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Music

There were many kinds of women who played music- some for a living and some for recreation, included troubadours who were travelling musicians, minstrels, trouveres (troubadours but of nobler birth), and itinerant jongleurs who sang and entertained with other skills like singing, dancing, acrobatics and juggling. These are not the women we are concerned with here.

Most accomplished noble women were expected to be proficient on at least one musical instrument. Many manuscripts show noble women playing music or surrounded by female angels who play musical instruments andthe cost alone of most instruments restricted some kinds of music to those who could afford it.

Instruments might include the harp, rebec, shawm, viol, pipes, recorder, psaltry or a hurdy-gurdy, although it is less likely that the shawm or hurdy gurdy were favoured by the upper classes! Less usual images include playing the bells and horns.

The 15th century image at left, is a from a set of four panels from a frontispiece in from Boccaccio. Here we see noble ladies playing instruments and less usually, a horn of some kind.

Women performed as singers and musicians, either in the home or in more formal court settings. Many of the courtly romances of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries write of women singing and playing musical instruments.

In the Cleriadus et Meliadice, girls as well as boys perform singing and on the harp. Ibed writes that:

There might you have heard men and women singing well!

Boccaccio's Decameron identifies women singing and dancing along with their male companions. Chaucer also wrote of the types of instruments musicians might play when he said:

..many scores of thousands, who made loud minstrelsy with bagpipes and shawms and many other kinds of pipes, and skillfully played both them of clear and them of reedy sound, such as be played at feasts with the roast-meat,--and many a flute and lilting-horn and pipes make of green stalks...

The image above at the top of the page, Allegory of Music comes from Echecs Amoureux, France and dates at 1496 to 1498. The image below is dated 1375, Catarino, The Coronation of the Virgin and show women playing a variety of instruments typically shown surrounding the Virgin in medieval paintings.

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