While there were several forms of entertainment in Medieval Britain this particular post will focus on two aspects of entertainment: music and football.
If you think the youth of today love music imagine a time were there are no radios, Spotify, or itunes accounts. The only way to hear your favorite song was to go listen to a live set of musicians or to be a musician yourself. With this in mind you can understand why the people of Medieval Britain posses such a passion for music. A good host is one who has good music and the art is one that unifies people from all social spheres.
In the music world each instrument is handmade and are categorized into two groups. The ‘high’ minstrelsy was comprised of loud instruments while the ‘low’ minstrelsy was comprised of instruments that played more melodic tunes. To accompany the music there is often singing and dancing, of which everyone participates. A common dance is caroling, and not the door to door singing that is done around Christmastime. Caroling in Medieval Britain is done by linking arms with other people and forming a circle. The circle skips to the right or left around a singer in the middle. The singers recites the verses while those in the circle sing along with the chorus. While the priests do not approve of caroling, singing and dancing are done anyway for “in a century of plague, war and suffering, you have to.”
Again come back to the present time and think of how popular a sport football is in the British culture of today. In Medieval Britain the sport had the opposite connotation. Football was considered one of the most disgraceful pastimes that one could do. None of the rules of today were used. For example, there could be an unlimited amount of players on the field and there were no regulations on the size of the field, which was determined by how many people were playing. If there were over one hundred players the field might be several miles long. The ball used varies as well, from tied up leather the size of a tennis ball, to pigs bladders filled with dried peas.
So there are no rules of any kind, why then is football still considered a disgraceful sport you ask. Well the sport is noisy, destroys property, injuries are common, and sometimes people are even killed during a game. There is one account of a man named William de Spalding, asking a priest for an indulgence because while playing he and his friend collided with such force that his knife went through its sheath and into his friend. The disgraceful association of football is probably why most games were played on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and Lent when everyone was to be fasting and pious, instead of causing a ruckus by playing football. The major of London forbids the playing of football in 1314 and Edward III bans the sport in 1331 and again in 1363. The much more respectable pastimes in Medieval Britain include archery, jousting, hawking, hunting, and playing dice.
*All information found in The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer.