There were two types of Medieval Musicians - the Minstrels and the Troubadours.
The Minstrels - A minstrel was a servant first employed as a castle or court musician. A Medieval Bard. The name 'minstrel' means a "little servant". 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 Minstrels were replaced by Troubadours and started to move around and were known as 'Wandering Minstrels'.
The role of the Minstrels
The Minstrel was not as refined or poetic as the Troubadour. The role of the Minstrel often required many different skills including:
- Fire eating
- Playing Musical Instruments
- Reciting poems
- Buffoonery which led to roles as jesters
- Animal trainers - including animals such as dogs and monkeys in their shows
Jongleurs were the assistants of minstrels. Jongleurs gained a reputation of itinerant entertainers of the Middle Ages in France and Norman England. Another type of performer of even lower rank than the minstrels were the gleemen, a travelling entertainer.
There were many venues for the wandering minstrels who had been displaced at the castles and courts by the refined and fashionable troubadours. Middle Ages 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 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
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. Minstrels were required to either join the guild or to stop being minstrels.
The Minstrels and Courtly Love Poems and Songs
The ideals of courtly love was publicised in the poems, ballads, writings and literary works of various authors of the Middle Ages and sung by wandering minstrels. Geoffrey Chaucer, the most famous author of the Middle Ages, wrote stories about courtly love in the Canterbury Tales. The wandering minstrels of the Middle Ages 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 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 Minstrels
The image of the Minstrel is a strong one. Minstrels were first and foremost entertainers and are remembered for their lasting image wearing bright parti-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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