the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

forgotten traditions

on ships and at war



Sailing ships of all European countries seem to have carried at least one pipe and tabor player. Their job was to signal between ships, give the sailors exercise to keep them fit and well and in good humour, and also to help introduce mariners to any natives they came across in their explorations. The other usual instrument taken to war was a trumpet. On land the rythmn of these instruments kept the soldiers in line as they advanced upon the enemy.
Chigi vase7th century BCE
Vase. In the earliest times an aulos player kept the Greek soldier's feet in step.
Thucydides describes the Spartans
advancing to battle "slowly, to the
music of many pipers
, as is their
established custom, that their
approach should be even and rhythmical
and their line not broken..."

In the 'Romance of Richard Coeur de Lion,' Richard I (1157 –1199): after the capture of Acre, 1191, he distributed
among the "heralds, disours, tabourers, and trompours," who accompanied him, the greater part of the money, jewels,
horses, and fine robes which had fallen to his share. [printed 1911]

1250 1250-1275 on horseback decorated initial from 1250-1275decorated initial 1250-1275 France

12801280 trumpets and drums in Syrian battle


"In 1277 An Englishman from St. Remy is serving the Commune of Florence together with 100 knights from abroad.
Amongst them there should be two drums with pipes or two trumpets, with the same wages as a knight."1277A. Settia, Battaglie Medievali, Il Mulino (publishing house), 2020

"The Sienese Biccherna Books since the first decades of the thirteenth century record expenses for cornatores
and a sonator intended to accompany the mobilized army but without specifying their functions. In the second
half of the century, the contracts stipulated by ordinary Italian citizens with groups of mercenaries normally provide
that they have their own musicians: on 3 May 1277 Inghilese di St. Rémy agrees to serve the municipality of
Florence with 100 ultramontane knights among whom they will have to be there two drums (taborers?) with
a flute or two trumpets who are entitled to the same pay as a knight. On 31 January 1289, the Lucchese
constable Bindo Fornari placed himself in the pay of Venice with 25 soldiers on horseback, including a trumpeter
or cennamella player. Hugh of Santa Vittoria accepts in 1296 to serve the municipality of Bologna in command of
50 crossbowmen with a trumpet, drum (taborer?) sive cennamella."

1315 manuscript"The Romance of Merlin" (anonymous Middle English verse romance with battles)
describes  "Trumpés beting, tambours classing"
player1315 -1325 manuscript

c l300 Rob. of Glouc.

"Of trompes & of tabors the sarazins made there
So gret noyse that cristinemen al destourbed were".

 'Dictionary of Middle English Musical Terms'.Carter, H.H. (1961/1980Indiana University Press, Bloomington. Reprinted (1980).

Switzerland1300-1340 Zurich, Switzerland
In 1340 at the sea Battle of Sluys between England and France “...and when the fleet of France beheld this,
they loosened themselves from their heavy chains to pursue us. And forthwith our ships turned back upon them,
and the mêlée began, to the sound of trumpets, nakers, viols, tabors, and many other kinds of minstrelsy....” [source]

Edward III of England was in Flanders during July 1345, and in France from July 1346, until October 1347. His
minstrels are what one would expect to find in a military expeditionary force of the period; there are five trumpeters
two clarioners, five pipers, a nakerer and a taborer.

1363 In the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, Italy:
a mural painting depicts the victory of the Sienese troops at Val di Chiana. In front of the crossbow troops and behind the horses and trumpeters walk three taborers.
3 taborersleading the soldiers

A modern researcher has documented the use of the pipe and tabor in Italian foot regiments during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

[Gianni Lazzari reproduces pictures of military pipes and tabors from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, not only in Italy but in other European countries as well; see his ‘L’uso Militare del Flauto a Tre Buchi e Tamburo’, SIFTS 3, 1 (1998), 15-32]
The military use of the three-hole flute and drum.


1380-1400 France1380-1400 France
1390 France1390-1399 France Crossing the Rubicon

1400 in Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale

“The trumping and the tabouring,
Did together the knights fling.”

one taborer1368-1424 Italy
leading the foot soldiers

player taborer one taborer

'The Life and times of the Emperor Sigismund' written between 1440 and 1450, in German.

The illustrations show the army. One galleon crossing the sea is accompanied by a king. In the stern of this ship is a pipe and tabor player

mid 15th century on horsebackmid 15th century Germany or Austria
15th century player15th century drawing on a page
illustrating the Italian army [24r]
1457-14681457-1468 The siege of Populonia, Rimini, Italy: 16r  
14601460 Italy, Seige of Pisa
1460 player1460 player
1875 Italy1475-1480 Italy, accompanying the infantry
1575 player1475 - 1480 Italy, player
1451-15001451-1500 Italy, possibly a taborer 1451-15001451-1500 Italy taborer
15th century Italy15th century Italy 15th century Italy 15th century Italy


" Sodaynly he herd at the poort a passing grete noyse & bruyt of trompettes clarions and tabours of the grekes"

 'Dictionary of Middle English Musical Terms'.Carter, H.H. (1961/1980Indiana University Press, Bloomington. Reprinted (1980).

