Custom demised: Tutbury Bull Run

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image “It may not be so, gentle sir, For I must be at Tutbury feast; And if Robin Hood will go thither with me, I’ll make him the most welcome guest.”

So goes a verse of the popular ballad ‘A New Ballad of bold Robin Hood, shewing his birth, breeding, valour and marriage at Tutbury Bull Running’ where he married not Marian but a Clorinda! Tutbury, a small village with its romantic ruined castle was the scene of the country’s only other Bull run. The origins of this custom derive from the need to control a local festival of musicians (or minstrels) that came from all parts of the country to Tutbury. As with such festivals, which surely involved a fair amount of alcohol, disputes would occur and so to sort this out, the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt established a means to settle arguments between the minstrels; this became the Tutbury Court of King’s Minstrels. It is said that when in 1374, Gaunt married his Spanish Princess, Constance, daughter of Pedro the Cruel of Castille, she suggested establishing a bull running, although what this had to do with minstrels is unclear. Gaunt established a King of the Minstrels whose job would be to apprehend and arrest any law breaking musical miscreants. As in all these cases, a Charter enshrined the custom called Carta le Roy de Minstralx. Plot (1696) in his work on Staffordshire translates it as:

“John by the grace of God King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Lancaster, to all of them who shall see or hear these our Letters greetings. Know ye we have ordained, constituted and assigned to our well-beloved King of the Minstrells in the Honor of Tutbury, who is, or for the time shall be, to apprehend and arrest all the Minstrells in our said Honor and Franchise, that refuse to doe the services and Minstrelsy as appertain to them to doe from ancient times to Tutbury aforesaid, yearly on the days of the Assumption of Our Lady; giving and granting to the said King of the Minstrells for the time being, full power and commandement to make them reasonably to justify, and to constrain them to doe their services, and Minstrelsies, in the manner belongeth to them and as it hath been there, and of ancient times accustomed.”

This developed into a special Court which meet the day following the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the 15th August. All the minstrels in the Honor which were the counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire were obliged to meet at the house of the bailiff of the honor were they met the Steward of the court. All minstrels who failed to attend would have to pay a fine. A procession was formed and headed by the musicians walked in two rows to the parish church with the previous years King of the Minstrels marching behind the musicians with the bailiff and four stewards carrying a white rod each. After the church service, which cost a penny, the group went to the Castle Hall, here the court was called and two juries of twelve Staffordshire men and twelve men from adjoining counties, after the steward reminded the attendees of the importance of the court:

“the jurors proceed to the Election of the said Officers, the King to be chosen out of the 4 stewards of the proceeding year and one year out of Staffordshire, and the other out of Darbyshire interchangeably; and the 4 stewards, two of them out of Staffordshire, and two out of Darbyshire; 3 being chosen by the Jurors, and the 4th by him that keeps the court, and the deputy Steward or Clerk”

The two juries leave this Court to make the decision, with the rest having a banquet. Upon their return, the new officers were appointed and the Old King passes on the white wand and drink toasts. After which, the minstrels would gather for the bull running. Before the Reformation the Minstrels received, after coming to Matins on that feast day, from the Prior of Tutbury:

“a Bull given…if they can take him on this side of the River Dove which is next to Tutbury; or else the Prior shall give them xld for the enjoyment of which custom they shall give to the Lord at the same feast day xxdg.”

This bull was then used for the running, after the Reformation, this bull was provided by the Duke of Devonshire. However, this was at a price, for if the bull ran into Derbyshire, a likely case considering Tutbury’s geographical location, the Duke retained it. The custom involved the minstrels gathering at the barn. The poor bull had: “… his horns are cut off, his ears cropt, his taile cut by the stumple; all his body smeared over with soap, and his nose blown full of beaten pepper.” This was apparently to make it as mad as possible! A solemn proclamation was made by the steward and the bull released:

“The bull being let loose, the steward proclaimed that none were to come nearer than forty feet, nor to hinder the minstrels, but all were to attend to their own safety. The minstrels were to capture the bull before sunset, and on that side of the river, “

To avoid the Duke regaining the bull it was allowed that a tuft of fur could be produced as evidence to the Market place. If the bull was collared and taken to the bull ring in the market it was baited with dogs first ‘alloted for the King, second for the honor of the town and last for the King of the Minstrels’ After which the minstrels could do what they wanted with the beast. Hundred years after Plots account the bull running had fallen into disrepute and had: “ultimately degenerated into a scene of wild debauchery, often resulting in a terrible riot.” Certainly by the late 1700s the writing was on the wall. A petition from the Court of Minstrels to the ducal owner of the manor in 1772 read:

“The Honourable and Antient court of the Minstrels, assembled at Tutbury 17 August 1772, to the Duke of Devonshire May it please Your grace. We the Jury of this court must humbly petition Your grace that the Writings concerned this court may be laid ope n before the King and Stewards of this Court, that we may understand our right. We apprehend we have a right to a piece of land called the Piper’s meadow, formerly ui n the hands of Pratt of Tutbury. now Thomas Tatler of Etwel, who lets kit to Samuel Salt of Rolston. This rent has been publically demanded at the castle but without any redress……Most gracious Duke, we cannot maintain the rights of straining for these misdemeanours of the Minstrels of Staffordshire, Derbyshire., Leicestershire and Warwickshire without the protection of your Grace…..It hath therefore been concluded and believed that Derbyshire stands to the conclusion that without the rent of the said Piper’s meadow to be paid to the King of the Minstrels, the said Jurors do not appear….and in consequence must be in a short time be a want of a Bull Running”

Thus it was clear that without the Duke provided the remedy the custom would decay and indeed it did. For unlike, Stamford’s Bull Run, the abolishing of the custom in 1778 was due more to the rowdy nature of the crowds in this sleepy town than any care for the animal’s welfare. It was finally abolished although the minstrels did meet a few years after this the custom had lost its star attraction and died off. Now Tutbury is quiet on the days around the feast of the Assumption bar some curious tourist visiting its wonderful castle….having thought about a Court which keeps musicians in order…perhaps now this is even more needed to keep our wanton pop stars in order!!

STOP PRESS: Drama re-enactment of the Stamford Bull Run Looks like someone read my notice about acting out the run and this year at the town’s inaugural Georgian festival there is a drama re-enactment of this most famed Bull Run. The date is 28th September 2013 at three. Details from their website.. image

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