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The Musical Times

March 1, p. 205, April 1, pp. 283-4 & May 1, p.356, 1922

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The interest displayed at the present time in the question of the Registration of Music Teachers suggests a certain appositeness in the subject of Musicians’ Charters: a subject which divides itself naturally into two divisions, viz., Charters of Minstrelsy, which had only a local significance, and Royal Charters, which incorporated with few exceptions the musicians of the entire kingdom.  (It is evident that the term ‘minstrel’ in its later meaning was equivalent to ‘musician’, but that word now being capable of so wide a construction, it would be advisable to consider the original term of 'minstrel’ as indicating the artist or executant of modern phrase.)

One of the earliest records of a body of musicians forming a corporation and enjoying special privileges is found in that of the Cheshire Minstrels, an association possessed of great interest for the historian owing to the fact that, in almost all the laws affecting musicians passed since the foundation of the Cheshire Minstrels, their rights have been acknowledged and supported by special exemption.  Their incorporation dates from King John’s reign, and the laws in which their rights are acknowledged by exemption embrace charters and statutes enacted in the reigns of Edward IV, Elizabeth, James I, Charles I and II, and George II.  A corporate body of musicians whose existence covers a period of six hundred years furnishes an excellent example of Charters of Minstrelsy.  A history of the origin of the Cheshire Minstrels may be found in Hawkins’s History of Music.  A more detailed account was published in the Musical Gazette for June, 1819, from which the following passage is taken:

During the sanguinary feuds on the Welsh Borders, which succeeded the Conquest and which continued during more than two centuries, Randle Blundeville, the celebrated Earl Palatine of Chester, 1181, and founder of the then impregnable castle of Beeston, was besieged in the castle of Rhuddlan by a numerous army of Cambro-Britons.  He immediately despatched a messenger to his constable, Roger Lacy, Baron of Halton, who in the exigency of the moment, assembled at Chester - it being the time of the fair - a great body of idle and dissolute persons, including all the fiddlers, minstrels, and players then present… With these he marched to the Earl’s relief.  The appearance of this motley multitude operated so strong on the Welsh that they fled in all directions, and Randle returned to his capital in triumph.  As a reward for the signal service thus rendered, the Earl gave to Roger Lacy “power over all the fiddlers and shoemakers in Cheshire.”  The Constable, however, presented his steward, Piers Dutton, with the authority over all the fiddlers and players, reserving to himself only the right over the shoemakers.

The Musical Gazette article proceeds to mention an occasion upon which the minstrels of Chester officiated at the marriage of two daughters of Sir Piers Gaveston, but unfortunately gives no date, stating only that the ceremony took place on June 24.  The writer next describes the minstrels’ court held annually at Chester, on St. John’s Day, by the heir or Lord of Dutton, or his steward:

A banner, emblazoned with the- Dutton arms, was hung out of the window of the inn where the court was held, and a drummer proclaimed in the streets the important sitting, summoning all persons concerned to appear in the court.  At eleven o’clock a procession was formed, and moved from the inn as follows :

A Band of Music.

Two Trumpeters.

Licensed Musicians, with their white napkins across

their shoulders.

The Banner, borne by one of the principal


The Steward.

A Tabarder (with the Dutton Arms).

The Lord or Heir of Dutton, attended by the

Gentry of the City and County.’

Then follows the proclamation heralded by the usual ‘Oyez! Oyez!’ after which the procession proceeds to St. John’s Church, ‘on entering the chancel of which, on notice from the Steward, the musicians played several pieces of sacred music upon their knees.’  Another proclamation followed, then a feast, and in the afternoon the work and duties of the court were executed.  These appear to have been to hear the Steward’s charge, and to report unlicensed musicians, and any treason against the King or the Lords of Dutton.  The musicians were then sworn, and licenses were issued to 'such as were adjudged worthy, empowering them to play for one year’.  A lengthy proclamation is quoted in the Musical Gazette, taken from the Tabley MSS, but again no date is given; the document is merely pronounced to be ‘very ancient’.  It appears that the rights of the Lords of Dutton had descended through marriage to Viscount Kilmurrie, this document being simply a mandamus for the musicians to appear and play before the said Robert Viscount Kilmurrie, under the dire threat:

‘This omit you nott, as you will at yo’r p’ills aboyde the displeasure of the aforesaid Robert Viscount Kilmurrie, the rebuke of the court’s forfeiture of your instruments and imprisonment of your bodyes.’

