minstrel: Music question

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Fri Jul 18 10:10:28 PDT 1997

On Fri, 18 Jul 1997, Rex Deaver wrote:

> Ran across a story in "Legends And Romances Of Brittany".  Seems a British
> army landed in Brittany.  The Bretons and French of course responded.  A
> company from Lower Brittany (Treguier, Saint-Pol de Leon)  were sent against
> a detachment of Scottish Highlanders.
> About a mile away, The Bretons started hearing their enemies singing "a
> national song".  They fell silent, astounded, as the music was well known to
> them.  Soon they began singing back the refrain.  It was the Scots turn to
> fall silent.
> When the two forces reached each other, their respective officers gave the
> order to fire.  But the orders were given, by tradition, "in the same
> language", and the soldiers on both sides froze.  Then they all dropped
> their weapons and rushed together, clapping backs and shaking hands in a
> great display of Celtic brotherhood.

I find this story, as presented, exceedingly unlikely -- at least the
linguistic angle.  If the story involved Breton and Welsh, it would be far
more believable -- there is plenty of evidence that, with a little
practice, Breton and Welsh were close to mutually intelligible throughout
period (and -- by the testimony of people I've met -- remain so in modern
times).  Think of the difference as being equivalent to that between
German and Dutch or Spanish and Italian.  But the Brythonic and Goidelic
languages had diverged sufficiently even by the early medieval period that
such a scenario is simply unbelievable.

As to the musical angle -- I'll note that a large number of popular tunes
were pan-European (at least for western Europe).  The above story doesn't
mention anything in the way of a date, but a certain amount of the popular
music around the Scottish court may have been heavily French-influenced,
and it would not be surprising for such tunes to also be known in
Brittany. Postulating an "ancient Celtic connection" is nice romanticism,
but not the most obvious explanation.

Frankly, it sounds like a "friend of a friend" legend to me -- sort of
like the stories about explorers running across tribes in northern Africa
that spoke Welsh (always at third-hand report).

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn

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