggests that until about 1470 the chain was attached to the bottom of the back board by a centrally placed metal clip held by four rivets. From about 1470 to 1603, the chain-clip was riveted to the lower fore-edge of the back, or under, board and reflects the change from the lectern to the stall system of shelving that was taking place at that time.
In 1572, the Library was first given an annual income, when the College agreed that admission money payable by Fellows at the beginning of their probationary year was to be used to buy books for the Library, and purchases took place from 1584; the feast that newly elected Fellows had customarily given the Warden and Fellows was abolished.
In August 1583, Henry Savile became Warden and on the 16th he inaugurated new rules for the Library. In the same month, James Leech, a former Fellow, died and bequeathed over 200 books to the College; in October, a bequest of 54 volumes, mostly of medieval theology, was received from William Marshall. Warden Savile had started to refurbish the Library by the time that Leech’s bequest arrived: by August 1589, Key the joiner had worked there for nine weeks. The new continental method of a stalled library (shelves with a desk and a seat at each press) was adopted; Leech’s books were chained accordingly and well over 200 chains were bought in 1589-90. Savile had visited France, Germany and Italy and must have seen Renaissance libraries there. Merton had the first stalled library in England; nearly 20 years later his Mertonian friend, Thomas Bodley, refounded the University Library using a similar, though grander, design.