How To Be a Medieval Minstrel


‘One thirteenth-century poem defines a true minstrel as one  who can ‘speak and rhyme well, be witty, know the story of Troy, balance apples on the point of knives, juggle, jump through hoops, play the citole, mandora, harp, fiddle, and psaltery.’ He is further advised, for good measure, to learn the arts of imitating birds, putting performing asses and dogs through their paces and operating marionettes. […]

And the entertainment demanded by the early medieval monarchs was reassuringly downmarket. For example, Henry II’s favourite minstrel was Roland Le Pettour. The king rewarded him with 30 acres of land for his masterwork, described as a leap, a whistle and a fart’. Roland’s great musical talent, it seems, was that he could fart tunes. The land was solemnly passed down from father to son for many generations, on the condition that the incumbent turn up at court each Christmas Day to perform the leap, the whistle and the fart!

Another act that was apparently popular with English royalty was a version of putting your head in a lion’s mouth, although this one involved a minstrel who spread honey on his member and then brought in a performing bear. What happened next isn’t actually explained, but whatever it was probably doesn’t figure in Winnie-the-Pooh.’

– Jones. T., Ereira. A. 2004. Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives London, Great Britain: BBC Books (2005) p. 42-43

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