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Thursday, 2 June 2016


A minstrel was a singer of the medieval time period. They are also a name for black musicians in America of the 19th century and white musicians who appeared in blackface.

Minstrels date back to ancient times. Homer, a Greek blind minstrel, chanted the Iliad and the Odyssey to the music of the lyre. Homer told tales of the Greek gods such as Zeus the father of the gods and Apollo the god of sun and music. They were jealous gods who committed adultery and stole from one another.

At first, medieval minstrels were simply servants at court, and entertained the lord and courtiers with chansons de geste or their local equivalent. Late in the 13th century, the term minstrel began to be used to designate a performer who amused his lord with music and song that told tales of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. These minstrels also gathered at feasts and festivals in great numbers with harps, fiddles, bagpipes, flutes and kettledrums.

The jongleur, a medieval traveling entertainer in France, was a combination of minstrel, conjurer, clown, and acrobat. Descendants of the mime of Roman times, jongleurs worked sometimes in groups and sometimes independently, and included both sexes.

The trouveres were minstrels, who were attached to particular households.Their material, which was more uplifting was sometimes used by the jongleurs.

At the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, Taillefer, William of Normandy’s minstrel, asked for the honour of charging the Saxon lines first. His request duly granted, he rode towards the enemy singing "The Song of Roland," a tale of bravery of a Frankish general in the service of Charlemagne. Taillefer cut down his first two opponents but was soon dashed to pieces by the Saxons.

An early French chronicle tells how Richard I of England 's faithful minstrel, Blondel, searched for his imprisoned king who had been captured by Leopold of Austria. At first no one in England knew where their monarch was and Blondel searched for his master throughout Europe in vain. Returning home through Austria he learnt that nearby there was a closely guarded prisoner whose identity was a secret. Suspecting it could be his master, he located a tiny barred window high up on the castle wall which he thought could be a cell. Under the window he sang the first couplet of a Troubadour's song which he had composed, a voice responded with the second couplet. It was the King.

Statue of Blondel near Durnstein. By JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD - Wikipedia Commons

Minstrels provided other entertainments other than music. Some were known to entertain their audience by inflating the entrails of recently butchered animals. The bladders, intestines, and sometimes the stomach were strong enough that they could be manipulated into diverting shapes, much like balloon sculpting today.

As the courts became more sophisticated, minstrels were eventually replaced by the troubadours, and many became wandering minstrels, performing in the streets. A decline in their popularity began in the late 15th century and minstrels in Europe were nearly extinct by about 1700.

Source Comptons Encyclopedia

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