Type: Chordophones > Composites > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.6
Era: 13th Century.
Area: Iberian Peninsula. Holy Roman Empire.
Country: France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, England & Germany.
Region: West Europe.
Description: The gittern was a relatively small gut stringed, bowl-backed lute. Who first appeared in literature and pectoral representation during the 13th century in Western Europe. This includes Iberian Peninsula [Spain and Portugal], Italy, France and England.
Etymology: It was also called the guiterna in Spain, guiterne or guiterre in France, the chitarra in Italy and quintern in Germany. A popular instrument with court musicians, minstrels, and amateurs, the gittern is considered an ancestor of the modern guitar and other instruments like the mandore, bandurria and gallichon.
Names in English: gittern, gittron, giterninge, giterne. John Playford’s A Booke of New Lessons for the Cithern & Gittern [published in London in 1652] may represent a response to the continued popularity of both instruments; although references to the gittern virtually disappear in England during the following century. The guitar that re-surfaces during the mid-1750s [referred to as English guitar or ‘guittar’], enjoying a wave of popularity that faded away in the 19th century.
It is an entirely different instrument related to later developments of the cittern. During the 14th century in Geoffrey Chaucer’s time. The ‘e’ that appears at the end of his English spelling ‘gyterne’ would have been pronounced. But following the great vowel shift – Playford’s gittern has lost the ‘e’ altogether. Although Wright’s work enabled identification of the medieval instrument. References to it in 16th century England are more ambivalent regarding structure – leading to the initial confusion identifying the citole. It seems reasonable French and Spanish fashions influenced the gittern during the time of Henry VIII as they did elsewhere.
Citations: Bibliography: Tyler, James ~ The Early Mandolin [January 1981] ISBN: 0-19-816302-9 . “The Mandore in the 16th and 17th Centuries” [PDF]. Early Music. 9 Retrieved 10 April 2019. …the small, lute-like instrument of the Middle Ages called, until recently, the ‘mandora’ by modern writers, was originally called the ‘gittern’…generally used for the small, four-course, renaissance guitar, but it was still also occasionally used [until well into the 17th century] for the instrument which, during the 16th century, became known as the ‘mandore’. it is to the Spaniard Juan Bermudo that we must turn… in his Declaration de instrumentos , Bermudo speaks of the bandurria. Meucci, Renato “Da ‘chitarra italiana’ a ‘chitarrone’: una nuova interpretazione”. Enrico Radesca da Foggia e il suo tempo: Atti del Convegno di studi, Foggia, 7-8 Aprile 2000. pp. 30–57. ISBN 978-887096347-2. Websites: