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The British Bards--The Northern Scalds--The Anglo-Saxon Gleemen--The Nature of their Performances--A Royal Player with three Darts--Bravery of a Minstrel in the Conqueror's Army--Other Performances by Gleemen--The Harp an Instrument of Music much used by the Saxons--Harpers at Durham--The Norman Minstrels, and their different Denominations and Professions--Troubadours--Jestours--Tales and Manners of the Jesters--Further Illustration of their Practices--Patronage, Privileges, and Excesses of the Minstrels--A Guild of Minstrels--Abuses and Decline of Minstrelsy--Minstrels were Satirists and Flatterers--Anecdotes of offending Minstrels, Women Minstrels--The Dress of the Minstrels--The King of the Minstrels, why so called--Rewards given to Minstrels--Payments to Minstrels--Durham Minstrels and Players--Minstrels at Parish Festivals.

THE BRITISH BARDS.--The Britons were passionately fond of vocal and instrumental music: for this reason, the bards, who exhibited in one person the musician and the poet, were held in the highest estimation among them. "These bards," says an early historian, "celebrated the noble actions of illustrious persons in heroic poems which they sang to the sweet sounds of the lyre; 1 and to this testimony we may add another of equal authority: "The British bards are excellent and melodious poets, and sing their poems, in which they praise some, and censure others, to the music of an instrument resembling a lyre." 2 Their songs and their music are said, by the same writer, to have been so exceedingly affecting, that "sometimes when two armies are standing in order of battle, with their swords drawn, and their lances extended upon the point of engaging in a most furious conflict, the poets have stepped in between them, and by their soft and fascinating songs calmed the fury of the warriors, and prevented the bloodshed. Thus, even among barbarians," adds the author, "rage gave way to wisdom, and Mars submitted to the Muses."

THE NORTHERN SCALDS.--The scalds 3 were the poets and the musicians of the ancient northern nations; they resembled the bards of the Britons, and were held in equal veneration by their countrymen. The scalds were considered as necessary appendages to royalty, and even the inferior chieftains had their poets to record their actions and indulge their vanity.

THE ANGLO-SAXON GLEEMEN.--Upon the establishment of the Saxons in Britain, these poetical musicians were their chief favourites; the courts of the kings and the residences of the opulent afforded them a constant asylum; their persons were protected, and admission granted to them without the least restraint. In the Anglo-Saxon language they were distinguished by two appellations; the one equivalent to the modern term of gleemen or merry-makers, and the other harpers, derived from the harp, an instrument on which


Saxon Gleemen
Click to enlarge

Saxon Gleemen


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they usually played. The appellation of harper was long retained by the English rhymists. The gleemen added mimicry, and other means of promoting mirth to their profession, as well as dancing and tumbling, with sleights of hand, and variety of deceptions to amuse the spectators: it was therefore necessary for them to associate themselves into companies, by which means they were enabled to diversify their performances, and render many of them more surprising through the assistance of their confederates. In Edgar's oration to Dunstan, the mimi, or minstrels, are said to sing and dance; and, in the canons made in that king's reign, A.D. 960 (Can. 58), it is ordered that no priest shall in any wise act the gleeman with himself or with other men, but be, as becomes his order, wise and reverend. 1

NATURE OF THE PERFORMANCES BY THE GLEEMEN.--Representations of some of these pastimes are met with occasionally in early manuscripts; and where they do occur, we uniformly find that the illuminators, being totally ignorant of ancient customs and the habits of foreign nations, have not paid the least regard to propriety in the depicting of either, but substituted those of their own time, and by this means they have, without design on their part, become the communicators of much valuable information. The following observations upon two very early paintings will, I doubt not, in great measure confirm the truth of this assertion.

On plate twenty are two persons dancing to the music of the horn and the trumpet, and it does not appear to be a common dance in which they are engaged; on the contrary, their attitudes are such as must have rendered it very difficult to perform. On the same plate is a curious specimen of a performer's art.

We here see a man throwing three balls and three knives alternately into the air, and catching them one by one as they fall, but returning them again in a regular rotation. To give the greater appearance of difficulty to this feat, it is accompanied with the music of an instrument resembling the modern violin. It is necessary to add, that these two figures, as well as those dancing, previously exhibited, form a part only of two larger paintings, which, in their original state, are placed as frontispieces to the Psalms of David; and in both, the artists have represented that monarch seated upon his throne in the act of playing upon the harp or the lyre, and surrounded by the masters of sacred music. In each the king is depicted considerably larger than the other performers, a compliment usually paid to saints and dignified persons; which absurdity has been frequently practised by the more modern painters. The inferior figures form a sort of border to the sides and bottom of the royal portrait. In addition to the four figures in the middle of the Plate, and exclusive of the king, there are four more, all of them instrumental performers; one playing upon the horn, another upon the trumpet, and the other two upon a kind of tabor or drum, which, however, is beaten with a single drum-stick: the manuscript in which this illumination is

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preserved, was written as early as the eighth century, and is in the Cotton Collection at the British Museum. 1 The second painting, which is more modern than the former by full two centuries, contains four figures besides the royal psalmist; the two not engraved are musicians: the one is blowing a long trumpet supported by a staff he holds in his left hand, and the other is winding a crooked horn. 2 In a short prologue, immediately preceding the psalms, we read as follows: David, filius Jesse, in regno suo quatuor elegit qui psalmos fecerunt, id est Asaph, Æman, Æthan, et Idithun; which may be thus translated literally, "David, the son of Jesse, in his reign elected four persons who composed psalms, that is to say, Asaph, Æman, Æthan, and Idithun." In the painting these four names are separately appropriated, one to each of the four persons there represented; the player upon the violin is called Idithun, and Æthan is tossing up the knives and the balls.

I have been thus particular in describing these curious delineations, because I think they throw much light upon the profession of the Anglo-Saxon gleeman, and prove that his exhibitions were diversified at a very early period; for the reader, I doubt not, will readily agree with me, that dancing and sleights of hand were better calculated for secular pastimes than for accompaniments to the solemn performances of sacred psalmody. The honest illuminators having no ideas, as I before observed, of foreign or ancient manners, saw not the absurdity of making the Jewish monarch a president over a company of Saxon gleemen; they had heard, no doubt, that these persons whose names they found recorded in the book of Psalms, were poets and musicians; and therefore naturally concluded that they were gleemen, because they knew no others who performed in that double capacity but the gleemen: they knew also that these facetious artists were greatly venerated by persons of the highest rank, and their company requested by kings and princes, who richly rewarded them for the exercise of their talents, and for this reason, conceived that they were proper companions for the royal psalmist.

A ROYAL PLAYER WITH THREE DARTS.--The sleight of casting up a certain number of sharp instruments into the air, and catching them alternately in their fall, though part of the gleeman's profession, was not entirely confined to this practice. It is said of Olaf Fryggeson, one of the ancient kings of Norway, that he could play with three darts at once, tossing them in the air, and always kept two up while the third was down in his hand. 3 Our Saxon joculator, however, has the advantage of the monarch by adding the three balls, which of course must have made the trick more difficult to be performed.

BRAVERY OF A MINSTREL IN THE CONQUEROR'S ARMY.--The celebrated minstrel or juggler Taillefer, who came into England with William the Norman, was a warrior as well as a musician. He was present at the battle of Hastings, and appeared at the head of the Conqueror's army, singing the songs of Charlemagne and of Roland; but previous to the commencement of the action, he

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advanced on horseback towards the army of the English, and, casting his spear three times into the air, he caught it as often by the iron head; and the fourth time he threw it among his enemies, one of whom he wounded in the body: he then drew his sword, which he also tossed into the air as many times as he had done his spear, and caught it with such dexterity, that those who saw him attributed his manœuvres to the power of enchantment. After he had performed these feats he galloped among the English soldiers, thereby giving the Normans the signal of battle; and in the action it appears he lost his life. 1

OTHER PERFORMANCES BY GLEEMEN.--One part of the gleeman's profession, as early as the tenth century, was, teaching animals to dance, to tumble, and to put themselves into variety of attitudes, at the command of their masters.

Upon plate twenty-five we see the copy of a curious though rude delineation, being little more than an outline, which exhibits a specimen of this pastime. The principal joculator appears in the front, holding a knotted switch in one hand, and a line attached to a bear in the other; the animal is lying down in obedience to his command; and behind them are two more figures, the one playing upon two flutes or flageolets, and elevating his left leg while he stands upon his right, supported by a staff that passes under his armpit; the other dancing, in an attitude exceedingly ludicrous. This performance takes place upon an eminence resembling a stage made with earth; and in the original a vast con-course are standing round it in a semicircle as spectators of the sport, but they are so exceedingly ill drawn, and withal so indistinct, that I did not think it worth the pains to copy them. The dancing, if I may so call it, of the flute player, is repeated twice in the same manuscript. I have thence selected two other figures and placed them upon plate twenty.

Here we see a youth playing upon a harp with only four strings, and apparently singing at the same time, while an elderly man is performing the part of a buffoon or posture master, holding up one of his legs, and hopping upon the other to the music. Both these drawings occur in a MS. psalter in the Harleian Collection, 2 written in Latin, and apparently about the middle of the tenth century. It contains many drawings, all of them exceedingly rude, and most of them merely outlines. We shall have occasion farther on to speak more largely concerning all these kinds of diversions.

THE HARP USED BY THE SAXONS.--The bards and the scalds most assuredly used the harp to accompany their songs and modulate their voices. The Saxon gleemen and joculators followed their example, and are frequently called harpers for that reason; but, at the same time, it is equally certain, that they were well acquainted with several other instruments of music, as the violin, or something very similar to it; pipes or flutes of various kinds; horns and trumpets; to which may be added the tabor, or drum. The harp, indeed, was the most

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popular, and frequently exercised by persons who did not follow the profession of gleemen. We learn from Bede, an unquestionable authority, that, as early as the seventh century, it was customary at convivial meetings to hand a harp from one person to another, and every one who partook of the festivity played upon it in his turn, singing a song to the music for merriment sake. 1 The historian adds, that Cædmon, not being acquainted with such sort of songs, gat up when he saw the harp brought near him, and went home; the king adds the reason, namely, that he arose for shame, not being able to comply with the general practice. Probably this was not the practice when the professional harper was present, whose province it was to amuse the company.

* HARPERS AT DURHAM.--The Account Rolls of the abbey of Durham for the fourteenth century yield frequent reference to the harp and harpers. The prior had a harper attached to his great establishment; a harp was bought in 1335 for Thomas the harper at a cost of 3s.; in 1330 an itinerant harper received 12d.; in 1357 William, a blind harper, received 2s. at Christmas; and in 1360 a Welsh harper obtained 3s. 4d. In 1362 a harper belonging to the bishop of Norwich visited the abbey at the feast of the translation of St Cuthbert, and was rewarded with 5s.; he was an actor or jester as well as a harper, for he is termed histrio harper2

THE NORMAN MINSTRELS.--Soon after the Conquest, these itinerant musicians lost the ancient Saxon appellation of gleemen, and were called ministraulx, in English minstrels, a term well known in Normandy some time before. As the minstrel's art consisted of several branches, the professors were distinguished by different denominations, as, "rimours, chanterres, conteours, jougleours or jongleurs, jestours, lecours, and troubadours or trouvers"; in modern language, rhymers, singers, story-tellers, jugglers, relaters of heroic actions, buffoons, and poets; but all of them were included under the general name of minstrel. In the Latin, ministerellus, or ministrallus, is also called mimus, mimicus, histrio, joculator, versificator, cantor, and scurra. An eminent French antiquary says of the minstrels, that some of them themselves composed the subjects they sang or related, as the trouvers and the conteurs; and some of them used the compositions of others, as the jugleours and the chanteurs. He farther remarks, that the trouvers may be said to have embellished their productions with rhyme, while the conteurs related their histories in prose; the jugleours, who in the middle ages were famous for playing upon the vielle accompanied the songs of the trouvers. The vielle was a stringed instrument, sounded by the turning of a wheel within it, resembling that which we frequently see about the streets played by the Savoyards, vulgarly called a hurdy-gurdy. 3

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These jugleours were also assisted by the chanteurs; and this union of talents rendered the compositions more harmonious and more pleasing to the auditory, and increased their rewards, so that they readily joined each other, and travelled together in large parties. 1 It is, however, very certain, that the poet, the songster, and the musician, were frequently united in the same person.

