Bagpipers at the Tudor Court

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We bagpipers are aware that our instrument has a long heritage, in England and elsewhere. We know of times and places where the instrument has been fashionable, indeed aristocratic, yet at other times it has been little more than a beggar’s instrument. Using Andrew Ashbee’s multi-volume “Records of English Court Music”, the account books show that our instrument was held in high regard by our Tudor monarchs, and its players were on a par with performers on viols, violins, shawms, sackbuts and trumpets.

For the first part of the reign of King Henry VII, there was no established post of bagpiper at Court, but from 1492 to 1502 there was an occasional payment to one of our colleagues, a bagpiper or droner. The amount was not insignificant, ranging from 3s 4d up to 10s. All except one of these performers is anonymous, the exception being Pudesey, bagpiper who was paid 6s 8d in 1493. Living in West Leeds as I do, just over the River Aire from the historic town of Pudsey, this particularly interested me.

In 1502-3 the records show that Pety John, Mynstrelle to the prince, received four yards of cloth for mourning livery on the death of Queen Elizabeth, wife of King Henry VII. There are two surnames elsewhere for Pety John, but this one is probably Pety John Cokeren, who in 1513 is identified not as minstrel but as bagpiper. Our court bagpiper was provided with livery of doublet and gown, and paid monthly at the rate of 4d per day. King Henry VII died in 1509, but Pety John’s service continued under King Henry VIII.

In 1511 one William Kechyn , royal bagpiper, petitioned King Henry VIII for payment for his service to the late King Henry VII, and for his past and future service to the new King. Hence he must have been appointed before 1509, but the records do not show when. Kechyn received some back pay, and the accounts show his continued payments, again at the rate of 4d per day, hence 10s 4d. for months with 31 days, 10s for months with 30 days, and 9s 4d each February except leap-years when of course he receives 9s 8d. Kechyn was at various times referred to as the bagpipe waite, the bagpipe, or just the wait. He was issued with livery – a tawny gown. The last entry for William Kechyn is in 1521.

Kechyn was succeeded in 1525 by Andrew Newman, always identified in these records as minstrel, and occasionally either waite or Queen’s minstrel, but Ashbee indexes him as a bagpiper, presumably from some other source. Newman continued to be paid at 4d per day (No inflation in the early Tudor court then). From 1539 onwards, in addition to the standard pay, on New Year’s Day each year he began receiving a bonus of 10s. The last mention of Andrew Newman is in 1544.

In September 1545 Richard Woodwarde, bagpipe player, was appointed, still at the rate of 4d per day. A year later he succeeds in having the pay rate doubled, but viol players are being paid 50% more than his new rate, sackbuts and trumpets double! About this time, monarchs start to come and go quite fast, and in addition to normal livery, he and other musicians received four yards of russet cloth for funeral livery and of scarlet cloth for coronations. Payments etc. to Richard Woodwarde, bagpiper, continued until 1570 when he died and a final payment of his salary was made to his son Robert, a rebec player in the royal household. Richard Woodwarde was a remarkable survivor, having started his service with Henry VIII post-Reformation, continuing to serve the puritanical Edward VI, then the Catholic Mary, and finally the moderate protestant Elizabeth. He must have been as adaptable as the legendary Vicar of Bray.

The death of Richard Woodwarde seems to mark the end of the road for Tudor Royal Pipers, so our profession’s decades of high status in the Tudor era were over.

In conclusion, in the last issue of The Chanter, reference was made to a Tudor court entertainment, The Masque of Bagpipes. This was only one of several masques involving the instrument. Four masques were performed during the reign of King Edward I:

  • The “Masque of Irishmen ” was performed in 1551. Three shillings was paid for the hire of an Irish bagpipe player.

  • The “Masque of Irishwomen” was performed in 1552, and three shillings and fourpence was given in reward to a bagpiper.

  • At Christmas 1552 a masque was held for the Lord of Misrule, requiring cloth for a garment of russet damask for the Lord of Misrule’s minstrel - an Irish bagpiper.

  • The “Masque of Bagpipes” in 1553 featured six English bagpipers. Instruments bought for this performance included one pair of loud pipes for twenty shillings, one pair of soft pipes for six shillings and eight pence bought from Bridget the bagpiper’s wife, and one pair of loud pipes from Bennet bagpiper for twenty-one shillings. The bagpipers performed concealed within wicker grotesque animals.

One masque was performed during the reign of Queen Mary I, on the occasion of the second visit of King Philip of Spain:

  • The “Masque of Almains, Pilgrims and Irishmen” in 1557 included four drums and fifes and two bagpipes. [Almains in this context surely meant people from the Germanic states.]

I just thought that it might be amusing to add a little post script, as after the death of Richard Woodward the Office of Bagpiper in the Royal Household lapsed for nearly three hundred years until Queen Victoria revived it in 1843 and appointed Angus MacKay to the position. However, in 1603 when James I came to the throne, a bass viol player petitioned to be appointed to the post previously held by the late Richard Woodward, at the salary rate Woodward had been paid.  Hence this established position in the royal musical establishment had clearly remained vacant for thirty-three years. Incidentally it also shows that pay rates had remained stable over a period of nearly sixty years since Woodward’s pay rise a year after he was first appointed!

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