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SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Beverley minstrels officials salary gratuities livery fees Leicester Dover York

Subject: Minstrels as civil servants
Original source: Humberside Records Office, Beverley Corporation archives; Governors Minute Book, ff. 20, 92
Transcription in: Arthur Leach, Report on the Manuscripts of the Corporation of Beverley, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1900, 120-21, 137.
Original language: Latin
Location: Beverley
Date: 15th century


[1.] Waits

William Johnson, Simon Herforth, and John Wardelow were appointed in the presence of the community to the office of waits of Beverley on 13 May in the year indicated above [1438], until 25 April next, receiving 36s.8d by way of salary from community money. Each of the waits is to receive a shield from the community, and they have taken oath to serve the community in their office until 25 April. And there were delivered to John Wardelow and William Johnson, waits, two community shields of silver, by pledge of John Colton yeoman (present) and Nicholas Brompton (absent). Later Simon Herforth left town, for which reason the waits took a boy in Simon's place, and they were allocated 6s.8d for the boy's work until 25 April. And thereby the waits received, for themselves and their boy, this year only 33s.3d.

[2.] Waits retained

On 14 January 1453, John Hesilhede, Robert de Celario, and Martin Gymer were newly appointed to the office of waits of the town of Beverley during the pleasure of the 12 keepers, or governors, in office that year, and their successors the 12 governors of the town who shall be in the future. Taking 40s. by way of salary, at the wish of the 12 governors of the town who shall be.

And the waits gave honest guarantees, each man on his own behalf, to the town governors in office that year that they would not resign, nor would any individual of them resign, from their service, nor would they or any one of them accept appointment from any lord of the realm of England, without the explicit permission of the governors then in office or their successors in future. And by way of gratuity they are to have 10s. of silver towards their uniforms, by agreement of the venerable men gathered in the Guildhall.


The term used in the original for waits is spiculatores, for which a more literal translation would be "watchmen"; this reflects the wide-ranging role of waits – they were not just entertainers, but also heralds, and nightwatchmen. In the 1460s the terms histriones (applied to performers, including minstrels) and ministrallis was also used for them.

We hear of the town employing a wait as early as 1366/67, when Ralph Wayt was paid 10s. as six months' salary. By the beginning of the fifteenth century there were two waits, sharing 40s. annual salary, and the number was later increased to three. However, the waits were not always employed for a full year, but sometimes only over the winter season when there were some important festivals requiring minstrelsy. The cost of their costumes was also subsidized, on occasion at least, and during the reign of Henry VI they were issued with miniature shields and collars, as badges of office. One of their tasks was to proclaim the Corpus Christi plays.

The fifteenth century saw a greater use of minstrels or waits than before, as ceremony became an increasingly important part of the political life of a town. In the fourteenth century we mostly find ad hoc engagements, often minstrels in the service of aristocrats but apparently touring the region. For example, in 1318/19 the mayor of Leicester paid 4d. to one Wade and his unnamed associate, minstrels, in 1338/39 of 3d. given to minstrels to pipe before the muster of armed citizens, and in 1375/76 of £1 as payments to messengers and minstrels on various occasions during the year. And the Dover borough accounts of 1365-67 include payments of 20d. to John Scot, harper, 24d. to three trumpeters performing on Christmas day (one in the service of a local knight), 2s.4d to minstrels performing on Corpus Christi and the day of Ascension, and 12d. to another trumpeter named Boffett.

We also hear in that account of 6s.8d was paid for a cloth decorated with the arms of the Cinque Ports to hang from the trumpet of Alan Trompour, and 13s. for clothing for Trompour and piper John Rustler. These payments suggest that some towns were beginning to designate "official" minstrels, although doubtless such men earned more of their living by private performances. York corporation had a trio – the "city waits" – on retainer from the time of Henry VI onwards; they were provided with uniforms each Christmas and paid fees for engagements, notably at Easter, Corpus Christi, the Nativity of St. John Baptist (24 June), Christmas, and the Translation of St. William (a former archbishop of York). In 1454 we even find that one of them has been granted a life pension, presumably for long service.



The keepers, or governors as they were coming to be known during the 15th century, were the town council, and the sole source of governmental authority – Beverley not having a chief executive officer at the head of its urban administration.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 27, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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