“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.
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…