Have you seen the jester or the travelling fair whilst you have been playing Stronghold? They are very useful arrivals at your castle because of the high bonus points. They were just as welcome in medieval times when entertainers came to the castles to relieve the monotony of castle life for both lords and peasants.
Most entertainment would take place in the hall of the castle or in its grounds. People from a wide area would come to see the visiting minstrels, players and mimers. Some of the entertainers would be a permanent fixture at the grandest castles and palaces.
A minstrel sang songs of great battles, myths, honour, chivalry and, of course, love … frequently in French. He would accompany himself on instruments such as a harp or a lute. He would expect to be fed and sometimes given gifts such as clothes in return for his performances. He would have to pay the lord to be allowed to play in the local villages where he would sing satirical songs about the local lords and stories of Robin Hood and other peasants’ heroes, all in English.
A jester usually stayed at one castle. His job was simple – to make his lord laugh. He wore funny clothes in bright colours with bells attached and was expected to be witty, twisting words and making puns. Frequently he could also juggle and do acrobatics.
Other visiting entertainers included musicians who entertained by playing instruments such as lutes and bagpipes; acrobats and tumblers; contortionists and jugglers who would use all kinds of things for juggling including daggers.
As well as visiting entertainers, the castle inhabitants would play games such as blind man’s buff, chess and tell stories.
Outside the castle, hunting and hawking were popular pastimes for the lord and his knights.They would hunt with dogs or hawks through the woods and, frequently, across peasants’ fields ruining their crops. Even the ladies used to ride with the hunt often having their own falcons. They were led by the master of the hunt.
Archery contests would take place at the butt (archery range) but the most popular outdoor entertainments were tournaments and jousting both among the knights and the watching lords and ladies. They included mock battles and competitions, both between individuals and teams. They were magnificent occasions with feasting and music but also a good practice for real warfare. The contestants used shortened lances and blunt swords, but serious injuries still often occurred. The most elegant lady would be chosen as queen of the joust and would give the prize to the winning knight.
A travelling fair would visit once or twice a year and usually set up in the open space outside the castle gates. Villagers would come from miles around to soak up the atmosphere and, maybe, buy a few extras. Travelling merchants set up stalls selling items such as cloth including silks and brocades, leather gloves and slippers, swords and daggers, leather and candles, many of the items coming from abroad. The villagers could only look at the finest items but pedlars would come too and lay out their wares on the ground, selling items within the means of the peasants; there were booths selling hot pies and mulled wine and there were entertainers such as acrobats, jugglers, musicians and even performing animals like bears.
The peasants also enjoyed bull and bear baiting, morris dancing, wrestling, cock fighting and even football and a primitive form of tennis.
The lords and peasants knew how to enjoy themselves in their different ways and the entertainment was important to help them forget the harshness and violence of their lives.
Written and researched by GillB. Archery & joust pictures created by & used with the permission of Lord_ako.