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professional secular musician of the Middle Ages. The modern application of the term is general and includes the jongleursjongleurs
, itinerant entertainers of the Middle Ages in France and Norman England. Their repertoire included dancing, conjuring, acrobatics, the feats of the modern juggler, singing, and storytelling. Many were skilled in playing musical instruments.
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. Certain very able jongleurs ceased their wanderings and were attached to a court to play or sing the songs of the troubadourstroubadours
, aristocratic poet-musicians of S France (Provence) who flourished from the end of the 11th cent. through the 13th cent. Many troubadours were noblemen and crusader knights; some were kings, e.g.
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 or trouvèrestrouvères
, medieval poet-musicians of central and N France, fl. during the later 12th and the 13th cent. The trouvères imitated the troubadours of the south.
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 who employed them. To these and to some itinerant musicians was applied in the 14th cent. the term ménétrier and later ménestrel, from which the word minstrel is derived, to indicate a higher social class than jongleur. Increasing in number and influence, these minstrels were organized and given protection of the law. Their function was at times similar to that of the Welsh bardbard,
in Wales, term originally used to refer to the order of minstrel-poets who composed and recited the poems that celebrated the feats of Celtic chieftains and warriors. The term bard in present-day usage has become synonymous with poet, particularly a revered poet.
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See E. Duncan, The Story of Minstrelsy (1907, repr. 1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A professional singer and musician in feudal France and England, sometimes a storyteller and reciter, often both a poet and composer. In the late 12th and the 13th century, with the world of poetry and music centering on the feudal court, minstrels were primarily in the service of a seignior, whom they would accompany in military campaigns. Many trouveres and troubadours were among the court minstrels. From the 14th to the 18th century, folk musicians who lived in towns or strolled around fairs and rural areas were also called minstrels. In the cities fraternities of minstrels were set up. Folk minstrels often circulated political news, participated in many popular movements, and were often persecuted by the authorities and the church. In western European romantic literature the name “minstrel” was given to an idealized image of the medieval poet-singer.

(2) In the metaphorical, poetic sense, a minstrel is a singer or poet (obsolete).


Chambers, E. K. The Medieval Stage, vol. 1, book 1. Oxford, 1903.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. History a medieval wandering musician who performed songs or recited poetry with instrumental accompaniment
2. a performer in a minstrel show
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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After the Civil War, some black performers acted in minstrel shows but were forced to wear blackface, darkening their faces with polish and painting their mouths white.
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Court Minstrel is set to run in the two-mile Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase on Crabbie's Grand National day after he finished fifth to star twomiler Un De Sceaux in the Arkle Trophy last Tuesday.
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Donald Byrd's Bessie Award-winning The Minstrel Show has a history of creating controversy: Past performances have even sparked shouting matches between audience members.
Foolishly, he had continued travelling as dusk fell, believing that his harp would show that he was a minstrel and theretbre unlikely to be carrying much in the way of money; but he was nonetheless robbed of some sixty pounds in gold.