The last court [we are told] was held in 1756, R. Lauls, Esq., being then Lord of Dutton, and possessing the advowry of the minstrels by purchase, previous to which they were not held annually, as had been their custom, but every two or three years.  The fee for a license was half-a-crown; but it does not appear that much attention was paid to the mandate of the Lord of Dutton, for in 1754 only twenty-one licenses were granted.

The writer goes into considerable detail with regard to Mr. Lauls’s charge to the Minstrels in 1756, in which he insists that:

…none shall exercise the employment of a musician for gain without a license from him or his steward… and if you know or are particularly informed of such, you are to present them to this court that they may be proceeded against and punished according to law, which the lord and steward thereof are determined to do with the utmost severity.’

Allusion having been made to the exemption which the Cheshire Minstrels enjoyed in all laws and charters made since their foundation, before leaving this subject the proviso in favour of these minstrels from the Statute 17, George II, cap. 5, may be quoted :

Provided always that this Act, or anything therein contained, or any authority thereby given, shall not in any wise extend to disinherit, prejudice, or hinder the heirs or assigns of John Dutton of Dutton, late of the County of Chester, esquire, for touching, or concerning the liberty, privilege, pre-eminence or authority, jurisdiction or inheritance, which they, their heirs and assigns, now lawfully use, or have, or lawfully may or ought to use, within the County Palatine of Chester and County of Chester, or either of them, by reason of any ancient charters of any Kings of this land, or by reason of any prescription or lawful usage or title whatsoever.

The Musical Times, April 1, 1922, p. 205

Another interesting example of the incorporation of executant musicians at an early period is found in the Tutbury Minstrels, who were incorporated by John of Gaunt, King of Castile and Duke of Lancaster, in 1381, during the reign of Richard II.  This deed was known by the title of Carta le Roy de Minstralx, and applied to all the musicians within the ‘honour’ of Tutbury - an area comprising the counties of Stafford, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, and Warwick.  Hawkins gives an exhaustive account of this corporation, most of which is taken from Dr. Plot, the historian of Staffordshire, who was an eyewitness of the proceedings of the Tutbury Minstrels in 1680, thus proving that the customs established by the Charter of 1381 prevailed for three hundred years at least.  The head of this body was known by the title of King of the Minstrels, and was supported by a bailiff and four under-officers or stewards.  The election of officers took place yearly on the Eve of the Assumption, at Tutbury Castle.  The proceedings began with an attendance at divine service; returning thence to the Castle, the roll was called ; after which a jury of twenty-four - twelve representing Staffordshire, and twelve the other counties - was empanelled for hearing any ‘plaints, or cause,’ also for imposing fines for non-attendance and breaking the rules, and for the granting of licenses.  The next procedure was the election of the officers, which was an annual procedure, followed by a banquet.  Sports and pastimes were next in order, and a loathsomely full account of a bull-baiting is given by Hawkins.  The charge by the steward to the jurors on such points as Dr. Plot mentions seems worthy of quotation:

Then, to move them better to mind their duties to the King, and their own good, the steward proceeds to give them their charge, first commending to their consideration the Original of all Musick, both Wind and String Musick; the antiquity and excellence of both; setting forth the force of it upon the affections by diverse examples; how the use of it has always been allowed, as is plain from holy writ; in praising and glorifying God; and the skill in it always esteemed so considerable that it is still accounted in the schools one of the liberal arts and allowed in all godly Christian Commonwealths: where by the way he commonly takes notice of the statute, which reckons some musicians amongst vagabonds and rogues: giving them to understand that such societies as theirs, thus legally found and governed by laws, are by no means intended by that statute, for which reason the Minstrels belonging to the manor of Dutton, in the county palatine of Chester, are expressly excepted in that Act.  Exhorting them upon this account to preserve their reputation: to be very careful to make choice of such men to be officers amongst them as fear God, are of good life and conversation, and have knowledge and skill in the practice of their art.

It will be seen that the real object of the musicians’ corporations was to act as a protective scheme against uncontrolled and vagabond minstrels.  A commission granted by Elizabeth in 1567 for the protection of the Welsh bards, furnishes proof of this.  The deed begins by declaring that:

… it is come to the knowledge of the Lord President… that vagrant and idle Persons, naming themselves Minstrels, Rhymers, and Bards, are lately grown into such intolerable multitude within the Principality of North Wales that not only gentlemen and others by their shameless disorders are oftentimes disquieted in their Habitations, but also the expert Minstrels and Musicians in Tonge and Cunynge thereby much discouraged to travaile in the Exercise and Practise of their Knowledg, and also not a little hindred [of] Livings and preferment.’

