Pipers and waits in the English royal households, c1290-1475: issues of identity and function
Paper given at the 42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies (2007)
Introduction: My doctoral thesis, Secular Musicians (1968), left some important issues relatively unexplored, as theses often do (for details, see the Bibliography, below). In studying the minstrels of the English royal households in the late Middle Ages I did say something about those minstrels described as “piper”, but not enough. They include the players of two different instruments: the shawm and the bagpipe. The occasional use of the term “bagpiper” to describe a minstrel helps to resolve the function of minstrels so called, but does not preclude those men from playing the shawm as well. One problem, therefore, is to identify any minstrel who can be shown to have played both instruments.
I also said something about the household watchmen, known as vigiles or vigilatores (the terms are in chronological order, and overlapped in the middle of the 14th century). Their main responsibility was the security of buildings: but in the 1290s, late in Edward I’s reign, the vigiles were also rewarded for minstrelsy, and probably formed a group of shawmists. The question arises, Were they the equivalent of the later “pipers”, or were they a group employed in addition to pipers? By the mid-14th century only some of the vigilatores were musical; and by the late 15th century it is not certain that any vigilatores were able to make minstrelsy. In the Liber Niger of Edward IV, 1471-2, the household watchman – only one by then – was listed next to the minstrels, and was directed to eat with them, but had no musical duties specified. By this time, too, the watchman was known as a “wait”, a term that probably identifies the man as a shawmist but may not have carried that meaning exclusively.
Since some royal household servants were known as both “piper” and “wait” these two areas of investigation join to provide a single set of questions to be answered. The situation concerning pipers, bagpipers and waits will be addressed in two ways. First, the evidence that I originally gathered must be revisited as an aid to refining the questions themselves: the present paper starts this process. Later, as the revision of my thesis continues, I shall consider new evidence.