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(None shall provoke me with impunity)

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The Drummer 1690 - 1715


"The Phiphe is but only an instrument of pleasure not of necessitie, and it is to the voice of the Drum and Souldier should wholly attend and not the air of the whistle. For the one [which is the Drumme] speakes plainely and distinctly, the other speakes loud and shrill but yet curiously and confused."
Francis Markham, 1622.

Drums are a vital part of a regiment. For centuries they have featured on battlefields, and by the reign of Queen Anne nothing much had changed. Before the advent of a staff-wielding Drum Major he too had a drum, and it was his task to follow on the 'Captain's Heels' and relay the orders to the rest of the drummers, who then would beat it in unison to the rest of the regiment: '...a drummer...is...the very tongue and voice of the Commander. He is to have an exceeding and careful and dilligent ear into all the wordes of directions (and are called Vocabula Artis)  which shall proceede from the Captain, and accordingly to performe and speake it to his beatings.'

All drummers had to learn around 15 beats, all with their own special meanings. The infantry had to learn 6 off by heart, and the officers were advised to learn as many as possible. The most well known amongst the British soldiers was the 'Taptoe', now known as the Tattoo. It began life in the Low Countries as a beat to let Inn keepers know that the soldiers had to drink up and return to camp. The word was a corruption of the Dutch phrase "Die den Tap toe!", lit. 'turn off your taps!'. By Marlborough's time it was beaten at sunset and '...in fortified places it is a signal for the inhabitants to come in before the gates are shut.'. Records show that it took a year's training to get a senior drummer ready for the battlefield, as he also had to learn how to drum on the march, during maneuvers and on the run. Quite an investment for a regiment, and a popular target for the enemy.

The beats centered around the following six:

A Call - Return to your unit (usually in battle). Also used for meetings.
A Troop or Parley- Shoulder your musket, close your ranks and file to order and/or troop with your officer.
A March - Shoulder your musket, open your order and march according to the beat of the drum.
A Preparative - Make ready for your first command.
A Charge - Press forward quickly, and dress forward over fallen comrade.
A Retreat - Retire backwards, either for relief or gaining ground or tricking the enemy into ambush.

Beats varied from regiment to regiment but were always based on the original written tune. Naturally there were many different marches and a drummer was expected to know them all. This also stopped boredom with the same beat. Even the drum roll was stylised, and drummers often tried to outdo each other.
Fifers helped by adding a tune to the drum beat. Modern experiments have shown that the fife is so shrill it can be heard above the noise of cannons and musket fire. Some of the above beats have distinctive fife tunes to go with them.

Roles - not just drummer
Drummers were an investment for a regiment, and were even paid the wages of a sergeant. This was because they had other duties to perform. They were men, not boys [a later development when drums lost their importance], were carefully selected on application, and had to be able to read and write. Many period drill books have entire chapters dedicated to the role of the drummer: He was chosen  not only for his '... exquisiteness and skillfulness in his Art and Instrument' , but for his aptitude in 'parleying', going across to the enemy lines and acting as a go between. To do this he had to be a person who was naturally discreet, and did not drink too much ale '...so that he circumvented others rather than himself be circumvented'. He had to be cunning and careful on entering the enemy's camp to observe warily their works, guards and sentinels, and be able to give an account of them when he returned. Not only that, he also had to be a good linguist '...and well seene in forraine languages'. Pleading ignorance of the other's language in a skillful manner helped to make the drummer a good spy. But he had to be careful - if he made it too obvious that he was spying he ran the risk of instant execution, and the return of his dismembered body stuffed in the drum, as a terrible warning...Above all he had to be an excellent diplomat as he was often used for negotiation, the release or exchange of prisoners or simply as a 'delivery boy' for terms and messages. On approach to the enemy he was to beat a parley to show his intentions on the smallest drum of the regiment, and he had to carry his message clearly pinned to his hat. He was to be polite at all times, regardless of the enemies' jeering, and refuse all alcohol and other temptations to prevent accidental revealing of plans.

Equally, the same drill books give instructions on how to handle an enemy drummer during parley: '...He must not be suffered to approach near the guards nor the ports until an Officer bee sent into him (who must be attended with a guard of musketeers), and having blind-folded him. He is to be conducted into the Campe to the General's Pavillion [tent], where a guard must pass on him, least he should discover the weakness of the Camp.' Soldiers were ordered that 'None shall speak with a Drum or Trumpet or any other sent by the Enemy without order upon pain of Punishment at discretion.'

