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About The Minstrels
Our view of a minstrel strumming an instrument and wandering from table to table at a medieval banquet has probably come to us from Hollywood and is far from the reality of a minstrel's role in society.
Troubadours   The idea of a wandering musician originates in southern France from the region we now call Provence, which in the Middle Ages was the home of musician / poets called Troubadours. These Troubadours were often of noble birth and in the Age of Courtly Love would pen countless verses extolling the virtue of their unobtainable true love. Wandering from town to town the Troubadours would bring music and song with them. The idea of becoming an itinerant musician spread to northern France where they were called Trouveres and to Germany where they were known as Meistersingers, as in the opera by Richard Wagner.
A much more lowly musician and probably the true origin of the minstrel (meaning literally mini servant) were to be found in the courts and castles of medieval and renaissance Europe. Music and dance was a very important part of court life and entertainment, and it was the full time job of a minstrel, or group of minstrels, to provide this.
These musicians were expected to be highly versatile, they could play many different instruments and sing, and would probably be expected to juggle, perform acrobatics and provide general all round entertainment.
Henry VIII   By the time of the Tudors, and particularly at the court of Henry VIII, music had reached a zenith of importance. Not least because Henry himself was a trained and accomplished musician and composer.
It is probably not fanciful to imagine that the minstrels at the palaces of Henry VIII enjoyed an intimacy with the king that was only allowed to very few others.
During the reign of Elizabeth Elizabeth I minstrels had gained a new name and were now known as waits. These groups of musicians would be dressed in livery - a matching uniform - and their duties would be to provide not only entertainment for court but also for the now burgeoning cities of renaissance Europe.
Some very important composers come from this stable of musicians and perhaps one of the most famous of all was the lutenist and songwriter John Dowland.
When we come to the civil war small groups of musicians like the waits were waning, to be replaced by the new and much bigger sound of the court orchestra, which led to what we now classify as the classical period.
Learn more about minstrels in our book Entertaining The Tudors