TROUBADOURS.--The Norman rhymers appear to have been the genuine descendants of the ancient Scandinavian scalds; they were well known in the northern part of France long before the appearance of the provincial poets called troubadours, and trouvers, that is, finders, probably from the fertility of their invention. The troubadours brought with them into the north a new species of language called the Roman language, which in the eleventh and twelfth centuries was commonly used in the southern provinces of France, and there esteemed as the most perfect of any in Europe. It evidently originated from the Latin, and was the parent of the French tongue; and in this language their songs and their poems were composed. 2 These poets were much admired and courted, being, as a very judicious modern writer 3 says, the delight of the brave and the favourites of the fair; because they celebrated the achievements of the one and the beauties of the other. Even princes became troubadours, and wrote poems in the provincial dialect; among others, a monarch of our own country certainly composed verses of this kind. The reader will, I doubt not, readily recollect the common story of Richard I., who, being closely confined in a castle belonging to the duke of Austria, was discovered by his favourite minstrel Blondel, a celebrated troubadour, through the means of a poem composed by the poet, in conjunction with his royal master. The story is thus related in a very ancient French author, quoted by Claude Fauchet: Blondel, seeing that his lord did not return, though it was reported that he had passed the sea from Syria, thought that he was taken by his enemies, and probably very evilly entreated; he therefore determined to find him, and for this purpose travelled through many countries without success: at last he came to a small town, near which was a castle belonging to the duke of Austria; and, having learned from his host that there was a prisoner in the castle who had been confined for upwards of a year, he went thither, and cultivated an acquaintance with the keepers; for a minstrel, says the author, can easily make acquaintance. However, he could not obtain a sight of the prisoner, nor learn his quality; he therefore placed himself near to a window belonging to the tower wherein he was shut up, and sang a few verses of a song which had been composed conjointly by him and his patron. The king, hearing the first part of the song, repeated the second; which convinced the poet that the prisoner was no other than Richard himself. Hastening therefore into England, he acquainted the barons with his adventure, and they, by means of a large sum of money, procured the liberty of the monarch. 4

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JESTOURS.--The conteurs and the jestours, who are also called dissours, and seggers, or sayers, and, in the Latin of that time, fabulatores and narratores, were literally, in English, tale-tellers, who recited either their own compositions or those of others, consisting of popular tales and romances, for the entertainment of public companies, on occasions of joy and festivity. Gower, a writer contemporary with Chaucer, describing the coronation of. a Roman emperor, says,

When every ministrell had playde,
And every dissour had sayde,
Which was most pleasaunt in his ear. 1

In a manuscript collection of old stories, in the Harleian Library, we read of a king who kept a tale-teller on purpose to lull him to sleep every night; but some untoward accident having prevented him from taking his repose so readily as usual, he desired the fabulator to tell him longer stories; who obeyed, and began one upon a more extensive scale, and fell asleep himself in the midst of it.

TALES AND MANNERS OF THE JESTOURS.--The jestours, or, as the word is often written in the old English dialect, gesters, were the relaters of the gestes, that is, the actions of famous persons, whether fabulous or real; and these stories were of two kinds, the one to excite pity, and the other to move laughter, as we learn from Chaucer: 2

And jestours that tellen tales,
Both of wepying and of game.

The tales of game, as the poet expresses himself, were short jocular stories calculated to promote merriment, in which the reciters paid little respect to the claims of propriety, or even of common decency. The tales of game, however, were much more popular than those of weeping, and probably for the very reason that ought to have operated the most powerfully for their suppression. The jestours, or jesters, whose powers were chiefly employed in the hours of conviviality, finding by experience that lessons of instruction were much less seasonable at such times than idle tales productive of mirth and laughter, accommodated their narrations to the general taste of the times, regardless of the mischiefs they occasioned by vitiating the morals of their hearers; hence it is, that the author of the Vision of Pierce the Ploughman calls them contemptibly "japers, and juglers, and janglers of gests." 3 He describes them also as haunters of taverns and common ale-houses, amusing the lower classes of the people with "myrth of minstrelsy and losels tales," loose vulgar tales, and calls them tale-tellers and "tutelers in ydell," tutors of idleness, occasioning their auditory, "for love of tales, in tavernes to drink," where they learned from them to jangle and to jape, instead of attending to their more serious duties; he therefore makes one to say,

I can not parfitly my pater noster as the priest it singeth,
But I can ryms of Roben Hode, and Randol erl of Chester
But of our Lord or our Lady I lerne nothing at all:
I am occupied every daye, holy daye, and other,
With idle tales at the ale.--

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He then blames the opulent for rewarding these "devils dissours," as he calls them, and adds,

He is worse than Judas that giveth a japer silver. 1

The japers, I apprehend, were the same as the bourdours, or rybauders, an inferior class of minstrels, and properly called jesters in the modern acceptation of the word; whose wit, like that of the merry-andrews of the present day, consisted in low obscenity, accompanied with ludicrous gesticulation. They sometimes, however, found admission into the houses of the opulent. Knighton indeed mentions one of these japers who was a favourite in the English court, and could obtain any grant from the king "a burdando," that is, by jesting. They are well described by the poet:

As japers and janglers, Judas chyldren,
Fayneth them fantasies, and fooles them maketh.

[paragraph continues] It was a very common and a very favourite amusement, so late as the sixteenth century, to hear the recital of verses and moral speeches, learned for that purpose, by a set of men who obtained their livelihood thereby, and who, without ceremony, intruded themselves, not only into taverns and other places of public resort, but also into the houses of the nobility.

FURTHER ILLUSTRATION OF THEIR PRACTICES.--The different talents of the minstrels are sarcastically described by an ancient French poet; 2 who, supposing a company of them assembled in the hall of an opulent nobleman, says, the count caused it to be made known to them, that he would give his best new scarlet robe to the minstrel who should occasion the most merriment, either by ridiculous words or by actions. This proposal occasioned them to strive with each other; some of them imitated the imbecility of drunkards, others the actions of fools; some sang, others piped; some talked nonsense, and some made scurrilous jests; those who understood the juggler's art played upon the vielle; others of them depended on the narration of quaint fables, which were productive of much laughter.

PATRONAGE, PRIVILEGES, AND EXCESSES OF THE MINSTRELS.--There is great reason to conclude that the professors of music were more generally encouraged, and of course more numerous in this country, subsequent to the Norman conquest, than they had been under the government of the Saxons. We are told, that the courts of princes swarmed with poets and minstrels. The earls also and great barons, who in their castles emulated the pomp and state of royalty, had their poets and minstrels: they formed part of their household establishment; and, exclusive of their wages, were provided with board, lodging, and clothing by their patrons, and frequently travelled with them when they went from home. These minstrels, as well as those belonging to the court, were permitted to perform in the rich monasteries, and in the mansions of the nobility, which they frequently visited in large parties, and especially upon occasions of festivity. They entered the castles without the least ceremony, rarely waiting for any

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previous invitation, and there exhibited their performances for the entertainment of the lord of the mansion and his guests. They were, it seems, admitted without any difficulty, and handsomely rewarded for the exertion of their talents.

It was no uncommon thing with the itinerant minstrels to find admission into the houses of the opulent. The Saxon and the Danish gleemen followed the armies in the time of war, and had access to both the camps without the least molestation. The popular story of king Alfred, recorded by William of Malmsbury and other writers, may be mentioned in proof of this assertion. He, it is said, assumed the character of a gleeman, 1 and entered the Danish camp, where he made such observations as were of infinite service. This stratagem was afterwards repeated by Aulaff, the Dane, who was equally successful. He assumed, says the historian, the profession of the mimic, "who by this species of art makes a daily gain;" and then adds, "being commanded to depart, he took with him the reward for his song." 2

The extensive privileges enjoyed by the minstrels, and the long continuance of the public favour, inflated their pride and made them insolent; they even went so far as to claim their reward by a prescriptive right, and settled its amount according to the estimation they had formed of their own abilities, and the opulence of the noblemen into whose houses they thought proper to intrude. The large gratuities collected by these artists not only occasioned great numbers to join their fraternity, but also induced many idle and dissipated persons to assume the characters of minstrels, to the disgrace of the profession. These evils became at last so notorious, that in the reign of king Edward II. it was thought necessary to restrain them by a public edict, which sufficiently explains the nature of the grievance. It states, that many indolent persons, under the colour of minstrelsy, intruded themselves into the residences of the wealthy, where they had both meat and drink, but were not contented without the addition of large gifts from the householder. To restrain this abuse, the mandate ordains, that no person should resort to the houses of prelates, earls, or barons, to eat, or to drink, who was not a professed minstrel; nor more than three or four minstrels of honour at most in one day, meaning, I presume, the king's minstrels and those retained by the nobility, except they came by invitation from the lord of the house.

Thus we read in the old romance of Launfel,

They had menstrelles of moche honours,
Fydelers, sytolyrs, and trompoters.

The edict also prohibits a professed minstrel from going to the house of any person below the dignity of a baron, unless invited by the master; and, in that case, it commands him to be contented with meat and drink, and such reward as the housekeeper willingly offered, without presuming to ask for anything. For the first offence the minstrel lost his minstrelsy, and for the second

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he was obliged to forswear his profession, and was never to appear again as a minstrel. 1 This edict is dated from Langley, an. 9 Edward II. A.D. 1315.

A GILD OF MINSTRELS.--In little more than a century afterwards, the same grievances became again the subject of complaint; and in the ninth year of Edward IV. (1469) it was stated, that certain rude husbandmen and artificers of various trades had assumed the title and livery of the king's minstrels, and, under that colour and pretence, had collected money in divers parts of the kingdom, and committed other disorders; the king therefore granted to Walter Haliday, marshal, and to seven others, his own minstrels, named by him, a charter, by which he created, or rather restored, a fraternity, or perpetual gild, such as the king understood the brothers and sisters of the fraternity of minstrels to have possessed in former time. This fraternity was to be governed by a marshal appointed for life, the same office as that anciently possessed by the king of the minstrels, and two wardens, who were empowered to admit members into the gild, and to regulate and govern, and to punish, when necessary, all such as exercised the profession of minstrels throughout the kingdom. 2

* This gild was attached to the cathedral church of St Paul's for its religious functions. The minstrels of Chester, who had already several charter privileges, were exempted from the operations of the general charter of 1469. There was also a famous gild of minstrels at Beverley. The ordinances of gilds of minstrels at York and Canterbury are still extant. 3

ABUSES AND DECLINE OF MINSTRELSY.--It does not appear that much good was effected by the foregoing institution or general gild; it neither corrected the abuses practised by the fraternity, nor retrieved their reputation, which declined apace from this period. Under queen Elizabeth, the minstrels had lost the protection of the opulent; and their credit was sunk so low in the public estimation, that, by a statute in the thirty-ninth year of her reign against vagrants, they were included among the rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, and subjected to the like punishments. This edict also affected all fencers, bearwards, common players of interludes (with the exception of such players as belonged to great personages, or had obtained licences from town or country authorities), as well as minstrels wandering abroad, jugglers, tinkers, and pedlars; and seems to have given the death's wound to the profession of the minstrels, who had so long enjoyed the public favour, and basked in the sunshine of prosperity. The name, however, remained, and was applied to itinerant fiddlers and other musicians, whose low estate is thus described by Putenham, in his Arte of English Poesie, printed in 1589: 4 "Ballads and small popular musickes sung by these cantabanqui upon benches and barrels heads, where they have none other audience than boyes or countrye fellowes that passe by them in the streete, or else by blind harpers, or such like taverne minstrels that give a fit of mirth for a groat; and their matters being for the most part stories of old time, as the

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tale of Sir Topas, Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwick, Adam Bell and Clymme of the Clough, and such other old romances or historical rhimes, made purposely for the recreation of the common people at Christmas dinners and bride ales, and in tavernes and alehouses, and such other places of base resort." Bishop Hall, the satirist, adverts to the poor plight of the minstrels at this time, in the last two lines of the following couplet:--

Much better than a Paris-garden beare,
Or prating puppet on a theatre,
Or Mimoes whistling to his tabouret,
Selling a laughter for a cold meales meat. 1

It is necessary, however, to observe, that public and private bands of musicians were called minstrels for a considerable time after this period, and without the least indication of disgrace; but then the appellation seems to have been confined to the instrumental performers, and such of them as were placed upon a regular establishment: the musicians of the city of London, for instance, were called indifferently waits and minstrels. 2

We hear of the itinerant musicians again in an ordinance from Oliver Cromwell, dated 1656, during his protectorship, which prohibits "all persons commonly called fidlers, or minstrells," from "playing, fidling, and making music, in any inn, alehouse, or tavern"; and also from "proffering themselves, or desireing, or intreating any one to hear them play, or make music in the places aforesaid." The only vestige of these musical vagrants now remaining, is to be found in the blind fiddlers wandering about the country, and the ballad singers, who frequently accompany their ditties with instrumental music, especially the fiddle, vulgarly called a crowd, and the guitar. And here we may observe, that the name of fiddlers was applied to the minstrels as early at least as the fourteenth century: it occurs in the Vision of Pierce the Ploughman3 where we read, "not to fare as a fydeler, or a frier, to seke feastes." It is also used, but not sarcastically, in the poem of Launfel.

MINSTRELS WERE SATIRISTS AND FLATTERERS.--The British bards employed their musical talents in the praise of heroic virtue, or in the censure of vice, apparently without any great expectation of reward on the one hand, or fear of punishment on the other. The Scandinavian scalds celebrated the valiant actions of their countrymen in appropriate verses; and sometimes accompanied the warriors to the field of battle, that they might behold their exploits and describe them with more accuracy. The gleemen of the Saxons imitated their predecessors, and attached themselves to the persons of princes and chieftains, and retained their favour by continual adulation. The minstrels of the Normans trod in the same steps, but seem to have been more venal, and ready at all times to flatter or to satirise, as best suited their interest, without paying much regard to justice on either side.


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bishop of Ely, chancellor and justiciary of England, who was also the Pope's legate, and a great favourite of Richard I., that he kept a number of poets in his pay, to make songs and poems in his praise; and also, that with great gifts he allured many of the best singers and minstrels from the Continent, to sing those songs in the public streets of the principal cities in England. 1

It was, on the other hand, a very dangerous employment to censure the characters of great personages, or hold their actions up to ridicule; for, though the satirist might be secure at the moment, he was uncertain that fortune would not one day or another put him into the power of his adversary, which was the case with Luke de Barra, a celebrated Norman minstrel; who, in his songs having made very free with the character of Henry I. of England, by some untoward accident fell into the hands of the irritated monarch. He condemned him to have his eyes pulled out: and, when the earl of Flanders, who was present, pleaded warmly in his favour, the king replied: "This man, being a wit, a poet, and a minstrel, composed many indecent songs against me, and sung them openly to the great entertainment of mine enemies; and, since it has pleased God to deliver him into my hands, I will punish him, to deter others from the like petulance." The cruel sentence was executed, and the miserable satirist died soon after with the wounds he had received in struggling with the executioner. 2

Again, in the reign of king Edward II., at the solemnisation of the feast of Pentecost in the great hall at Westminster, when that prince was seated at dinner in royal state, and attended by the peers of the realm, a woman habited like a minstrel, riding upon a great horse trapped in the minstrel fashion, entered the hall, and, going round the several tables, imitated the gestures of a mimic, 3 and at length mounted the steps to the royal table, upon which she deposited a letter; and, having so done, she turned her horse, and saluting all the company, retired. The letter was found to contain some very severe reflections upon the conduct of the monarch, which greatly angered him; and the actress, being arrested by his command, discovered the author of the letter, who acknowledged the offence and was pardoned; but the door-keeper, being reprimanded on account of her admission, excused himself, by declaring it had never been customary to prevent the entry of minstrels and persons in disguisements, upon the supposition that they came for the entertainment of his majesty. This woman had probably assumed the habit of a man, and a female was chosen on this occasion, according to the opinion of Dr Percy, 4 because, upon detection, her sex might plead for her, and disarm the king's resentment. It is, however, certain that at this time, and long before it, there were women who practised the minstrel's art, or at least. some branches of it. We read of the glee-maidens, or

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female minstrels, in the Saxon records; and I believe that their province in general was to dance and to tumble, whence they acquired the name of tomblesteres, from the Saxon ȝumbian, to dance or tumble, and saylours, from salio, to leap or dance, in the time of Chaucer, who uses both these denominations. 1

THE DRESS OF THE MINSTRELS.--It is very clear, that the minstrels wore a peculiar kind of dress by which they might readily be distinguished: the woman above mentioned is expressly said to have been habited like a mimic or a minstrel, and by that means obtained admission without the least difficulty to the royal presence. I remember also a story recorded in a manuscript, written about the reign of Edward III., of a young man of family, who came to a feast, where many of the nobility were present, in a vesture called a coat hardy, cut short in the German fashion, and resembling the dress of a minstrel. The oddity of his habit attracted the notice of the company, and especially of an elderly knight, to whom he was well known, who thus addressed him: "Where, my friend, is your fiddle, your ribible, or such-like instrument belonging to a minstrel?" "Sir," replied the young man, "I have no crafte nor science in using such instruments." "Then," returned the knight, "you are much to blame; for, if you choose to debase yourself and your family by appearing in the garb of a minstrel, it is fitting you should be able to perform his duty." 2 On a column in Saint Mary's church at Beverley in Yorkshire is the following. inscription: "This pyllor made the maynstrels"; its capital is decorated with small figures of men in short coats painted blue, with red stockings and yellow girdles and stocks. The instruments they bear are a crowth (fiddle), a guitar, a treble and base flute, and a side drum and tabor. The date is early sixteenth century. The minstrels retained in noblemen's families wore their lords' livery; and those appertaining to the royal household did the same. The edict of Edward IV. against the pretended minstrels, mentioned above, expressly says, that they assumed the name, and the livery or dress, of the king's own minstrels. The queen had also minstrels in her service, who probably wore a livery different from those of the king for distinction sake. The following lines, which are somewhat to the purpose, occur in an old historical poem, in the Harleian Collection: they relate to Sir Edward Stanley, who is highly praised by the author for his great skill in playing upon all kinds of instruments:--

He stood before the kinge, doubtless this was true,
In a fayre gowne of cloth of gold, and of tilshewe,
Lyke no common mynstrel, to shew taverne mirth,
But lyke a noble man, both of lands, and of birth. 3

[paragraph continues] And again, in the history of John Newchombe, the famous clothier of Newbury, usually called Jack of Newbury, it is said, "They had not sitten long, but in comes a noise of musicians in tawnie coats; who, putting off their caps, asked if they would have any music?"