To meet this state of affairs Elizabeth granted a commission to certain persons named, who were to utter a proclamation ‘in all fairs, market towns, and other places of assembly’ within the five most northerly counties of Wales that all persons ‘that intend to maintain their living by name or colout of Minstrels, Rhymers, or Bards’ shall appear before the commissioners.  Calling to their aid ‘men expert in the Faculty of Welsh Music,’ the said Commissioners were then to appoint such as they deemed worthy, to ‘use, exercise, and follow, the Science and Faculty of their Profession’.  To those deemed unfit they were to give ‘ streight Monition and Commandment, in our Name, and on our Behalf, that they return to some honest labour… such as they be apt unto for the Maintenance of their Living, upon pain to be taken as rude idle Vagabonds, and to be used according to the Laws and Statutes provided in that behalf’.  This commission was signed by Elizabeth at Chester. Whether Her Majesty was petitioned on the subject we are not told.

It now remains to speak of the charters granted by the Kings of England for the protection of the musicians of the land.  These charters, we are told, owe their existence to the fact that certain persons gained access to the houses of the wealthy by representing themselves to be members of the King’s Minstrels.  Accounts of Royal Minstrels extend as far back at least as the time of Edward III; it is said that at the marriage festivities of that monarch’s daughter, Margaret, as many as four hundred and twenty-six musicians were assembled.  The earliest Royal Charter (the origin of which is explained above) was issued under the Great Seal of the Realm of England in 1472-73, by Edward IV, and provides that certain persons, the King’s Minstrels, shall be ‘in deed and name one body and cominalty, perpetual and capable in law, and should have perpetual succession’.  The corporation was governed by a Marshal - a post held for life - and two wardens, who were elected annually.  Their jurisdiction apparently comprised the whole of England - with the exception of the County of Cheshire, where the minstrels were already a corporate body, as we have seen.  Their duty was ‘the survey, scrutinie, correction, and government of all and singular the musicians within the kingdom’.  Speaking of this charter, in Sandys’s and Forster’s History of the Violin it is declared that ‘it did not prove of much benefit, and they [the minstrels] contrived to lose their reputation by the time of Elizabeth’.  Surely an erroneous statement: far from not proving of much benefit it is ‘the one charter’ from which sprang all that came after.

The next charter that was granted by Royalty appears to have been obtained by the musicians of London from James I., in prejudice to the rights granted by Edward IV to the musicians of the entire kingdom.  According to Hawkins: ‘James I, though it does not appear that he understood or loved music, yet was disposed to encourage it; for, after the example of Charles IX of France - who in 1570 had founded a Musical Academy - he, by his letters patent, incorporated the musicians of London, who are still a society and corporation’.  From this charter, therefore, the Musicians’ Company originates, not from that of Edward IV, as is commonly stated.

The Musical Times, April 1, 1922, pp. 283-4

Charles I dealt very liberally with his musicians, one of the early appointments of his reign being that of Nicholas Lanier as court musician at the liberal salary of £200 a year.  He granted a charter to the musicians of the realm, which bears date July 15, 11 Car., and commences by reciting its foundation upon the lines suggested by Edward IV’s charter.  It further relates that:

… certeine persons, suggesting themselves to be freemen of a pretended society of minstrels in the cittie of London, in prejudice of the liberties and privileges aforesaid in the said recited letters patent mentioned and intended to the minstrels and musicians of the said King [Edward IV] and his heires, did by untrue suggestion procure of and from King James of ever-blessed memory, letters patent under his great seale of England, bearing date the eighth day of July, in the second yeare of his raigne, to incorporate them by the name of master, wardens, and cominalty of the arte or science of the musicians of London.  And, among divers other privileges, to grant unto them the survey, scrutiny, correction, and government of all and singular, the musicians and minstrells within the said cittie of London, suburbs, liberties, and precincts of the said cittie, or within three miles of the same cittie.  By colour whereof they endeavoured to exclude the musicians and minstrells enterteyned into the King’s service, and all others expert and learned in the said art and science of musick, from teaching and practising the same within the said cittie and three miles thereof, that would not subject themselves unto theire said pretended fraternity, or purchase their approbation thereunto, although greate part of them were altogether unskilfull in the said art and science of musick.