1479 Italy1479 Italy, Pharoah’s armies pursuing the Israelites to the shores of the Red/Reed Sea.

1481 England: Alongside an extensive list of armour and items needed for an army, from a ship called Mary,
is imported "1 doz tabor pipes"

Petty Custom Account 1480-1: Imports, Apr - June 1481

1498 Christopher Columbus was exploring South America and found some local people in the islands of the West Indies:
" a canoe followed the admirals ship, having twenty-five men on board,
and stopped at the distance of a cannon-shot, calling out and speaking
very loud.....As they could not be induced to come on board, .....
the admiral ordered some young fellows to dance on the poop to the
music of a pipe and tabor. On seeing this, the Indians snatched up their
targets, and began shooting their arrows at the dancers; who, by the admirals command, left off dancing and began to shoot with their cross-bows in return"

There are two versions of this story.

His son wrote:
“Then the Admiral tried to lure them
by staging a show, with a pipe-and-tabor
player mounting the prow,while another
sang and played a kettle-drum
and some grummets did a dance.”

1498 Spanish soldiers
lead by a pipe aand tabor player

Spanish player
more Spanish soldiers1498 more Spanish soldiers
more Spanish soldiers
player1498 another player dressed as a jester
SSpainish soldiers
1498 Spanish (Aragon) soldiers
army1498 The Aragonese army is lead by the taborer
part of a loud band1498 Two mounted pipe and tabor players as part of a loud band
greeting party1498 A pipe and tabor player forms part of the party accompanying the Turkish Ambassador
2 taborers1498 Liberation of Naples; two taborers one dressed as a jester, in the fighting line
leading the soldiers
Canary Islands invasion The Spanish (?) army arrives to invade the Canary Islands with a trumpeter and a pipe and tabor player at the front.   late 15th century Germanlate 15th century Dithmarschen
[now part of Germany] militiaman.

copyright Osprey

At the same time as the pipe and tabor
played by one person was in use,
the duo of flute player and drummer was
also used in armies. This 1496 German
manuscript shows two pairs of the latter
musicians, one set on each side in battle

1481 a payment was made on "9 May: 12d to the taborets of the Spaniard" -
The great Spaniard, the “Mary” of Greenwich, was one of the ships patrolling the English Channel.

1502 Scotland: Taborers were paid by the job for working at Court events:
payments made to taborers from the King’s accounts:

28 May: 14.0d to the taborers of the “Jacat”.
[James IVwas inspecting his ships in the Firth of Forth]

7 July, on board the “barge of Dundee”: 14.0d to the taborer of the said ship.

1513-1528 Professional musicians mentioned in documents related to the armada of Pedro Arias Dávila,
Governor of Castilla de Oro from Spain to south America included:, .
Alonso Barba tamborino (tabor pipe player)
Diego de León tamborino, (also an instrument maker)
Benito de Bejer tamborino, pífaro/ pífano

Trumpets, Gold, Minstrels and Death Music and the Armada of Pedro Arias Dávila in Castilla de Oro (Eastern Panama-Northwest Colombia)
1513-31 by Egberto Bermúdez

tabor pipe
1545 King Henry VIII's flag ship the Mary Rose sunk just off the southern shore of England.
Three tabor pipes were found in the ship when it was lifted. This one is a boxwood pipe made by the Bassano family.
This family of Italian musical instrument makers had relocated to London at the invitation of King Henry VIII.
16th century16th century German militia

16th century16th century Belgium leading the archers, painting

15421542copy after the Bathers in Michelangelo's unfinished
scene of the Battle of Cascina, 1364, between the troops of Florence and Pisa.

A description of the items every Elizabethan ship carried includes armaments and:ElizabthanRussia at the Close of the Sixteenth Century. Comprising, the Treatise "Of the Russe Common Wealth" by Sir Jerome Horsey page 186

1582 "Instructions given by the right honourable Lordes of the Counsell to M.Edward Fenton Esquire for the order
to be observed in the voyage recommended to him for the East Indies and Cathay. Aprill 9 1582"  As reported in 
Principall Navigations, Captain Luke Ward, vice admiral to General Edward Fenton in the latter’s unsuccessful
attempt to find a Northwest Passage by way of China:

Day 21 "I in my skiffe with trumpets, drum and fife, and tabor and pipe,
accomponied them a mile up the river "

[from Hakluyt's Collection of the early voyages travels and discoveries of the English Nation: 1811]

July 9th 1610, Virginia:

"… S[i]r Tho[mas] Gates beinge desyreous for to be Revendged upon the Indyans att Kekowhatan did goe thither by water w[i]th a certeine number of men, and amongste the reste a Taborer w[i]th him. beinge Landed he cawsed the Taborer to play and dawnse thereby to allure the Indyans to come unto him the w[hi]ch prevayled. And then espyeinge a fitteinge oportunety fell in upon them …."



before 1613 - Captain Middleton voyaged to Africa, in The Dragon, on behalf of the East India
Company to trade. To pacify the local people Middleton sent four men to them with a bottle
of wine and food, with a taber and a pipe. Reassured by this, they drank the wine and danced
to the music.  Middleton died in 1613.