p. 161

THE KING OF THE MINSTRELS.--The king's minstrel, frequently in Latin called joculator regis, or the king's juggler, was an officer of rank in the courts of the Norman monarchs. He had the privilege of accompanying his master when he journeyed, and of being near his person; and probably was the regulator of the royal sports, and appointed the other minstrels belonging to the house-hold; for which reason, I presume, he was also called the king, or chief of the minstrels. At what time this title was first conferred on him does not appear: we meet with it, however, in an account of the public expenditures made in the fifth year of Edward I.; at which time, the king of the minstrels, whose name was Robert, received his master's pay for military services. 1 The same name, with the same title annexed to it, occurs again in a similar record, dated the fourth year of Edward II.; when he, in company with various other minstrels, exhibited before the king and his court, then held in the city of York; and received forty marks, to be by him distributed among the fraternity. 2

The title of royalty was not confined to the king's chief minstrel: it was also bestowed upon the regent of other companies of musicians, as we find in a charter granted by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, to the minstrels of Tutbury in Staffordshire. This document he addresses, under his seal, at the castle of Tutbury, August 24, in the fourth year of Richard II., to nostre bene ame le roy des ministraulx, his well beloved the king of the minstrels; and con-cedes to him full power and commission to oblige the minstrels belonging to the honour of Tutbury to perform their services and minstrelsies in the same manner that they had been accustomed to be done in ancient times. 3 In a ballad intituled "The marriage of Robin Hood and Clorinda the Queen of Tutbury Feast," 4 written probably after the disgrace of the minstrels, this officer is called the king of the fidlers. The poet supposes himself to have been present at the wedding, and witness of the facts he relates; and therefore he speaks thus:

This battle was fought near to Titbury town,
  When the bagpipes baited the bull.
I am king of the fidlers, and swear ’tis a truth,
  And I call him that doubts it a gull.

Claude Fauchet, a French author of eminence, before quoted, speaking concerning the title of king, formerly given to many officers belonging to the court, makes these observations: "I am well assured, the word king signifies comptroller, or head, as the chief heralds are called kings at arms, because it belonged solely to them to regulate the ceremonies of the justs and tournaments." He then applies this reasoning to the Roy des Ribaulx, an officer in the ancient court of France; 5 and says, his charge was to clear the palace of

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indolent and disorderly persons, who followed the court, and had no business there; and had his title as king of vagabonds, because he was the examiner and corrector of dissolute persons. 1 In like manner, I presume, in this country, the king of the minstrels was the governor and director of the fraternity over which he presided. The title was dropped in the reign of Edward IV., and that of marshal became its substitute.

REWARDS GIVEN TO MINSTRELS.--In the middle ages, the courts of princes, and the residences of the opulent, were crowded with minstrels; and such large sums of money were expended for their maintenance, that the public treasuries were often drained. Matilda, queen to Henry I., is said to have lavished the greater part of her revenue upon poets and minstrels, and oppressed her tenants to procure more. 2 She was, however, by no means singular in so doing, as the invectives of the monks sufficiently demonstrate. These selfish professors of religion grudged every act of munificence that was not applied to themselves, or their monasteries; and could not behold the good fortune of the minstrels without expressing their indignation; which they often did in terms of scurrilous abuse, calling them janglers, mimics, buffoons, monsters of men, and contemptible scoffers. They also severely censured the nobility for patronising and rewarding such a shameless set of sordid flatterers, and the populace for frequenting their exhibitions, and being delighted with their performances, which diverted them from more serious pursuits, and corrupted their morals. 3 On the other hand, the minstrels appear to have been ready enough to give them ample occasion for censure; and, indeed, I apprehend that their own immorality and insolence contributed more to their downfall than all the defamatory declamations of their opponents. The ecclesiastics were mightily pleased with the conduct of the emperor Henry III., because, at his marriage with Agnes of Poictou, he disappointed the poor minstrels who had assembled in great multitudes on the occasion, giving them neither food nor rewards, but "sent them away," says a monkish author, "with empty purses, and hearts full of sorrow." 4 But to go on.

The rewards given to the minstrels did not always consist in money, but frequently in rich mantles and embroidered vestments: they received, says Fauchet, great presents from the nobility, who would sometimes give them even the robes with which they were clothed. It was a common custom in the middle ages to give vestments of different kinds to the minstrels. In an ancient poem, cited by Fauchet, called "La Robe Vermeille," or, The Red Robe, the wife of a vavaser, that is, one who, holding of a superior lord, has tenants under him, reproaches her husband for accepting a robe. "Such gifts," says she, "belong to jugglers, and other singing men, who receive garments from the nobility, because it is their trade:

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S’appartient à ces jorgleours,
Et à ces autres chanteours,
Quils ayent de ces chevaliers,
Les robes car c’est lor mestier." 1

These garments the jugglers failed not to take with them to other courts, in order to excite a similar liberality. Another artifice they often used, which was, to make the heroes of their poems exceedingly bountiful to the minstrels, who appear to have been introduced for that purpose: thus, in the metrical romance of Ipomedon, where the poet speaks of the knight's marriage, he says:--

Ipomydon gaff, in that stound,
To mynstrelles five hundred pound. 2

The author of Pierce the Ploughman, who lived in the reign of Edward III., gives the following general description of the different performances of the minstrels, and of their rewards, at that period:--

I am mynstrell, quoth that man; my name is Activa Vita;
All Idle iche hate, for All Active is my name;
A wafirer 3 well ye wyt; and serve many lordes,
And few robes I get, or faire furred gownes.
Could I lye, to do men laugh; then lachen 4 I should
Nother mantill, nor money, amonges lords minstrels:
And, for I can neither taber, ne trumpe, ne tell no gestes,
Fartin ne fislen, at feastes, ne harpen;
Jape, ne juggle, ne gentilly pype,
Ne neither saylen ne saute, 5 ne singe to the gytterne,
I have no good giftes to please the great lordes.

