CHAPTER 3: History to 1800 > Later Renaissance - 16th century

Illustrations - 7 of 10

fig. 41: from a psalter written by John Mallard for Henry VIII in the latter part of his reign.

BL Royal ms, 2Axvi, fo.98v, by courtesy of the British Library Board

The dulcimer in Henry VIII's psalter (fig. 41) is the first example discovered of a case with an attached lid, rather finely-painted. Although cases are not rare, the instrument is usually taken out of it to be played; one 20th century Derbyshire model was also an integral part of its case, however: see fig. 152.

The instruments illustrated can readily be identified with those mentioned in the text, which is psalm 80 in the Vulgate translation; fig. 41 shows the first two verses, and the third is also relevent to the illustration:

"buccinate in neomenia tuba in insigni die solemnitatis vestrae" (172).

A contemporary translation into English is provided by Miles Coverdale's 1535 translation of the psalms (173). There 'Tympanum' is rendered as 'tabret' (illustrated together with the pipe it commonly accompanied, particularly for dance music, although the latter is not mentioned in the psalm, of course); 'psalterium' is translated and illustrated as 'harp', 'tuba' as 'trumpet'.

The latter is referred to separately, in verse 3, 'blow up the trumpet in the new moon', which is perhaps why its player is shown facing away from the other players but towards the skies, where the new-moon might be seen.

That the artist should illustrate 'cithara' ('lute' according to Coverdale) as a dulcimer might seem strange. until one realises that there were many interpretations of such names, and little or no agreement as to which 'modern' instruments (if any) corresponded to those of antiquity; although Sternhold and Hopkins agreed with Coverdale in giving 'lute', the Authorised Version of the Bible, for instance, has 'psaltery', a name scarcely current in 1611; and, as can be seen from the discussion of misconceptions surrounding a dulcimer in antiquity (chapter 7, section 17), the name 'dulcimer' has been considered an appropriate alternative for a variety of exotic names when the instruments to which they were applied were unknown.