by Claire Hawes
This entry, from volume 7 of the Aberdeen Council Registers, gives a rare insight into the cultural life of the burgh. It is a statute, from 18 January 1493, which orders that all the burgesses of the town should take turns in hosting John and Robert, the burgh’s minstrels. Any burgess who refused to host would have to pay the minstrels 12 pence, for food, drink and wages. This allowed the cost of the minstrels’ board and lodging to be distributed amongst the burgesses.
The fact that John and Robert were ‘common minstrels’ suggests that they were employed by the town as a whole – the burgh corporation – rather than by individuals, hence the reason that all the burgesses had to contribute to their upkeep. It is likely that their services were required on important occasions such as feast days, meetings of the guild, and perhaps the annual head court, as well as for visits from royal officials, and even the king himself.
In 1507 James IV’s new bride, Margaret Tudor, undertook a ceremonial entry into the city. The event was recorded in verse by William Dunbar, a famous Scottish Renaissance poet. The minstrels are mentioned in the third verse – could it be John and Robert?
Ane fair processioun mett hir at the port,
In a cap of gold and silk full pleasantlie,
Syne at hir entrie with many fair disport
Ressaveit hir on streittis lustilie;
Quhair first the salutatioun honorabilly
Of the sweitt Virgin guidlie mycht be seine,
The sound of menstraillis blawing to the sky:
Be blyth and blisfull, burgh of Aberdein.
The saide day it was statutit, ordanit and grantit be the aldirman, balyeis ande divers of the consal and communite present for the tyme, that Jonhe and Robert – thar commone menstralis – sal have resonabile dietis circualie throw the nichtbouris of the towne. Ande if ony persone or personis refus to resave thame to thar dietis, it sal be lesum to thame to gif to the said menstralis xij d. on the day, batht for mett, drink, and wagis for simpile folkis.