minstrel: Bards in period

mn13189 at WCUVAX1.WCU.EDU mn13189 at WCUVAX1.WCU.EDU
Sat Apr 26 16:20:35 PDT 1997

Hi, again.  Here is some of the information I promised to post a day or two
As I have said, I have been researching some information for an article I
plan to write about different types and classes of performers in Scotland
throughout our period.  I hope that this article will serve asa good
overview of the topic, and give some newer bards some idea of what kind of
performers there were to emulate.

I have not written the article yet, but I thought I would share some of my
research with you.  For brevities sake, and to keep it relevent to the
present discussion, I will share some of my notes on people who called
themselves, or who were called "bards."

Let's start out with a definition of "bard" in the English language.  This
comes from the CSD (which I have cited before in my previous post):
The numbers refer to the centuries in which the meaning was used

"bard &c, baird &c  16-19 [bard; *berd] n 1.  orig (15-18) freq derog  a
poet; a strolling singer or player; a vagabond minstrel, buffoon; a
scurrilous person 15-, as a personal name 14-.  2.  a scold, a noisy woman
~ach [*'bard{e}x] stout, fealess la18-e19.
~ie n a minor poet, humble BARD 18-e19.
adj bold, impudent, quarrelsome 18-19.
~rie  scurrility; scurrilous language 16.  [Sc and IrGael]"
(where I have an "e" inside of {}, it is to represent the upside down e,
whatever it is called)

So we can tell from this source that the word "bard" has been in the Scots
(and therefore English, as opposed to Gaelic) tongue since the 15th century
to mean a general entertainer (singer, poet, player, minstrel), and since
the 14th century as a surname.  Black's _Surnames_of_Scotland_ concurrs
with this date, saying the surname was of occupational origin.  But by the
time it enterred the English language, the word had already taken on
negative connotations (vagabond, scurrilous, etc.).  

Let's look at the occupation before this:

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from:
Farmer, Henry George.  _A_History_of_Music_In_Scotland_.  1947.  Da Capo
Press, New York, NY; 1970.

(up to the eleventh century)
pg. 20
"Music, both in the theoretical and practical sphere, was in the hands of
the _ollamh_ ('learned man,' originally 'seer').  If the latter specialized
in history and geneaology, he was called a _seanachaidh_.  If his forte
were poetry, song, and literature, his title was _file_.  We know that the
latter not only composed verse and music, but sang and played his
compositions, generally to the accompaniment of a rote (_cruit_) or harp
B(_clairseach_), as did his druidic forerunners."

Farmer makes mention of the importance of the _ollamh_ class in Ireland,
and mentions that they were in the retinue of Irish Kings at least as late
as 1014AD.  They recieved a regular stipend and land grants, "a practice
which continued for centuries in Scotland."

"In addition to this learned and cultured class there was the poet-musician
o[Bf the more popular type.  This was the _bard_, whose talents found an
outlet among the people at large.  He stood in relation to the _file_ as
the modern entertainer does to the _Mus._Doc._."

Farmer then cites the _Brehon_Laws_ (iv, 361) as saying:  "A _bard_ is one
without lawful learning but his own intellect."
And the _Book_of_Rights_ (183):  "It is not the right of a _bard_, but the
right of a _file_, to know each king and his right."

FarBmer then makes mention of the title of _druth_, for a generic
entertainer.  This word was very infamous, even in pagan times, and
commonly meant a "purveyor of song and dance," and a "great disseminator of

All of the previous information applies literally to Ireland, although
speculatively top Scotland, as we can surely believe that the early Irish
emmigrants to the colony of Dal Riada (soon to be the Kingdom of Dal Riada,
forerunner of modern Scotland) took with them their art and craft of music,
as the _ollamh_ played such a crucial role in Irish society.  I may
speculate one step farther than Farmer and suggest that even the _bard_ and
_druth_ emmigrated as well.  From historical experience, we can tell that
it is usually the lower classes that made up the bulk of such immigrations,
and lower class entertainers probably went with them.

Pg. 25
Kenneth MacAlpine, first King of Scotland (844-859) made a law, as recorded
in Bellenden's version of Boece (d. ca. 1536):  "All vagabonds, fools,
bards, obscene wits, and idle persons shall be burnt on the cheek and
scourged through the town."

