- From: Tibicen
- To: The Jongleurs' Email List
- Subject: Whence Waytes and Why?
- Date: Tue, 22 Oct 1996 18:05:17 EDT
Someone asked me about the term "Waytes", and I figured now would be a
good time to write up an explanation and share it.
Simply put, through most of the time period from which we draw our
repertoire (13th-17th centuries), there was a term in English (and I have
reason to believe there was a related one in French) for groups of people
who do more or less precisely what the "Instrumentalists" do: serving as
the official town band. This term was "Waytes" (spelt in a wide variety of
Now it is very clear that these musicians were somehow connected, at
some point at least, with the town watch -- the people who's job it
was to keep a look out for invaders, fires, and other nocturnal problems.
"Wayte" means "watch" in earlier usage. Somehow the meaning "municipal
musician" grew out of the "town watch" job. And this is not merely a
linguistic shift -- apparently one job grew out of the other. I have a
manuscipt, in translation, which is the accounts of moneies and goods paid
to musicians of certian courts in the 13th/14th century; the original is
mostly in Latin with some French. Listed amoung the "trumpours" and
"viellors" and "harpers" are what the original has as "vigiles" and
"geytes", and modern editor has translated "watchmen":
"10s. each to 4 of the King's and the King's son's Watchmen,
for performing [ed. "or being on duty"?] at the wedding of Princess
Elizabeth." --- 1296/1297
"[Listed as] Kings Vigiles: Radulphus le Geyte, Johannes
Hardyng, Willelmus Hardyng." --- 1330 [Note, that there is a "Willelmus
Trumpator" on the King's payroll from 1299 to at least 1322 who may be
the same fellow, and who on at least one occasion is paid for "making
So far, I have heard much theorizing as to why "town watch"
evolved into "town band", but no actual period evidence; it would seem that
it began to be the town watch's job to perform fanfares for VIPs, and that
may be the route of the evolution. But at any rate, it most certainly
did evolve. The following I took directly from the Oxford English
Dictionary (and reformatted for clarity):
- 8 a pl. A small body of wind instrumentalists maintained by a
city or town at the public charge. Also sing., a member of this body.
Obs. [Ha! -T.] They played for the daily diversion of the
councillors, on ceremonial and festive occasions, and as a town or city
band they entertained the citizens, perambulating the streets, often by
night or in the early morning.
- 1298 [see waitmeat].
- 1438 in Cov. Leet Bk. 189:
- "Hyt is ordeyned that they [sic] Trumpet schall haue the rule
off the whaytes, and off hem be Cheffe. "
- It is ordained that the Trumpet shall have the rule of the
waytes, and of them be chief.
- 1467 in Cov. Leet Bk. 335:
- "Also pat pe Waytis of pis Cite..shall not passe pis Cite, but
to abbottis & priours within x miles of pis Cite."
- Also that the waytes of this city shall not pass this city,
but to abbots and priors within ten miles of this city.
- 1499 in W. Kelly Notices illustr. Drama (1865) 189
- "Thomas Wylkyns Wayte."
- 1541 in W. Kelly Notices illustr. Drama 192
- "Item paed to Thomas Goldsmyth ffor mendyng of the Towne Waytes
Collars iij[s]. iiij[d]. "
- 1548 in W. Kelly Notices illustr. Drama 193
- "Item p[d] to Mr. Gyllott for the Wayghts gownes xxxvj[s]
- 1553 MACHYN Diary (Camden) 47
- "[The new Lord Mayor went] toward Westmynter [attended by the]
craftes of London..with trumpets blohyng and the whets playing."
- 1571 in Picton L'pool Munic. Rec. (1883) I. 118
- "Lewis Lockwood, Bag-piper was admitted Wayte of this town."
- 1587 FLEMING Contn. Holinshed III. 289/2
- "The waits of the citie were placed with lowd musicke, who
cheerefullie & melodiouslie welcomed hir maiestie into the citie, this song
being soong by the best voices in the same."
- 1589 [? NASHE] Almond for Parrat 2
- "Who hearing the waites play vnder his window very early,
insulted..that [etc.]. A."
- 1596 Sir T. More (Malone Soc.) 944
- "Where are the waytes? goe, bid them play, to spend the time
- 1609 B. JONSON Silent Wom. I. i,
- "Trv. A Trumpet should fright him terribly, or the Hau'-boyes?
Cle. Out of his senses. The Waights of the citie haue a pension of him,
not to come neere that ward."
- i.e. He paid them not to play -- T.
- 1617 MORYSON Itin. IV. IV. i. (1903) 301
- "In like sorte many Cittyes mantayne at publike charge
Musitians, vsing Sag- butts, Hoboyes, and such loude Instruments, which wee
call the waytes of Cyttyes, and these play at the publicke house of the
Citty each day at Noone, when the Senatours goe to dinner, and at all
publike Feasts. A."
- 1625 FLETCHER Captain II. ii,
- "Jac. Hark, are the Waits abroad? Fab. Be softer prethee, 'Tis
private musick...Jac. Well I will hear, or sleep, I care not whether. "
- [The rest of the citations under this definition are post 1651.]
