The Minstrel Essay Research Paper English I

The Minstrel Essay, Research Paper

English I Honors

4 February 1997


Minstrels, or traveling thespians, thrived throughout Europe in medieval times. The term

minstrel referred to a professional entertainer of any kind from the 12th century to the 17th

century. Minstrels were instrumentalist, but were also often jugglers, acrobats, and storytellers.

Although minstrels no longer exist, they played an important role in medieval history and, at one

time, could be found, in one form or another, throughout the entire continent of Europe.

Different countries had different names for minstrels. In Germany, they were called

minnesingers. In France, they were known as troubadours and joungleurs. The Scandinavian

minstrels were called skalds. The Irish called their minstrels bards, while the English minstrels

were referred to as scops.

Minstrels were primarily singers and musicians. These wandering performers were also

story tellers, jugglers, clowns, and tumblers. Often minstrels were an important part of

prominent house holds providing entertainment for the upper class of society. Those minstrels

who were not part of a noble?s homestead, traveled from town to town providing entertainment

not only to noble classes but also to common village folk as well.

There were not many forms of entertainment, nor was there a means for people to learn

about news events. There was no television or radio in medieval times. Even books were very

scarce. Minstrels served to entertain the public. They made up songs, stories, and repeated

ballads and folk tales popular during this time. Traveling from town to town minstrels were also

a source of news. This would share information with the townspeople of the village. The

townspeople would share this news with the minstrels who would then share this news with the

townspeople in the next village in which they performed.

Each country in medieval Europe had their own type of minstrel. Each, while similar in

their general role of entertainer, they were different in many ways. Troubadour?s, French

minstrels, flourished in from the 11th century through the 13th century. Troubadours were found

in the southern part of France. The troubadours were among the first minstrels to use their

native tongue rather than Latin. The Latin language was considered the literary language of the

middle ages. There were approximately 400 troubadours who were known to have lived. The

majority of them were nobles and some were even kings (Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia.)

Originally troubadours sang their poems, later they were accompanied by jongleurs who

played musical instruments. The musical instruments the jongleurs played were the fiddle and

the lute. The subject of their songs were based on topics such as love ,politics, religion, war, and

death. Approximately 400 melodies and 4000 poems have been preserved from medieval

troubadours (Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia.)

The German version of the Troubadour was the meistersinger. The meaning of

meistersinger is master singer. The meistersingers were a group of poet musicians and were

given the status of tradesmen. The first German minstrels were called minnesingers. These

were primarily wandering poet-musicians. The word minnesinger means love singer.

The meistersingers began in the late middle ages, attempting to revive the older minstrel

art of the minnesingers. From 1200 to 1400 the meistersingers began to develop rules for the

composition of songs and even had schools to teach the art of being a meistersinger. Like music

schools today, meistersingers had to study and pass exams before being considered a


The Celtic lands of Ireland, Scotland , and Wales also had their minstrels called bards.

Bards were professional poets who sang about heroic accomplishments and national pride. They

accompanied themselves with harps. Their chief form of expression was poetic alliteration or

rhyme. By the 1700?s the bards were no longer popular. A famous playwright, William

Shakespeare, is often called the Bard of Avon (World Book Encyclopedia pp. 109.) Today bards

are often seen and heard at folk festivals.

The decline of minstrels was due to that of modernization. The printing press created

news papers, books, and other media, so the need for minstrels simply depleted. Now folktales

could be written down, books and songs published, etc. There was just no more need for


Minstrels were the beatniks of medieval Europe. They were a huge part of European

culture, until modernization brought on their demise. Poetry was, and continues to be a huge

part of every societies culture, so it would not be 100 percent accurate to say they were

completely wiped out. Although minstrels no longer exist, they played an important role in

medieval history and, at one time, could be found, in one form or another, throughout the entire

continent of Europe.


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