Nursery Rhymes

Jongleurs

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Jongleurs
Definition and description of the Jongleurs: The Jongleurs can be described as a court attendant or other person such as a traveller who, for hire, recited or sang verses and performed other acts for the entertainment of the audience including thet of a conjuror or a juggler. Jongleur is the French word for juggler. Often the Jongleurs role was to assist the Troubadours or Minstrels.

Jongleurs
The Jongleurs were often collaborators or assistants of Medieval Troubadours or Minstrels. Jongleurs gained a reputation of itinerant entertainers of Medieval France and in Norman England where many were deemed to be vagabonds and untrustworthy. Their repertoire included extravagant skills in dancing, conjuring, acrobatics, and juggling. The Jongleurs also played a part in singing, and storytelling. Many were skilled in playing musical instruments, although their skills were not greatly recognised or rewarded.

Skills of the Jongleurs
Jongleurs were required to be all round entertainers and have a variety of different skills. These skills are illustrated in the following description:

I can play the lute, vielle, pipe, bagpipe, panpipes, harp, fiddle, guittern, symphoy, psaltery, orginistrum, organ, tabor and the rote. I can sing a song well, and make tales to please young ladies, and can play the gallant for them if necessary. I can throw knives into the air and catch them without cutting my fingers.
I can jump rope most extraordinary and amusing. I can balance chairs, and make tables dance.
I can somersault, and walk doing a handstand.

Refer to the Medieval Music index for facts and information about all of the above Medieval musical instruments.

The Jongleurs and the Minstrels
The Minstrel was not as refined or poetic as the Troubadour. The role of the Medieval Minstrel often required many different entertainment skills due the expectations of their audiences. Minstrels and even troubadours would therefore employ Jongleurs as assistants. The skills of the Jongleurs included the following:

  • Playing various Musical Instruments
  • Reciting poems
  • Singing
  • Buffoonery which eventually led to roles as Jesters
  • Juggling
  • Acrobatics
  • Dancing
  • Fire eating
  • Conjuring
  • Animal trainers - including animals such as dogs and monkeys in their shows

The Demise of the Jongleurs and the Minstrels
The Jongleurs gained a reputation of itinerant entertainers of the Medieval times in France and Norman England. Another type of performer of even lower rank than the Jongleurs were the gleemen, a travelling entertainer. In time the Jongleurs disappeared. Their reputations were such that they were replaced by the Minstrels who also suffered from a similar stigma. In 1469 a charter of King Edward IV ordered all minstrels to join a Guild. It was called the Guild of Royal Minstrels. Medieval Minstrels were required to either join the guild or to stop being minstrels. The travelling musicians of the Medieval era with their colorful lifestyle were eventually replaced by the court musicians, jesters and entertainers. The Waits became popular and extended their roles into becoming town musicians.

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