And, if we refer to history, we shall find that the poets are not incorrect in their statement. Gaston, earl of Foix, whose munificence is much commended by Froissart, lived in a style of splendour little inferior to that of royalty. The historian, speaking of a grand entertainment given by this nobleman, which he had an opportunity of seeing, says, "Ther wer many mynstrells, as well of his own, as of straungers; and each of them dyd their devoyre, in their faculties. 6 The same day the earl of Foix gave to the heraulds and minstrelles the som of five hundred frankes; and gave to the duke of Tourayn's minstrelles gownes of cloth of gold, furred with ermyne, valued at two hundred frankes." 7

Respecting the pecuniary rewards of the minstrels, we have, among others, the following accounts. At the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I. to John, earl of Holland, every king's minstrel received forty shillings. 8 In the fourth of Edward II. Perrot de la Laund, minstrel to Lord Hugh de Nevill, received twenty shillings for performing his minstrelsy before the king. 9 In the same year, Janino la Cheveretter, who is called Le Tregettour, 10 was paid at one

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time forty shillings, and at another twenty, for the same service; and John le Mendlesham, the servant of Robert le Foll, twenty shillings; 1 the same sum was also given to John le Boteller, the servant of Perrot Duzedeys, for his performances; and, again, Perrot Duzedeys, Roger the Trumpeter, and Janino le Nakerer, all of them king's minstrels, received from the king sixty shillings for the like service.

PAYMENTS TO MINSTRELS.--In the eighth year of Edward III. licence was granted to Barbor the bagpiper to visit the schools for minstrels in parts beyond the seas, 2 with thirty shillings to bear his expenses. Licence was also granted to Morlan the bagpiper to visit the minstrels' schools; and forty shillings for his expenses. A little lower we find a present of five shillings made by the king to a minstrel, for performing his minstrelsy before the image of the Blessed Virgin. 3 In the eleventh year of the same reign, John de Hoglard, minstrel to John de Pulteney, was paid forty shillings for exhibiting before the king at Hatfield, and at London; and to Roger the Trumpeter, and to the minstrels his associates, performing at the feast for the queen's delivery, held at Hatfield, ten pounds. The permanent salary of the royal minstrels of Edward III. was 7½d. a day. 4

* Henry V., in 1415, engaged eighteen minstrels to follow him to Guyenne at a wage of 12d. a day each for three months. 5 Henry VI., as has been already stated, retained twelve minstrels among his household servants. Two of the court minstrels of Edward IV. obtained grants of ten marks yearly.

In the ninth year of Henry VII. "Pudesay the piper in bagpipes," received six shillings and eight pence from the king, for his performance. 6 In the fourteenth year of his reign, five pounds were paid to three stryng-mynstrels for wages, but the time is not specified; in a subsequent entry, however, we find that fifteen shillings were given to "a stryng-mynstrel, for one moneth's wages"; also to a "straunge taberer, in reward, sixty-six shillings and eight pence." 7

* MINSTRELS AND PLAYERS AT DURHAM.--The Durham Account Rolls yield much information as to minstrels. In 1278 a minstrel of Newcastle-on-Tyne obtained 2s. from the prior of Durham. In 1336 a band of minstrels were rewarded with 20s. A trumpeter and a minstrel received 5s. on the festival of St Cuthbert 1369, and on the like occasion in 1374 twelve minstrels received 20s. 8d. March 10th was the original festival of St Cuthbert, but his translation on September 14th was considered the greater festival; at the former of these, in 1375, the minstrels received 13s. 4d., and at the latter 20s. In the

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same year three minstrels of the earl of March obtained 6s. 8d.; one of the king's minstrels, who came with Lord Neville, 5s.; four minstrels of the prince of Wales, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 13s. 4d.; a minstrel on St Matthew's day, 20d.; two minstrels at Easter, 2s.; and a certain minstrel who played before the prior in his chamber, 18d. Earl Percy's minstrels visited the abbey in 1376, at Christmas, and received 6s. 8d. A minstrel accompanied by a dancer performed before the prior in his chamber in 1382; they received 6s. 8d. for their pains. In the year 1394 duly rewarded visits were paid to the abbey by the minstrels of Earl Percy, of the duke of Lancaster, of Lord Neville, of the duke of York, and of the earl of Kent, as well as by a royal trumpeter. Various minstrel entries occur in the fifteenth century. The last reference in these Durham Rolls is at an interesting date in ecclesiastical history. March 3, 1555, was the day that "the proclamation and bonefyres war made for receyving of the Pope in this realm agayn," when three pottles of wine were drunk in the dean's chamber, and two gallons of ale in the garth, in addition to the wine and ale consumed by the servants. Four pence was paid for a tar barrel, and eight pence "for two mynstralles."

* All these payments just cited are entered under the head of minstrels (ministralli); but there are an almost equal number entered under the head or title of players (histriones), which extend in date from 1301 to 1360. There probably was but slight difference between the two, and the use of the varied terms mainly depended on the fashion of the time or the caprice of the scribe. Nevertheless, although the actor might be also a musician or juggler, the phrase histrio seems to convey more definite notion of a play actor than that of ministrallus, and the former word is possibly usually entered in these accounts when the strolling band of entertainers were capable of representing certain set pieces. This would doubtless be the case when particular companies visited the abbey. In 1334, the king's players received 40s. when the king was returning from Newcastle; and in the following year the players of the king of Scotland obtained 5s. from the prior. The king's players at Christmas 1343 were rewarded with 10s. At Christmas 1352, one William Pyper and other players received 6s. At St Cuthbert's feast in March 1353, two players of the lord bishop together with two players of the earl of Northampton obtained 6s. 8d. The two players of the bishop, who were probably merely harpers or genuine minstrels, received 3s. 4d. at Easter in the same year. 1

* MINSTRELS AT PARISH FESTIVALS.--The hiring of minstrels for parish festivals at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century is testified by various churchwardens' accounts, such as those of St Mary's, Reading. The parish accounts of Yatton, Somerset, show that the wardens paid with considerable regularity for a minstrel or minstrels at Whitsuntide. The first entry is for the year 1521, when 12d. was "payd to a mynnystrelle." In 1531 the "mynestrell att Wytsonday" received 2s. 8d.; in 1532, 6s.; and

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in 1533, 8s. 4d. Occasionally as much as ten shillings is entered for the Whitsuntide minstrel, as though only one; but in these larger payments, the entry probably means that the money was given to the head minstrel. In 1536 two minstrels were paid 6s., and the same number in 1540 received 6s. 9d. Three were given 13s. 8d. in 1543. The last minstrel entry of these accounts is under the year 1559, when ten shillings was their fee. 1 It is clear that this minstrelsy had no connection with music in church, but was rather for the festivities of the Whitsun Ale.


