Following the Renaissance the word 'bard' began to be used, early in the 16th century, to designate any kind of a serious poet and was conferred on great poets such as William Shakespeare. On the other hand, in Lowland Scotland the term 'bard' grew to be a term of contempt and reproach, as describing a class of vagabonds.
Early Medieval literature was not written. It is was passed by word of mouth from one generation to another by English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Medieval Bards. The origins of the stories about King Arthur and the Arthurian Legend are found in many Welsh legends and Celtic Myths which were told by the Medieval Bards. The Medieval bards were a distinct class with hereditary privileges. They appear to have been divided into three great sections: the first celebrated victories and sang hymns of praise; the second chanted the laws of the nation; the third gave poetic genealogies and family histories.
Medieval Bard - The Society of Bards
The Celtic Medieval Bards formed an organized society, with hereditary rights and privileges. A Medieval Bard was treated with the utmost respect and were exempt from taxes or military service. Their special duties were to celebrate the victories of their people and to sing hymns of praise to God. The role of the Medieval Bard was to give poetic expression to the religious and national sentiments of the people. The Medieval Bard therefore held a very powerful influence.
The Welsh Medieval Bard
The whole society of bards was regulated by laws which were said to have been first distinctly formulated in Wales by Hywell Dha, and to have been afterwards revised by Gruffydd ap Conan. At stated intervals great festivals were held, at which the most famous Medieval bards from the various districts met and contended in song, the umpires being generally the princes and nobles. Even after the conquest of Wales, these congresses, or Eisteddfodau, as they were called (from the Welsh eistedd, to sit), were summoned by royal commission up to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I when the custom declined. This tradition was revised in the 19th century and in modern Wales, a bard is a poet whose vocation has been recognized at an Eisteddfod.
The Medieval Bard - Famous Meieval Celtic Bards
The names of famous Medieval Celtic Bards are as follows:
- Taliesin, a 6th century Welsh bard who wrote the Book of Taliesin
- Dafydd ap Gwilym, a 14th century Welsh poet, generally regarded as the greatest Welsh poet of all time
- Iolo Goch a 14th century Welsh bard famous for 'The Labourer'.
Medieval Bard replaced by the Troubadours and Minstrels
The Medieval Bard was replaced by the Minstrels and Troubadours who flourished during the Middle Ages. A minstrel was a servant first employed as a travelling entertainer and then as a castle or court musician or Medieval Bard. Medieval Minstrels often created their own ballads about chivalry and courtly love but they were also famous for memorising long poems based on myths and legends just as the Medieval Bards had done before them. These epic poems were called 'chansons de geste'. The themes of the songs sung by the Troubadours also dealt with chivalry and courtly love but they also told stories of far lands and historical events as many Troubadours had travelled to distant countries during the Crusades.
Medieval Bard - The Romantic Arthurian Legend
Tales told by the Medieval Bards and sung by the minstrels and troubadours were transferred into book form and the romantic stories of the Arthurian legend and the ideals of courtly love became part of Medieval literature.