British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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358                   ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN MARY.          [AUG. 15.
The following abridged account of the Minstrels' Festival at Tutbury, celebrated at this season, is taken from The Book of Days, vol. i. p. 224 :—
During the time of the Dukes of Lancaster the little town of Tutbury was so enlivened by the noble hospitality they kept up, and the great concourse of people who gathered there, that some regulations became necessary for keeping them in order; more especially those disorderly favourites of both the high and low, the wandering jugglers or minstrels, who displayed their talents at all festive boards, weddings, and tournaments. A court was, therefore, ap­pointed by John of Gaunt, to be held every year on the day after the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin, to elect a king of the minstrels, try those who had been guilty of misdemeanours during the year, and grant licences for the future year, all which were accompanied by many curious observances.
The wood-master and ranger of Needwood Forest began the festivities by meeting at Berkley Lodge, in the forest, to arrange for the dinner which was given them at this time at Tutbury Castle, and where the buck they were allowed for it should be killed, as also another, which was their yearly present to the prior of Tutbury for his dinner. These animals having received their death blow, the master, keepers, and deputies met on the Day of Assumption, and rode in gay procession two and two, into the town to the High Cross, each carry­ing a green bough in his hand, and one bearing the buck's head, cut off behind the ears, garnished with a rye of pease and a piece of fat fastened to each of the antlers. The minstrels went on foot, two and two, before them, and when they reached the cross, the keeper blew on his horn th various hunting signals, which were answered by the others; all passed on to the churchyard, where, alighting from their horses, they went into the church, the minstrels playing on their instruments during the time of the offering of the buck's head, and whilst each keeper paid one penny as an
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