From Jongleur to Minstrel: The Professionalization of Secular Musicians in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Paris

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Charles Singleton Center for the Study of Pre-Modern Europe
This paper discusses the circumstances surrounding the formation of a Parisian guild for minstrels, the Corporation des ménétriers, in 1321. This action marks a pivotal moment in the history of urban minstrelsy and stands in stark contrast to the works of theologians who insisted that jongleurs had no practical use to society. In order to understand how this guild came to be, I first examine how the evolving intellectual climate in Paris provided a path for jongleurs to professionalize. I then explore the geography and demographics of medieval Paris, using the tax records levied by Philip the Fair, and the charter and early guild records of the Corporation des ménétriers. These documents suggest that minstrels had already become a stable presence on the Rue aus Jugléeurs well before their formal incorporation in 1321. Furthermore, by 1335, the guild had funded and constructed both a hospital and a chapel, evidently with the aim of benefiting not only guild members, but also their local community. This type of institutional construction was common among many other guilds, and I argue that by emulating those practices, Parisian minstrels were able to demonstrate that their labor was skilled indeed, and that their craft produced a tangible benefit to society.