I Want A Piper, Too!

“We have heard nothing but bagpipes since we have been in the beautiful Highlands and I have become so fond of it that I mean to have a Piper, who can if you like it, pipe every night at Frogmore.”

Queen Victoria, in a letter to her mother.

Braemar Gathering. Scotland
Braemar Gathering. Scotland

The tradition of The Queen’s Piper dates back to Queen Victoria.  In 1842, Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert traveled to the Scottish Highlands.  It was her first visit; and like all those who see the Highlands for the first time, she was overwhelmed with the grandeur of the northern countryside.  The Royal Couple were the guests of the Marquess of Breadablane at Taymouth Castle which is located north-east of the village of Kenmore, Perth and Kinross.   The Marquess happened to have her own personal bagpiper, who was pleased to play for Queen Victoria.  From that moment on, Queen Victoria was determined to have one for her household.

One year later, in 1843, Angus MacKay became the first personal Piper to Queen Victoria.  Piper MacKay was a famed composer of pipe music who had published a volume of reels and strathspeys and a collection of piobaireachd music.  Piobaireachd is an art music classical genre associated with the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Victoria wasted no time in directing Piper MacKay in his duties. The bagpipes were heard every day after breakfast, at balls and other special events.   Piper MacKay was there at the formation of a cairn to honour Queen Victoria’s acquisition of Balmoral Estate in 1852.   It was the event of the season.  Queen Victoria noted that, while the cairn was being constructed, “some merry reels were danced on a stone opposite”.

Queen Victoria died in 1901.  At her funeral two personal pipers were present in the first stage of the procession.  Queen Victoria’s desire for the music of the bagpipes has become a tradition for successive monarchs of the British throne.

In 2008, my family traveled to Scotland.  A highlight was to attend the Braemar Gathering, when The Queen made a personal appearance.  Now, five years later, her son, HRH Prince Andrew attended the 150th annual Victoria Highland Games.  Queen Victoria seemed to understand that the world needed the Highland Bagpipes.

But there is much more to the bagpipe story…

 

Caber Tossing, Braemar Gathering
Caber Tossing, Braemar Gathering

31 Comments

  1. Hi Rebecca

    How lovely that you visited and loved Queen Victoria’s favourite place in all the world. We had a holiday near Balmoral a couple of years ago and were surprised to find how modest,comparatively, the castle was. Not at all what we expected from a monarchy that has accustomed to grand palaces! Queen Elizabeth 2, like her predecessor, loves Balmoral and decamps there for at least two months every summer for her holidays. And all of the traditions are maintained, including, of course, the pipes and drums. I am sure that Victoria and Albert would find nothing much changed if they were to drop in for tea!!

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    1. Clanmother says:

      When I was there, I felt I was in living history! I think Queen Victoria would be pleased to find nothing has changed! 🙂

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  2. billgncs says:

    I love the pipes, and have been graced to have a regiment practice near our old house, and another time to have played rugby at the Scottish games.

    The thing about the pipes to me is, that sound best from about two blocks away… 🙂

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Lucky you! And I agree, two blocks away is a perfect position. The first time I was at a bagpipe gathering they played the bagpipes inside. I didn’t have ear plugs! My ears rang for about 5 days. I have a fine set of ear plugs now!!! And I never forget them. 🙂

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      1. billgncs says:

        the pipes played for Wellington as they marched into cannon fire….

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      2. Clanmother says:

        Their moment of destiny.

        “Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.” Duke of Wellington

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      3. billgncs says:

        yes – another estimable fellow 🙂

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  3. My son is learning to play the bagpipes. He is going to Glasgow to study at the National Piping Center this summer.
    When I spoke to them at the Center I said, “I don’t know how my son who is half American, half Norwegian, got so interested in the bagpipes.”
    “It’s not the man who chooses the pipes, dear, it’s the pipes that choose the man.” Is what they answered. 🙂

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    1. Clanmother says:

      How very, very interesting! My son plays bagpipes, too! Neither my husband or I have any background in this music tradition. I have a feeling that our sons may meet one day! Several years ago, we travelled to Halifax, Nova Scotia and visited the “Citadel.” There was bagpipers playing constantly. That is when my son decided he would become a bagpiper. I got goosebumps when I read “it’s not the man who chooses the pipes….”

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      1. Yes, I guess our sons are kindred souls 🙂

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      2. Clanmother says:

        It is the call of the bagpipes! 🙂

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  4. Gallivanta says:

    And those bagpipes are in every corner of the world. Quite astonishing. I can’t imagine our city without the occasional sound of bagpipes.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I heard the Christchurch bagpipers! They are on YouTube! Fantastic!!!!

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      1. Gallivanta says:

        Which ones did you listen to? St Andrew’s College has a fine pipe band.

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      2. Clanmother says:

        That is the one!! This video was particularly moving!

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      3. Gallivanta says:

        Yes, brought a tear to my eye.

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  5. ladysighs says:

    The world needs traditions. Beautiful ceremonies that honor art and music and goodness.
    It does not need rituals of hate and prejudice and nonsense.
    ( sorry for the rant 😦 )

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I agree wholeheartedly! Keep on ranting… 🙂

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  6. cindy knoke says:

    I love biagpipes!!! But read somehere that Victoria’s morning pipes woke her guests early from their morning sleep!! LOL! Fun post & informative~

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Can you imagine waking up to the sound of bagpipes!!! I have a feeling that no one complained to the Queen! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  7. adinparadise says:

    A fascinating piece of history, Rebecca.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I agree! I am continually surprised by the wealth of narratives that are just within our reach if we look back into our history. Even our own! The way I see it, our lives are novel material!!!

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  8. This looks like so much fun! Men in skirts ! The best ever. What a great celebration.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      You would have loved every minute! Especially the sheep and duck herding. The dogs were in fine form!!! I was in the bag-piping sections so missed all the of the photo shots. Next year…

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  9. Ms Frances says:

    I would love to have a bagpipe wake me in the morning. I think bagpipes are becoming more popular. I am glad to hear that there are composers who are specializing in this type of music.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I agree! There was once a time that bagpipes were outlawed. The music had to go underground. And yet it survived!

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  10. You really must come back some time…..

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I would love to come back in 2014!!! All this reading about bagpipes has made me homesick…

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