The above passage throws considerable light upon the origin and material of James’s charter, but the musicians to whom Charles granted a charter were not satisfied until they had, as they thought, entirely demolished the letters patent granted by James.  The charter under consideration proceeds to describe how a scire facias (i.e., a writ) had been brought by the Court Musicians of Charles against the Musicians’ Company of London, in the High Court of Chancery, and how ‘judgment of theire prosecution had been had and given accordingly, and the letters patent vacated and cancelled thereupon.’  Briefly stated, James granted a charter to the Musicians of London in prejudice to the Act of Edward IV, and the musicians of Charles went to law against the said Company, won their case, and restored the law of Edward IV, which applied to the whole realm, the county of Chester excepted.

Proceeding with Charles’s charter, we find that the King

… for and in consideration of the good and faithful service which the said musicians had done and performed unto him, and in pursuance of the intent and meaning of the said King Edward IV,… doth, for him, his heires and successors, will, ordeine, constitute, declare, and graunt that the said Nicholas Lanier [and forty-nine others] his said musicians, or all such persons as are or shall be the musicians of him, his heires, and successors, shall from henceforth for ever, by force and vertue of the said graunt, be a body corporate and politique in deed, fact, and name, by the name of Marshall, Wardens, and Cominalty of the arte and science of Musick in Westminster, and by the same name have perpetual succession, and be capable in the law to impleade and be impleaded: And that they have a common seale.’

Then follows the appointment of officers.  The corporation was to meet in or near the city of Westminster from time to time, and had power both to make bye-laws and impose fines on such as transgressed them.  Next comes a clause for the ‘better government and ordering of all such as do or shall profess and exercise the art and science’ of music, which grants to the Marshal and his officers the ‘survey, scrutinie, correction, and government of all and singular, the musicians within our saide Kingdome,’ with the usual exception of Chester, of course.  The remainder of the clause gives those admitted the right to exercise their art in London or elsewhere in the kingdom, except Cheshire, ‘ any act, ordinances, or constitution of common council of the said Cittie of London or any other matter or thing whatsoever to the contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding’.  The conclusion of the last sentence was evidently intended to be the death-blow of the charter granted by James, and to render impossible any intended resuscitation of it.  Although granted in the eleventh year of Charles, this charter is declared by Hawkins not to have been carried into practical use until the Restoration: it seems, however, to have received Royal Confirmation three years after it was originally granted.

Turning to the Restoration we find that the first meeting was held at the house of Mr. Ganley, at Durham Yard, Strand, on October 21, 166E, Nicholas Lanier acting as Marshal.  The following items are taken from Hawkins

1662. January 20 - Ordered that Edward Sadler for his insufficiency be silenced and disabled.

February 3 - Richard Graham appointed their Solicitor-at-law.

February 19 - It appears they licensed teachers of music.

1663. January 13 - Ordered that Matthew Lock, Christopher Gibbons, Dr. C. Colman, and William Gregory do come to the Chamber at Durham Yard on Tuesday next at 2 p.m., and bring each of them ZI0 or show cause to the contrary.

Under date March 1, 1663, we learn that a petition was presented to the King’s Majesty for the renewing of their former patent.  This petition seems eventually to have had the desired effect, for in 1670 was received a renewal of the patent, which runs as follows :

‘Whereas His Sacred Majesty hath been pleased after the example of his Royal Ancestors, to incorporate the Musicians of England for its encouragement of that excellent science, and the said corporation to have power over all that profess the same, and to allow and make free all such as they shall think fit: This is to give notice to all persons concerned in Musique, that the Corporation sits the Saturday in every week at their Hall in Durham Yard in the Strand, in pursuance of the trust and authority to them committed by his Most Gracious Majesty, and that they have granted several deputations into several counties to execute the same.’

Little remains to he said, save that these meetings came to an end in 1679, and thus the letters patent lapsed from sheer disuse.  With respect to James’s charter as represented in the Musicians’ Company, it still survives, and so late as 1737 exercised its rights by arresting certain musicians playing at a concert in St. Martin’s-le-Grand.

This paper is merely introductory to a subject so extensive that only by having easy access to a great number of ancient State papers and records, could full justice be given it.

The Musical Times, May 1, 1922, p. 356