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

"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

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


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 documents 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' was 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
galleon player
mid 15th century on horsebackmid 15th century Germany or Austria
15th century player15th century drawing on a page
illustrating the Italian army [24r]
1875 Italy1475-1480 Italy, accompanying the infantry 1575 player1475 - 1480 Italy, player
1479 Italy1479 Italy, Pharoah’s armies pursuing the Israelites to the shores of the Red/Reed Sea.  
1498 Christopher Columbus was exploring South America and found some local people:
" 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 more Spanish soldiers
lead by a pipe aand tabor player


Spanish player
SSpainish soldiers
1498 Spanish (Aragon) soldiers
player1498 another player dressed as a jester
more Spanish soldiers1498 more Spanish soldiers
more Spanish 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
1496 At the same time as the pipe and tabor being 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 formation.

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.

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.

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 …."

  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?”
16th century16th century German militia
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.
  magazine cover
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


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.

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 tabor desirable acquisitions on board of every ship bound on a long voyage."


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