Medieval laws meant Aberdeen’s governors had to feed and house two minstrels – because entertainment was thought to be good for the people.
Academics discovered the 1493 legislation in recently unearthed archives.
The findings show burgesses, medieval governors, had to host John and Robert, the burgh’s minstrels, or else fork out for their upkeep.
Researcher Claire Hawes, from the University of Aberdeen, said: “They regularly took turns to make sure they were fed and looked after.
“It was good for the town in a communal way.
“Things were done for the good of the town and the good of the people, that’s the general rhetoric.”
A minstrel was a servant first employed as a travelling entertainer and then as a castle or court musician or medieval bard.
Minstrel means a “little servant”.
Any who refused to have them round had to pay them 12p for food, drink and wages.
This was for the cost of their board and lodging to be distributed among the burgesses.
Because John and Robert were described as “common minstrels”, this meant they were employed by the town as a whole – the burgh corporation – rather than by individuals.
That is why all the burgesses had to contribute to their upkeep.
The practise of paying for town minstrels differed across the country.
It is likely their services were required on important events such as feast days, meetings of the guild, the annual head court, visits from royal officials – and even the king himself.
Claire added: “It’s really interesting as it suggests in the North-east there’s importance placed on having a social level for ordinary people.”
In 1507 James IV’s new bride, Margaret Tudor, made a ceremonial visit to the city.
The event was recorded in verse by William Dunbar, a Scottish Renaissance poet, which mentioned minstrels in the third verse.
It is possible they could have been John and Robert.
The archive of the city’s earliest council registers is considered to be a national treasure because it is near-complete in its coverage of the period 1398-1511 – with the exception of the missing “third” volume, running from 1414 to 1434.
Information from the lost documents was found by the university’s Dr Jackson Armstrong.
His curiosity was pricked by a reference to “very curious extracts from the records of the city of Aberdeen 1398-1658” in a catalogue of the medieval holdings of ancient universities and colleges.
When he tracked the manuscript, by James Man, he found a number of pages had been copied from the missing volume back in the 1700s.
So far, a dispute between King James I of Scotland and Highland clan chiefs, as well as Aberdeen’s Mediterranean reputation for salmon, are just some of the stories found in the logs.
The research team will continue to work on the sections that have yet to be deciphered which could lead to further revelations.
Hard day’s knight giving Aberdeen medieval taste
When the Evening Express learned Aberdeen’s medieval governors had to look after town minstrels, we wondered whether this is a service the modern Granite City is missing.
So I was to traverse the sunny streets with my trusty five-string banjo to find out if people would appreciate their own troubadour.
There’s little chance you would have spotted a minstrel playing that instrument in the 15th Century, but I didn’t have a lute to hand.
One area I could be authentic with was the get-up, with a little help from Medieval Realm.
Harry Brechin, from the North-east re-enactment group, kitted me out in clothing which would have typically been worn by minstrels at that time.
The outfit included arming boots, split hose, braes, a linen shirt, red jacket, linen coif, bycockett hat, small belt, large belt and a pouch.
Banjo at the ready I headed to George Street by the Bon Accord Centre, where I found a busy flow of people and folk sitting on the benches enjoying the sunlight.
Heads were turning and faces screwing up in bemusement before I even started playing, so when I struck my first chord it was all systems go.
I was playing as many auld Scots tunes as I could muster, including crowd favourites such as the Barnyards of Delgaty and Arradoul – Summer of 1469 sadly isn’t in my repertoire.
The foot traffic didn’t really slow down, in fact it looked like my music convinced two people sitting to get up and leave.
One cyclist did stop for a wee while to listen, before giving me a thumbs up and riding off.
Now me and the old banjo made for the King Edward VII statue on Union Street, which was really busy at lunchtime.
There were small crowds at the traffic lights who were turning round while they waited for the green man.
A few people also started taking videos and photos.
And when I decided to stop, a Deliveroo worker told me he’d enjoyed it and he liked having someone to listen to while he waited for his next job.
Then it was off to The Green, which is one of four administrative medieval quarters recorded in 1399.
People were sitting drinking coffees and having food at Cafe 52, making a good audience.
Soon enough people were taking photos, with two people rushing out of Contour Cafe to record me singing.
All in all the experience shows the people of Aberdeen love a bit of culture and music, but maybe they could do with someone a bit better than me.