minstrel: Something interesting.

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Tue Aug 19 17:05:04 PDT 1997


On Tue, 19 Aug 1997, mary k cummings wrote:
> On Tue, 19 Aug 1997, William and Scianna Augustine wrote:
> > Fruitbat wrote:
> > > There's nothing at all wrong with anonymity; we are minstrels, remember: it
> > > is our right to sing out without fear of retaliation.
> > Hardly. It is our gift to sing. It is our obligation to accept
> > responsibility and the consequences for our actions.
<snip> 
> me...  It works.  You are a Bard, a minstral, a troubador.  By mideival
> law you are protected from retaliation by even the crown.  Just be as sure
<snip>

I'd like to respond to some of the above statements from a period
perspective. There is no such thing as "medieval law" as a single unified
system. And there is no period society in which bards, minstrels, and
troubadors had the same social position, function, and treatment. It is
simply not true that in _any_ period society (much less all of them) a
minstrel had the "right to sing out without fear of retaliation". The term
"minstrel" generally applied to a fairly low-class entertainer -- often a
peripatetic one, although he might be attached to the retinue of some
noble house. Far from being held to be of special immune status, such an
entertainer had very little social status and very little protection,
except what any nobleman's retainer might enjoy, should he happen to be in
that position.

Much of the popular fantasy about "bardic immunity" comes from the
relatively high social status of the bard in early medieval society in
Ireland and Wales (where the term "bard" actually has meaning). But even
in those contexts, there is clear evidence that the relationship between
bards and the patrons they composed for was one of employee and employer.
Even the famous Taliesin wrote a rather grovelling poem to his patron
Urien of Rheged to win back his favor after having praised Urien's rivals
a bit too fulsomely ("Dadolwch Urien"). The proper work of a bard was
praise -- not criticism. Sure, you had a fair amount of license to
satirize your patron's enemies and rivals, but the bottom line was that
you had to eat and be clothed. The medieval poets who had "immunity" to
write what they pleased were the independently wealthy nobles who also had
a gift for, and interest in, poetry -- people like the Countesss of Dia,
among the troubadours, or Hywel ab Owein Gwynedd, among the bards.

In the SCA, a poet or song-writer has the same "immunity" that any other
member of a modern club has -- the right to express their opinion, whether
in verse or in prose. And they have the same responsibility to take the
consequences of their expression. In period, the specific rights and
responsibilities of a poet or performer varied _enormously_ according to
time, place, and the social status of the individual. But nowhere did they
enjoy any absolute immunity from the consequences of what they performed
-- even if those consequences were as minor as having to find a new
employer.

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn
(one of those diletante nobly-born poets who doesn't depend on patronage)


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