And [Bwe thought SCA Royalty could be unsympathetic to bards!  read on for

Macbeth (1044-1057) is said to have made the following decree:
"Fools, minstrels, bards, and all such idle people, unless they be
especially licensed by the king, shall be compelled to seek some craft to
earn their living.  If they refuse, they shall be drawn like horses in the
plough and harness."

Gee, t[Bhis makes me glad I can do leather craft, as well!  My tenure as
Royal Bard won't last forever, and then what?!  :)

I won't make mention of the styles of music, or instruments played in this
discussion.  But I will say that there is mention in Farmer of a
_bardd_cadeiriog_, or "throned bard."  I have no idea what this instrument

(1124-1424 AD)
". . . the king and nobility had their musicians who, in spite of such
names as minstrel (_ministrallus_), mime (_mimus_), jester (_joculator_),
and player (_histro_), all followed the art of music but with these added
accomplishments.  These were new names to Scotland, and they came with
Anglo-Norman fashions.  Before long they completely ousted the old Gaelic
titles of _file_, _bard_, and _druth_, at least in the Lowlands.  The name
_bard_ certainly persisted, but because he retained so much of the old
technique which the new dispensation would consider uncouth and pagan, his
calling fell into disrepute.  On the other hand, one office from old Celtic
days did[B flourish, the _seanachaidh_, of whom we read at the coronation
Malcolm Canmore (1058), and of Alexander III (1249), where he could still
be found dressed in a robe of red, chanting the king's geneaology."

(I include the following even though it does not make mention of "bards"
per se, but because it deals with *where* popular performers would meet to
perform, a subject we were discussing recently on this list.)
pg. 46
"The _locus_ of popular minstrelsy was the market place, the village green,
the waysid[Be shrine, or the cross roads, but the greatest occasion was
'fair,' usually on the days of church festivals."
(I suppose this would correlate to our SCA events-- I would certainly think
of them as "fairs"-- even the wars have a fair-like atmosphere.)
pg. 47
"Whilst bartering and selling were going on at one end of the fair, the
minstrels had their corner in another spot where song, melody, and dance
were in full swing."
(This information on the fairs applies only to the Lowlands.  It is
uncertain weather or not the fashions of the Anglo-Norman minstrels
penetrated into the north).

pg. 70
Farmer quotes the _Buke_of_the_Howlate_ (1450) as mentioning a "bard owt of
Irland. . ."

Act of Parliament, 1449:
"Gif there be onie that makis them fuiles [jesters], and ar bairdes
[bards], or uthers sik like rinnares about, and gif onie sik be fundin,
that th[Bey be put in the king's waird, or in his irons for their
als lang as they hauve onie gudes of their awin to liue upon--that their
eares be nailed to the throne [pillory], or till ane uther tree, and their
eare cutted off, and banished the cuntrie--and gif thereafter they be
funden again, that they behanged."
This was done do discourage minstrels from spreading political slander
among the people.  This applies to fools and bards, however.  A "bard" was
a vagrant minstrel.  In fact, "minstrel" and "bard" were two opposites. 
Bards were seen as decended from ancient seers, and were thought to
practice necromancy and magic.

"minstrels," as introduced by Anglo-Norman culture, even wandering
minstrels, were welcome everywhere, and even invited into courts.  By this
time, "minstrel" most commonly meant an instrumentalist.  James IV
(1488-151[B5), however, seemed not to discriminate, as he patroned both
minstrels and bards.
(So maybe calling myself "Royal Bard" is not too far off)

There is more, but this covers the basics of it.  Within our period, bards
have gone from a popular performer, cousin to the _ollamh_ of Celtic
Ireland and Scotland, to a wandering vagrant.  Although the fact that they
were still recognised by James IV speaks well for their talent and
persistance, at least in the Highlands.  James IV was perhaps the last
Scottish ruler to speak Gaelic, and ha Celtic music played at his court. 
Thus the old strain of music that survived in the Highlands influenced the
lowlands th[Brough the king's court.  But by and large, after the
Anglo-Norman influence took over, the bard, druth, scop and gleeman were
enveloped in the trade of the minstrel, and superceded by the minstrel's


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