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Medieval Travel Guide

Medieval Entertainment

Some forms of Medieval Entertainment had their roots in the Roman times. Romans had a passion for performances in the circus and amphitheatre, as well as for chariot races, horse races, foot races, combat of animals, and feats of strength and agility. A taste for similar amusements can be also found during the Middle Ages.

Medieval Entertainment-Fight Between A Horse and Dogs-13th Century
Fight Between A Horse And Dogs
13th Century

The circus disappeared on the establishment of the Christian religion, as the bishops condemned it as a profane and sanguinary vestige of paganism. This led to the cessation of combats between man and beast.

However, the fights between animals remained a part of Medieval Entertainment: wild animals against each other or trained dogs fighting lions, tigers, bears, and bulls. The Kings of France kept lions not only as a symbol of Royalty, but also to employ them in the combats, and they were pitted against bulls and dogs in the presence of the King and his Court. Bull fights were popular in the southern provinces of France, and especially in Spain.

The people of the Middle Ages had an insatiable love of sight-seeing. They came great distances to witness any amusing exhibition. Military parades, court ceremonies, and, above all, the various amusements which the Royals provided for them were perfect displays of Medieval Entertainment. It was on these state occasions that jugglers, tumblers, and minstrels displayed their talents.

Medieval Entertainment-Jugglers Exhibiting Monkeys And Bears-13th Century
Jugglers Exhibiting Monkeys And Bears-13th Century
In France, the kings of jugglers were the privileged performers at the royal Cours Plénières. These kings of jugglers played a lot of musical instruments, sung songs, and repeated by heart a multitude of stories. They threw wonderful somersaults, they leaped through hoops placed at certain distances from one another, they played with knives, slings, baskets, brass balls, and walked on their hands.

At the end of the 14th Century the brotherhood of jugglers divided itself in two classes: the jugglers themselves and the tumblers. The jugglers continued to recite serious or amusing poetry, to sing love songs, to play comic interludes, either single or in concert, in the streets or in the houses, accompanying themselves or being accompanied by all sorts of instruments. The tumblers devoted themselves exclusively to feats of agility or of skill, the exhibition of trained animals, the making of comic grimaces, and tight-rope dancing.

The star of Medieval Entertainment was dancing. The Middle Ages was the great epoch for dancing, especially in France. There were an endless number of dancing festivals. As soon as the two sexes were assembled in sufficient numbers, before or after the feasts, the ball began, and men and women took each other by the hand and commenced the performance in regular steps.

Dances were divided into two distinct classes: "danses basses", or common and regular dances, which did not admit jumping or violent movements, and "danses par haut", which were irregular and comprised all sort of buffoonery.

Medieval Entertainment-Dancers At Christmas-15th Century
Dancers At Christmas-15th Century

A special form of Medieval Entertainment, cruel by today's standards, but much appreciated by the nobility of the day was hunting.  In the Middle Ages, hunting became an art as well as a science with strict rules.  Hunting with hounds was known by the French name of the "chase", as early French authors established a code of rules for it, organizing it into a real system.  Falconry, the first traces of which are lost in obscure antiquity, was the delight of the nobles, and it was in such esteem that a nobleman or a lady never appeared in public without a hawk on the wrist as a mark of dignity.  Hunters used to have a protector, and in France they placed themselves under the patronage of Saint Hubert.

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