From the Venerable Bard to the Wandering Minstrel
What is the difference between the Celtic Bard and the Medieval Minstrel?
I think the difference is that the Celtic Bard seems, like the Fili/Filidh in Ireland, to have had a formal instruction and a formal role in ancient and early medieval societies. Similar to the Norse Skjald and the Anglo-Saxon Scop, whose roles seem & training seem to have been less formal, the Bard maintained the history of the tribe which included spiritual, ancestral and legal knowledge. In this respect they came from a pre-Christian culture & their ability to hold an audience (via their performance) and play an instrument were by-products of their function. They had a high office within the society as keepers of the people's knowledge. The leaders of the people needed to refer to them in many matters and they were often protected by law.
The Minstrel, or Old English Gleeman, from the later medieval Christian Feudal culture was more of a performer and musician. Their function was merely to entertain the audience in an informal way, often whilst referring to the news and issues of the day. Most of the powerful functions of spiritual and ancestral knowledge were now held by the clergy and with the written word there was development of the legal profession. The leaders no longer needed to refer to the Bards but for the folk, now demoted from free men to serfs they provided an essential source of news.
However, as the later medieval Christian Feudal culture took over from the early Medieval Pagan culture it would seem that many of the earlier Bards accepted their loss of social status and became wandering Minstrels. It was probably a gradual decline that took place over several generations.
The intriguing part, I find, is with the Angevin Queen (you could almost say Empress) Eleanor of Aquitaine. She created the model Medieval court and brought in learned people and Minstrels, many of whom seem to come from Brittanny. They (and this is conjecture) may well have been from families that were historically British (Welsh) or even Irish Bards. These Minstrels took the ancient Celtic Myths and forged them into the Arthurian Legends and helped to define the Chivalric code, which has many parallels into Celtic ideas of Good Kingship but within a Christian context. It was at this court, which became a cauldron of culture, that the Celtic world mixed with the love stories from Moorish scholars of the Mediterranean and the Germanic feudal culture of England and France. Here are a series of quotes from sites about this legendary court...
" William IX, Duke of Aquitaine one of the first troubadour poets "from here
It was defined by the use of the Latin word Romanz as distinct from what was known as ‘real’ literature, which was
ironically written in Latin. Romanz with its captivating themes of love, ladies and passion in the courts of Europe it was
not long before it became known as romantic literature.
Eleanor had grown up at the court of her father William X Duke of Aquitaine, but she was really a chip off the old
block of her grandfather (William IX).
"Of all her influence on culture, Eleanor's time in Poitiers between 1168 and 1173 was perhaps the most critical, yet very little is known about it. Henry II was elsewhere, attending to his own affairs after escorting Eleanor there. Some believe that Eleanor’s court in Poitiers was the "Court of Love", where Eleanor and her daughter Marie meshed and encouraged the ideas of troubadours, chivalry, and courtly love into a single court. It may have been largely to teach manners, as the French courts would be known for in later generations. The existence and reasons for this court are debated."
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Court of Love
"Eleanor’s time as mistress of her own lands in Poitiers (1168-1173) established the legend of the Court of Love, where she is reputed to have encouraged a culture of chivalry among her courtiers that had far-reaching influence on literature, poetry, music and folklore. Although some facts about the court remain in dispute amidst centuries of accumulated legend and myth, it seems that Eleanor, possibly accompanied by her daughter Marie, established a court that was largely focused on courtly love and symbolic ritual that was eagerly taken up by the troubadours and writers of the day and promulgated through poetry and song. This court was reported to have attracted artists and poets, and to have contributed to a flowering of culture and the arts. But to whatever extent such a court existed, it appears not to have survived Eleanor’s later capture and imprisonment, which effectively removed her from any position of power and influence for the next 16 years."
"They flourished between 1100 and 1350 and were attached to various courts in the south of France.
The troubadours wrote almost entirely about sexual love and developed the concept and practice of courtly love
There was no tradition of passionate love literature in the European middle ages before the twelfth century,
although there was such a tradition in Arabic-speaking Spain and Sicily. This Arab love poetry was readily
accessible to Europeans living in Italy and Spain and was a major source of the Troubadour-developed cult of
Troubadour love poetry, although conceptually adulterous, inspired the man (and perhaps the woman) and ennobled the lover's character. Eleanor set up a court controlled by women which aimed at "civilizing" the rather rough society of the area. Many gifted poets and scholars came to her court at Poitiers. A unique situation where wealthy powerful women were able to create their own environment. The doctrine of Courtly Love was designed to teach courtiers how to be lovely, charming and delightful. Its basic premise was that being in love would teach you how to be loveable and pleasing; so love taught courtesy."
The Romantic Continuum
What we see in the bards and troubadours is that, like the folk they represented, their position in society may have declined with feudalism but the themes of love, justice, honour and virtue still resonated with aspirational yet human characters searching for an idealized future. As the role of the folk in society rose during the Renaissance, Enlightenment and into the Modern world each age generated and continues to generate it's own Bards and Troubadours who learn from and re-visit those continuous themes.
I viewed Prince as a modern day romantic and troubadour R.I.P.