'English musicians in the age of exploration' by Woodfield, Ian, 1995

1613 The voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan: (page 21)

Journal of John Saris, Captain of the Eighth Voyage of the Company. In January 1613,
Saris was at Bantam in Java, preparing for the second stage of his voyage on the Clove.
On 14 January his journal states: 1613source

magazine coverc. 1615 front cover, south America

The First New Chronicle and Good Government 
(or El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno), c. 1615,
was written by an indigenous Andean man, don Felipe
Guaman Poma de Ayala. It is an extensive letter addressed
to the Spanish king (at one point Philip II, and then Philip III).

One of over 300 illustrations, this drawing shows
conquistadors in the New World in 1530.

After the 1622 “Virginia Massacre” of English by Natives John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia (now USA), advised the use of “patience and experience” in subduing the Native population, asking, “will any goe to catch a Hare with a Taber and a Pipe?”

By the Councell Board at White-Hall, the 24. of May.
this to bee proclaimed by sound of drumme aboard
the kings ships, and the rest of the navie, as likewise, in all
such other places, as the commissioners for the navy shall
think fit.

England and Wales. Privy Council

West Indies: January 1703

“… I was extream ill on the 19th, and procured a writ of Habeas Corpus according to an
Act of Assembly here in hopes to be admitted to bayl, but he that officiated as Clerk to
the Justices, and came into the Islands a fidler in a Pyrates' ship, advised and persuaded
the Justices to the contrary….”

Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 21, 1702-1703.
Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1913.

17451745 England, servant in Captain's cabin, painting

  Gravesend dance18th century: dancing to the fiddle and pipe and tabor
on the Gravesend boat

In 1764:"....but seeing Don Bartholemew laugh, they composed themselves. When they were aboard, the Seamen played on a Tabor and Pipe, and other Instruments, which much pleased the Indians, they looked all about the Head and Stern,..... "

Using the pipe and tabor player to calm the indigenous population seems to have been common.


sailors dancingc1780 Sailors dancing to the pipe and tabor on shore, printed on fabric

1765 French seamen: 1765‘The memoirs of a protestant, condemned to the galleys of France, for his religion. Written by himself. ... In two volumes. ...
Translated from the original, just published at the Hague, by James Willington.’ 1765: Vol 2 by Marteilhe, Jean

1795 story ‘The Bear and other Beasts.’
“…The fidler, or rather the performer on the pipe and tabor, was considered as a fit subject for his Majesty's navy,
and consequently sent to a regulating captain, who forwarded him and his vile instrument of noise on board….”

‘Sporting Magazine of Monthly Calendar Of the Transactions of the Turf  the Chase, and every other Diversion interesting to the Man of Leisure,
Enterprize and Spirit.’

1816 essay

“…the youth of both sexes, to whom the pipe and tabor in England, or the bagpipe in Scotland, would have
been in themselves an irresistible temptation,… To compel men to dance and be merry by authority has rarely
succeeded, even on board of slave-ships, where it was formerly sometimes attempted by way of inducing the
wretched captives to agitate their limbs, and restore the circulation, during the few minutes they were permitted
to enjoy the fresh air upon deck….”

'Tales of my Landlord [1st series]' by Scott, Walter, Sir

1817 clinical advice 1817 CACHEXIAE, OR CACHECTIC DISEASES. ‘The modern practice of physic : exhibiting the characters, causes, symptoms,
prognostics, morbid appearances, and improved method of treating the diseases of all climates’
1820 England: medical journal of Surgeon-superintendent Hugh Walker on the convict ship "Guildford"
recommended that convict ships going to Australia should carry pipes and tabors so that convicts may
dance to prevent them brooding on their misfortunes.
1823 Advertisement 1823Morning Advertiser - Tuesday 11 February 1823
1834Shipping and Mercantile Gazette - Tuesday 28 November 1843
1859 story: 1859‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ by Eliot, George

1881 The Household Cyclopedia of General Information - a handbook of the practical and domestic arts
of America in Victorian times, regarding sailors:

"... they should be indulged in any innocent amusement that will keep their minds as well as bodies in a state
of pleasant activity, and perhaps none is then more proper than dancing. This makes a fiddle or a pipe and
desirable acquisitions on board of every ship bound on a long voyage."


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