5. The visit of a traveling minstrel show would be a real social highlight for a Medieval peasant
Peasants could not afford to travel into the nearest town or city to see a theater production. Nor could they afford proper musical instruments and put on their own shows. However, from time to time a traveling entertainer, known as a minstrel, might visit their village. In most cases, this might be the only proper entertainment a peasant enjoyed all year – so the arrival of a minstrel was a very big deal. But only, of course, if the village could afford to pay for his services…
There were two types of minstrels in the Middle Ages: those employed by nobles or royalty to be court entertainers, and those who relied on their wits to make a living as and when they could. The latter were known as ‘wandering minstrels’. They might try and earn a few coins in taverns, or they might turn up at a village, advertise their skills and see if there was any interest. Of course, they usually only performed for money, but in many cases, poor peasants might offer them food, shelter and goods in exchange for an evening performance.
Minstrels were, as a rule, accomplished performers. In fact, in some parts of Medieval Europe they were respected professionals. In England, for example, in 1469, King Edward IV, passed a law requiring all minstrels to be part of a professional guild. This ensured that only skilled entertainers could perform for money. Some would juggle, others recite long poems, while others might be magicians, clowns, dancers, fire eaters or perhaps a combination of all of these.
Among peasants, however, the most popular entertainers tended to be the singers and balladeers. Above all, peasants loved hearing tales of bandits and outlaws. It’s no surprise that the legend of Robin Hood grew out of the stories told by minstrels traveling through English villages of the Middle Ages. The poorest people in society loved hearing tales of audacious heroes stealing from the rich and giving to the less fortunate – and they were willing to pay what little they had in order to go so.