Punishment and other duties
In 1680 the regimental police, the Provost-Marshals, were disbanded, not to be re-instated till George II time and the drummers were ordered to take on additional roles in the meting out of regimental discipline. It was decided that as drummers had strong, well developed arms they would make ideal candidates for the giving of floggings, something they were still doing in Napoleonic times. Soldiers quickly learned not to make an enemy of the drummers. One punishment that took place in most regiments at this time was the 'Running of the Gauntlet or Gatloup'. The culprit's sentence was to run up and down a line of musketeers bareback, while they hit him with [usually] their ramrods as hard as they could. The drummers played a fast-paced beat at either end of the line to drown out the victim's cries. This punishment could be almost as severe as flogging and was usually given for things such as sleeping on duty. Drummers too set up the wooden horse, a device of humiliation where the culprit was made to sit on a platform of sharp boards with his hands tied behind his back and his feet weighed down with muskets. A note was pinned to the back of the victim listing his 'crimes'. 
Even the duties of undertakers was instilled onto the drummers. Deserters and stragglers who dropped out of their line were routinely executed, to the sound of muffled drums. The drummers then helped remove the bodies. In 1688 Colonel Percy Kirke showed a more sinister side to drumming. Having been stationed at Tangiers before, he had quickly become a disturbed and brutal man after witnessing horrors that the Moors inflicted upon their captured enemies. After Sedgemoor he ordered a summary execution of men that were rounded up in nearby fields, by having them hanged at the gates of Bridgewater without a trial. A witness wrote:'...Observing their feet to quiver in the agonies of death, he [Kirke] cried that he would give them music to their dancing, and he immediately commanded the drums to beat and the trumpets to sound.'

Uniform
From the 1660's period onwards the drummer began to get a uniform decorated in a more flamboyant style, with some of the richer regiments paying up to 5 to kit them out, a year's wages to a labourer back in Britain. 
Here's a bill for a drummer's uniform:

Nine yards of red and of white Kersey, worsted  (fabric was only 20" wide then)         1s 8d
54 yards narrow worsted lace @  3d ha'penny a yard
Cloathing, Hat and Lace, Sewn'      2s 6d
Cap, Grenadiers                               14s
Sword & solid scabbard                      8s   
Shoulder belt                                     5s
Drum & case                            1 6s 6d
Drum sticks                                      2s
Shirts                                               2s
Cravatte                                            6d
White gaiters                                2s 3d
Black linnen ditto                          1s 7d
Linnen drawers                             2s 2d
Pair of shoes                                4s 8d
Pair of stockings                               2s
Knapsack and sling (leather)         2s 6d
Haversac  (canvas)                           1s
Garter buckle                                   4d
Leather garter                                   4d
Cocade  (ribbon)                               6d
Redcap and lining (fatigue hat)           5d

Uniforms were, underneath all the fancy lacing, the reverse of the regimental colours. In the case of Orkneys the coat would be white with red facings, with the lacing being red instead of white. Currently hat wear is causing a problem for some researchers. In some sources drummers wore tricorns, in others the early version of the Grenadiers hat, mainly to symbolize their high maneuverability just like the guards. One source mentions that during 1690-1715 drummers from all the 1st and royal regiments wore grenadier hats, while the ordinary foot regiments wore tricorns. Suffice it to say research is ongoing. In the case of the drummer in the bill above, he was issued a tricorn with cockade, a Grenadier's cap and a fatigue cap.

Variations
Drums varied in shape and size. The drum of the English Civil War and Marlborough's time was by 1770's slung on its side and became a bass drum, beating the left right foot beat. Military drums started off life in 1600's slung high under the arm, balancing on the top of the hip. By the 1690's the drum had reduced a little in size and was hung from the waist, to hang by the knee. The drum had four gut snares at the bottom to add a buzz that could be heard and 'felt', and a muffler of a strip of linen cloth placed underneath the skins  [found on surviving drums of the period] deepened the tone of the drum that also could be heard better. Dragoon regiments used drums to march to, and a mounted drummer at first used two small versions of infantry drums slung from the saddle. By Marlborough's time the kettledrum took over, and became prize objects to capture [which Marlborough's men did, from the French, at Blenheim]. Strangely, at ceremonial occasions the kettledrums were removed from the horse and carried on the back of a strong man, while the drummer marched behind and drummed. 
Marlborough commissioned the most bizarre drum corps for the Artillery, which consisted of a specially built carriage with two large infantry drums pulled by nags, to accompany the artillery as they towed the cannons into position. It was richly decorated and painted on the back with the Royal coat of arms. The French copied this and the carriage became the biggest prize for capture by both sides. Marlborough coffin was placed on one at his state funeral, a tradition that is still used today.

Modern re-enactment drummers enjoy meeting up and sharing drumbeats, as well as teaching those new to drumming, a 300 year old tradition kept alive today.


2002 - 2007 Lord Orkney's Regiment and M. Cotton

 No part may be reproduced without prior written permission of either the siteowner or Orkney's Regt or other copyright holders whose materials appear on these pages. The opinions contained herein are not necessarily those of the members of Orkneys Regt.

 
 

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