Nursery Rhymes

Minstrels

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Minstrels
Definition and description of the Minstrels: The Minstrels can be described as one of an order of men who earned a living by the arts of poetry and music, and sang verses to the accompaniment of a lute, harp or other instrument.

Medieval Minstrels
There were two main types of Medieval Musicians - the Minstrels and the Troubadours.

A minstrel was a servant first employed as a travelling entertainer and then as a castle or court musician or Medieval Bard. The name 'minstrel' means a "little servant". Medieval Minstrels often created their own ballads but they were also famous for memorising long poems based on myths and legends which 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. The Medieval Minstrels were replaced by Troubadours and started to move around and were known as 'Wandering Minstrels'.

The role of the Medieval 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 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 Minstrels and Jongleurs were the gleemen, a travelling entertainer.

Wandering Minstrels
There were many venues for the wandering minstrels who had been displaced at the castles and courts by the refined and fashionable troubadours. Medieval Feasts, Fairs and Festivals were all common occurrences during the Middle Ages and were celebrated during specific times of the year (most of which were dictated by the Church and religious festivals.) The musical instruments played by wandering minstrels who performed at these events were light and easily carried. They included fiddles, the lute, recorders and small percussion instruments. The songs and ballads sang by the such minstrels were traditional English favorites.

Blondel the Minstrel
Blind Harry - Henry the Minstrel

The Guild of the Minstrels
The reputation of the wandering minstrels declined and “rude rustics and artificers” were seen as pretending to be minstrels and neglecting their business, to go about the country, levying heavy exactions on the lieges. 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 Medieval Minstrels and Courtly Love Poems and Songs
The ideals of Courtly love was publicised in the poems, ballads, writings and literary works of various  Medieval authors and sung by wandering minstrels. Geoffrey Chaucer, the most famous Medieval author of the times, wrote stories about courtly love in his book called the Canterbury Tales. The wandering minstrels sang ballads about courtly love and were expected to memorize the words of long poems describing the valour and the Code of chivalry followed by the Medieval knights. The Medieval Minstrels sang about the Dark Age myths of Arthurian Legends featuring King Arthur, Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. The minstrels of the Middle Ages therefore strengthened the idea of a Knights Code of Chivalry and Courtly Love.

The Image of the Medieval Minstrels
The image of the Medieval Minstrel is a strong one. Medieval Minstrels were first and foremost entertainers and are remembered for their lasting image wearing bright multi-colored  costumes riding on a costumed horse from castle to castle, singing as he went with a lutes thrown across his back. The most famous fictional English minstrel is Alan-a-Dale who was a wandering minstrel who became a member of the band of outlaws, the 'merry men', led by Robin Hood. The story of the minstrel Alan-a-Dale reflects the type of songs sung by real minstrels. The story tells of Robin encountering a broken-hearted Alan-a-Dale. Alan's true love Ellen was being forced to marry a cruel, old knight. Disguised as a minstrel, Robin interrupts the wedding and rescues Ellen. Alan-a-Dale and Ellen were married by Friar Tuck.

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