148:1 Ammianus Marcell. lib. xv. cap. 9.

148:2 Diodorus Siculus, lib, v. cap. 31.

148:3 Bartholin, De causis contemp. a Danis Mortis, lib. i. cap. 2, et Wormii, Lit. Run. ad finim.

149:1 Ancient Laws and Institutes, p. 400.

150:1 Vespasian, A. i.

150:2 Tiberius, C. vi.

150:3 Pontoppidan, Hist. Norway, p. 148.

151:1 Wace, Hist. de tut les Reys de Brittaigne, continued by Geoffrai Gaimer, MS. in the Royal Library, marked 13 A. xxi.

* See Freeman's Norman Conquest, iii. 478; v. 582.

151:2 No. 603.

152:1 Bede's Eccles. Hist. lib. iv. cap. 24.

152:2 Fowler's Durham Account Rolls, 3 vols. (1898-1900), passim.

152:3 * A reward of 6s. 8d. was given to a rotour or player on a rotour on St Cuthbert's Day 1395, at Durham. It is described as "a sort of fiddle"; it was probably the same as the vielle described in the next paragraph. Durham Account Rolls, iii. 599, 955.

A man playing on a lute and his wife singing were awarded 2s. at Christmas 1361, by the prior of Durham. Ibid.

153:1 Fauchet, Origine de la Langue et Poësie Françoise, 1581, liv. i. chap. viii. fol. 72.

153:2 Le Grand, Fables, ou Contes des 12. 13. Siècles, tom, v.

153:3 Henry's Hist. Brit. vol. viii. sect. 3. chap. v. p. 502.

153:4 Fauchet, Des anciens Poets François, liv. ii. chap. vii. p. 92 7 and see Walpole, Royal and Noble Authors, vol. i. p. 6.

154:1 Confessio Amantis, lib. viii.

154:2 The thirde boke of Fame.

154:3 Edition of 1550.

155:1 A reward.

155:2 Fabliaux et Contes, edit. Par. tom. ii. p. 161.

156:1 Malmsb. lib. ii. cap. 4.

156:2 Hist. lib. ii. cap. 6.

157:1 App. to Leland's Collect. vol. vi. p. 36.

157:2 Patent Rolls of Edw. IV. pt. i. m. 17.

157:3 * Jusseraud's English Wayfaring Life, 205-6; Lambert's Two Thousand Years of Gild Life, 132-137.

157:4 Book ii. chap. 9.

158:1 Lib. iv. sat. i.

158:2 Stow's Survey of London, pp. 84, 85.

158:3 Pass. xi.

159:1 Benedict. Abbas, sub an. 1190. Hoveden writes thus: "Cantores et joculatares de illo canerent in plateis; ut jam dicebatur ubique quad non erat talis in orbe"; declaring everywhere that his equal was not in the world. Hist. p. 103.

159:2 Orderic. Vitalis, Eccles. Hist. pp. 880, 881.

159:3 Walsingham, Hist. Anglæ. sub an. 1317, p. 85.

159:4 Essay upon Ancient Minstrels, in Reliques of Ancient Poetry.

160:1 The first in the "Pardoner's Tale," and the last in the "Romance of the Rose."

160:2 Harl. MS. 1764.

160:3 Harl. MS. 541.

161:1 MS. Cott. Vespasianus, C. xvi.

161:2 "Regi Roberto, et aliis ministrallis diversis, facientibus ministralsias suas coram rege et aliis magnatibus, de done ipsius regis, per manus dicti regis Roberti, recipientis denarios ad participandum inter eosdem, apud Eboracum 20 die Feb. 40 marc." MS. Cott. Nero, C. viii.

161:3 Dugd. Monast. vol. i. fol. 355.

161:4 Collection of Old Ballads, London, 1723.

161:5 Chaucer, in the Romance of the Rose, where the title Roy des Ribaulx occurs in the original, translates it "king of harlotes."

162:1 Origines des Dignitez et Magistrats de France, fol. 43.

162:2 Will. Malmsb. p. 93, col. 1.

162:3 Johan. Sarisburiensis, De Nugis Curial. lib. i. cap. 8; lib. iii. cap. 7. Matt. Paris, in Vit. Hen. III. sub an. 1251, etc.

162:4 "Infinitum histrionum et joculatorum multitudinem, sine cibo et muneribus, vacuam et mœrentum abire permisit." Chron. Virtziburg.

163:1 Origin de la Langue et Poësie Françoise, lib. i. cap. 4.

163:2 Harl. MS. 2252.

163:3 A confectioner.

163:4 Lack, or want.

163:5 Dance, nor jump. Pass. xiv.

163:6 Duty in their several stations.

163:7 Lord Berners' Froissart, vol. iv. cap. 41.

163:8 Anstis, Ord. Gart. vol. ii. p. 303.

163:9 Liber de Computis Garderobæ, MS. Cott. Lib. Nero, C. viii. fol. 82.

163:10 Cheveretter, or bagpiper; from chevre, a bagpipe, and tregettor, or juggler, a sleight of hand player. Ibid. See more on this subject in the next chapter relating to the joculator.

164:1 1 Another entry specifies twenty shillings paid to Robert le Foil to buy himself boclarium, a buckler, to play, aa ’ludendum, before the king. Liber de Computis Garderobæ, MS. Cott. Lib. Nero, C. viii. f. 85.

164:2 Scolas ministrallis in partibus trans mare. Ibid. f. 276.

164:3 Facienti ministralsiam suam coram imagine Beata Mariæ in Veltam, rege presente, 5 sol. Ibid. f. 277.

164:4 Issue Roll of Tho. de Brantingham, pp. 54-57.

164:5 Rymer's Fædera, ix. 260.

164:6 MS. in the Remembrancer's Office. See the extract in Henry's British History, vol. vi. Appendix No. V.

164:7 From another MS. in the same office. Ibid.

165:1 Fowler's Durham Account Rolls, 3 vols. (1898-1900), passim.

166:1 Bishop Hobhouse's Churchwarden Accounts (Somerset Record Society, vol. iv.).

Next: Chapter IV