MINSTREL (OF. nrenestref, ntrnester,1 men fro/. Fr. ini:neSt rat. It. minxcarello. menestrello, from ML. migistrel, retainer, Lat. m in ist, r. at lefulant . retainer, minister from minor, less). The term seems to have been em ployed at first to designate a retainer who amused his lord with music and song. It has now eome to be the generic name for the poet musician, the verse-reciter, the mountebank, merry Andrew, juggler, and acrobat of the lid die Ages, as well as for certain modern entertain ers. (See below.) Before the Norman Conquest, the professional poet was known in England as a seop (shaper or maker). ',Maker' sometimes signified a poet in Shakespeare's time. The crop shaped or composed his own poems, and chanted or sang them to the accompaniment of a rude harp. Widsith (i.e. Long-travel), haps the oldest of extant English poems (for it is earlier than the Angles' inroad of Britain), is an account of the scup's wandering and recep tion among the Huns, (;-oths, Danes, and other peoples. For the tales he reviled in the mead hall, the scup was rewarded with many treasures, including golden rings and bracelets. The seep was not commonly a wanderer. Be was rather attached to the household of some chief, by whom he was maintained. and in some cases rewarded with gifts of land. The sei'm was held in great honor. He his poems in solitude and re cited them in the hall where his master feasted. The recitation was doubt less accompanied by ges ture as well as by music. The scup was first of all a poet, differimr from the modern poet mainly in the fact that he not only shaped but also recited hi- coimpositions. His theme was the glorious deed- of his chieftain or of some hero of his race. To him we are indebted for our primitive and narrative poems like Beo wulf. The spread of Christianity in England broke up the old tribal relation. and therefore the standing of the serm was changed. In a rank much beneath the scup were the gleemen, who, though they no doubt sometimes improvised songs and modified the matter that came to them, were satisfied for the most part to render what others had composed. They had no settled abode, but
strolled far and near, earning what they could by their minstrelsy. (The accompanying illus trations, derived from medieval manuscripts, give some notion as to the strolling minstrels' looks and demeanor.) Among their aceomplish nients were tumbling. rope-walking. and feats of jugglery. Some of them chewed stones or ap peared to swallow knives or fire. Others had performing animals, such as bears. goats, mar mots, dogs, and monkeys.
The Normans brought not a few jonalrurs (q.v.) and troubadours (q.v.) to England. The minstrels of the Middle Ages were in part de scendants of the Teutonic sermas and gleemen who took root in Can] with the invasion of the Flanks, or of those who went along with the Teuton invaders into Italy, England, and else where. in part of the gaunt and SC1 la'a' who hail once overrun the Kornai' Empire. With the Celtic bards they have probably no kindred, At the battle of Hastings Taillefer. minstrel and warrior. rode before the Norman chivalry. tossing his shield aloft, and stirring their courage with the :-:.ong of Roland, and there bravely met his death. Ily the fourteenth century the poet and the performer in England were usually distinct. The scup and the troubadour were transformed into poets like Chaucer and Gower. True, there still survived in the structure of their tales sev eral devices of the singers, such as the address to all audience, but the audience was wholly imag inary. The gleemen and jongleurs were then known as minstrels. of whom the more reputable were still held in great honor. At feasts and festivals they swarmed in great numbers with harps, fiddles, bagpipes, flutes, flageolets. eit terns, and kettle-drums. Snell an occasion is de scribed by Chaucer in the Squire's Tale: As Cam buskan dines, the ploy "beforn him at the bard deliciously." When lie goes out he is preceded by "loud(' ministraleye," Titer as they .oases diverse instrurneatz That it is lyk an heven for to here.