- b pl. A band of musicians and singers who perambulate the streets by
night at the approach of Christmas and the New Year playing and singing
carols and other seasonable music for gratuities. [All cites POST PERIOD]
- c gen. A player on the flute, hautboy, trumpet, etc. Obs.
- 1510 STANBRIDGE Vocabula (W. de W.) D iv,
- "Tibicen, a wayte."
- 1585 HIGINS Junius' Nomencl. 501/1
- "Spondiales vel spondiauli,..such as plaied vpon long pipes at
diuine seruice, they may be called the waytes. "
- Pipers in a "divine service"?!?! -- T.
- 1600 HOLLAND Livy XVII. Brev. 390
- "That..as he returned home to his owne house, the waits should
sound the hautboies all the way [tibicine canente]. "
- 1648 GAGE West Ind. 12
- "Whom travelling, Indian Waites and Trumpets should accompany."
- [Rest of cites post 1651.]
And under "wait" as a compound, we find:
- IV 11 attrib. and Comb., as wait-pipe, player, -song; wait captain,
the chief of the municipal waits; wait fee (see quot. 1706); wait-layer,
one who lies in wait; waitmeat, food supplied to the municipal waits.
- 1565 in Picton L'pool Munic. Rec. (1888) II. 35
- "Mr. Mayor called James Atherby then being *Waite Captain."
- 1563 in Spelman Gloss. s.v.,
- "Per redditum 14s. pro *Wayte fee, and Castle garde. "
- 1298 Yorks. Inquisit. (Yorks. Rec. Soc. 1902) III. 84,
- "2s. for *Way- temete and Schirrefstuthe."
- 14.. Nom. in Wr.-Wulcker 694/40
- "Hec colomaula,..*waytepype."
- 1610 in T. Sharp Cov. Myst. (1825) 210
- "Every Maior shall pay to the *waite players iiij d."
And so saith the OED.
The Encyclopeadia Brittanica claims:
an English town watchman or public musician who sounded the hours of the
night. In the later Middle Ages the waits were night [Index] watchmen,
who sounded horns or even played tunes to mark the hours. In the 15th
and 16th centuries waits developed into bands of itinerant musicians who
paraded the streets at night at Christmas time. From the early 16th
century, London and all the chief boroughs had their corporation waits."
but gives no documentation whatsoever.
So: Where "minstrals", "jongleurs", "troubadors", etc. are usually solo
artists, often not tied to a specific town/region nor having particular
duties except to be "on call" for performance, "waytes" are clearly
instrumental emsembles hired by the town/city to handle the music at
municipal functions such as feasts and festivals.
I've started using the term because "Instrumental Ensemble" sounds
hideously modern. It makes us sound like a community college class ("UoC
Mu411: Instrumental Ensemble, 4 cr., M 7-8:30, no exams but graded end of
term recital."). "Instrumental Ensemble" is obtrusively modern and
pretty darn vague.
"Waytes", on the other hand, is just right.
So now the question is: what does the "Vocal Ensemble"/"Vocalists" want
to be called, hmmm?
--Tibicen, a wayte
- From: Tibicen
- To: Jongleurs Email List
- Subject: re: Waytes, etc.
- Date: Wed, 23 Oct 1996 16:24:24 EDT
And in case that wasn't enough info....
The OED also explains that the term "waytes" came to mean "the kind of
instruments used by waytes", i.e. a shawm, sackbut etc.:
- III 10 Originally a transferred use of 8 c. pl. Wind instruments,
either hautboys, shawms, or flutes. Also sing. (rare). Obs.
- Cf. Sp., Pg. gaita, a kind of oboe; the word seems to have been
adopted from OF., though no examples of the sense have been found in French
of any period.
- 1530 PALSGR. 286/1
- "Wayte an instrument, hauboys."
- 1556 WITHALS Dict. (1562) 68/2
- "The trumpet or waytes, _tuba_. "
- 1592 Doctor Faustus in Thoms E. Eng. Prose Rom. (1858) III. 178
- "Lutes, viols, citterns waits..and all manner of other instruments. "
- 1620 SHELTON 2nd Pt. Quixote xxvi. 173
- "For amongst Moores you haue..a kinde of Shaulmes that bee like
It also explains that after period (oh, around 1750 or so) the usage of
"Waites" (as people) became rather exclusively the provence of what we now
call "Cristmas carolers", ostensibly (according to the EB) because towns
then had police forces to do nocturnal patrol and cops weren't expected to
Under the Cristmas definition was this example, a definition from
Grove's Dictionary of Music, 1889, which I found absolutely hysterical:
- 1889 Grove's Dict. Mus. IV. 375
- "Waits, The. A name given, from time immemorial, to the little
bands of rustic Musicians who sing and play Carols, by night, in country
places, at Christmas-time."
Which just goes to show something we've known for a while: "Time
immemorial" is the 19th century's name for the mid to late 18th
Back to Waytes of Carolingia main
page | Back to Carolingian Jongleurs' Guild main
Last modified -- minor reformatting -- by Eowyn, 8 October, AS
XXXXIIII (2009 C.E.).