An ancient Chester tradition is being recreated on Saturday (June 28) with the Minstrels’ Court held in St John’s Church, beside the amphitheatre.
The licensing of musicians and entertainers took place each year from 1204 to 1756, then disappeared for more than 250 years before being revived in 2008 by the Museums Service, in partnership with St John’s Church and community groups.
It has become a firm fixture in the city’s musical and cultural calendar, bringing performers from across the country and becoming Britain’s biggest medieval music event.
The Minstrels’ Court began eight centuries ago when Earl Ranulf of Chester was at Rhuddlan Castle and besieged by the Welsh.
A messenger travelled to Chester Castle to fetch reinforcements, but being the time of the midsummer fair all the soldiers were in the taverns.
Instead the minstrels and entertainers were rounded up and marched into Wales.
They made such a din as they approached the siege that the Welsh feared it was a great army and fled.
In return for saving him, the Earl granted the minstrels his protection, to be renewed each midsummer.
These licences gave the musicians freedom to play in Cheshire without fear of arrest for begging.
The Minstrels’ Court event is held in the atmospheric location of the Church of St John the Baptist, Chester’s first cathedral and the oldest church in the city.
It is one of the few historical re-enactments that takes place in its original and authentic location.
Musicians play throughout the day on medieval instruments including bagpipes, hurdy-
gurdy, shawm, and harps.
There will also be storytelling performances, displays of arming a knight, historic craft demonstrations and a range of medieval characters including soldiers, weavers, doctors, nuns, pilgrims and scribes.
Curators from the Grosvenor Museum will also have artefacts from medieval Chester on display along with children’s activities.
Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and economy, said: “This particular event is growing in popularity every year and residents and visitors can enjoy the music and pageant as Chester steps back in time to medieval days and there is something for everyone to enjoy.”
The event begins at 10.30am and runs until 5pm. Admission is free.
At 1pm the minstrels will set off for a musical procession through the streets of Chester, arriving back at the church for 1.30pm where they will be issued with minstrels’ licences in a recreation of the original ceremony.
Local councillor Samantha Dixon added: “A great deal of care is taken by the performers to be as authentic as possible and highlights include the procession through the city and also the Minstrels Court, at the same location as it took place centuries ago.”
The daytime event will be followed by a special evening performance at 7.30pm from some of the minstrels, including Blast from the Past, one of the country’s foremost historic music groups, Richard and Elizabeth York performing medieval harp music and the Time Bandits, a Chester-based group mixing folk melodies from the 15th-18th centuries in a lively upbeat style.
Places for the concert can be reserved by contacting the museum service on 01606 271640 or emailing email@example.com.