Earliest real red herring found in mad and offensive manuscript held by the Scots

“From mocking kings and priests to encouraging audiences to get drunk, newly discovered texts at the National Library of Scotland have shed light on the role played by minstrels in medieval society. Containing the earliest recorded use of the term ‘red herring’ in English, the texts are part of a booklet known as the Heege Manuscript. Dr James Wade of the University of Cambridge, who discovered them, said echoes of minstrel humour can be found ‘in shows such as Mock the Week, situational comedies and slapstick’.” “Manuscripts often preserve relics of high art … This is something else. It’s mad and offensive, but just as valuable. Standup comedy has always involved taking risks and these texts are risky! They poke fun at everyone, high and low.” “We shouldn’t assume that popular entertainers weren’t capable of poetic achievement. This minstrel clearly was.”—”‘Mad and offensive’ texts shed light on the role played by minstrels in medieval society. The Heege Manuscript which ‘pokes fun at everyone, high and low’ is among the earliest evidence of the life and work of a real minstrel.”

See “Entertainments from a Medieval Minstrel’s Repertoire Book“—”National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ MS 19.3.1 (the Heege Manuscript) is a large, late-fifteenth-century English miscellany manuscript from the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Its first booklet, which existed independently of the manuscript’s other eight booklets throughout much or all of its medieval life, contains three texts: the tail-rhyme burlesque romance The Hunting of the Hare, a mock sermon in prose, and the alliterative nonsense verse The Battle of Brackonwet. This essay proposes that Richard Heege, the booklet’s scribe, copied these texts from the repertoire of a local entertainer, be that a gifted amateur or, very plausibly, a travelling minstrel working a regular beat. In this light, the booklet’s comic, crude, and sometimes frivolous contents take on new significance in the history of English literature, as they provide close evidence for what made up the entertainments of English oral culture—or minstrelsy—at the end of the Middle Ages.”

Also see MS 19.3.1 at National Library of Scotland.

Hermetic Library Omnium Earliest Real Red Herring Found in Mad and Offensive Manuscript Held by the Scots 4jun2023