is as crude and primitive to-day as it was in the days
of the Romans ; and common sense surely asserts
that the Piper's skill could only keep pace with the
improvement of the instrument, and was of no mush-
room growth, nor the work of one generation, but
Let those therefore, who argue that the Bagpipe
is a late introduction in the Highlands explain the
post of king's Piper, already instituted in the four-
teenth century, and explain how Poibaireachd, that
most complicated and classical species of music, was
so speedily evolved, by the early Piper in the High-
lands, out of his new-fangled Pipe — almost as soon,
indeed, as he had fingered the chanter.
AND THE BAGPIPE. 259
Captain Burt's story, mentioned previously, is so
apropos to the Piper and his claim to the title of
musician, that we quote it here in full.
The incident mentioned happened about 1720,
nearly 200 years ago.
•' The captain of one of the Highland companies,"
writes the gallant Englishman, "entertained me
some time ago at Stirling with an account of a dispute
tha'- happened in his corps about precedency. This
officer, among the rest, had received orders to add
a drum to his Bagpipe as a military instrument ; for
the Pipe was to be retained, because the Highland-
men could hardly he brought to march without it.
Now the contest between the drummer and the piper
arose about the post of honour, and at length the
contention grew exceedingly hot, which the captain
having notice of, he called them both before him,
and in the end decided the matter in favour of the
drum, whereupon the piper remonstrated very warmly
— " Ads wuds, sir," says he, " and shall a little rascal
that beats upon a sheepskin take the right haund of
me, that am a musician!"
The two jolly captains, one or both English, made
merry over the piper's claim to be called a musician,
because they were ignorant of the history of the
piper, and of the long and severe training he had to
submit to before he became a finished piper. Other-
wise they must have known that the piper had
authority and custom on his side. The piper, at all
events, was not afraid to remonstrate warmly with
his superior officer on the injustice of the decision
26o SOME REMINISCENCES
come to : he respected himself if no one else did,
and carried his head high accordingly.
Six or seven hundred years ago, we learn from old
records, the piper belonged to the Guild of Min-
strelsy. And why was he admitted to this close
corporation ? Because he was a musician ! On two
occasions, at least, history informs us that the king's
permission was granted to his piper to go over the
seas to study music.
This guild was a very powerful body, with
branches all over Europe.
It had courts, appointed by royal charter, at the
different centres ; these being managed by regular
The head officer was called Le Roi, or king, and
he was assisted by four officers.
These courts had jurisdiction over the members,
dealing out fines and imprisonments, and the mem-
bers could elect to be tried by these courts for any
misdemeanours short of murder or serious crime.
They were elected every year with great ceremony,
and existed down to the end of the seventeenth
Many privileges were granted by successive
sovereigns to the members of this guild, until it
became overweaning in its pride. The heads of the
order always rode on horseback, and had each a
servant to carry his instrument, whether harp. Bag-
pipe, viol, crowd, or fiddle, as the case might be.
Large sums of money were given to them when
they had to appear at court in connection with some
AND THE BAGPIPE. 261
great function, such as a royal marriage ; and many
enjoyed annuities from the king.
They had the right of entry into the king's palace,
and — by implication — into the knight's castle, and
claimed as a right both meat and drink and a bed
from gentle or simple wherever they went.
There are many entries in the Exchequer Rolls of
Scodand which shew that English pipers frequently
appeared before the king at Linlithgow Palace and
Some people have arguod from this that the Bag-
pipe was not much known in Scotland, or there
would be no need for English pipers at the Scottish
court. But these frequent appearances simply shew
that, although Englishmen, yet, as members of the
Guild of Minstrelsy, these pipers claimed, and were
not denied, *'the right of entering into the king's
palace." And the Scottish minstrels as frequently
returned the compliment by visiting the English
The leading members of the guild — for there were
graduations of rank, all of which were known by their
dress — were distinguished by a specially beautiful
short mantle and hood made of the finest materials,
and embellished in the most extravagant manner
with rich embroideries.
One writer, a poet, who was evidently left out in
the cold by the guild, and jealous in consequence,
advises knights to dress more plainly, as in their fine
feathers they are apt to be mistaken for minstrels.
262 SOME REMINISCENCES
" Now Ihei beth disgysed
So diverselych i-dig-ht,
That no man may know
A mynstrel from a knight
Well my :
So is meekness fait a down
And pride aryse on hye."
The pride here complained of by the poor poet was
soon to have a fall, when, unfortunately for him, the
ranks of the starving poets would be still further
augmented ; but not just yet.
It took many repressive enactments by successive
sovereigns before the once powerful guild was
stripped of power and pride of place.
On one occasion, at least, a minstrel rode into the
royal presence unmolested. Here is the statement of
"When Edward II. this year (1316) solemnised the
Feast of Pentecost, and sat at table in the great hall
of Westminster, attended by the peers of the realm,
a certain woman dressed in the habit of a minstrel^
riding on a great horse ^ trapped in the minstrel
fashion^ entered the hall, and going round the several
tables, acting the part of a minstrel, at length mounted
the steps to the royal table, on which she deposited
a letter. Having done this, she turned her horse,
and saluting all the company, she departed." On
the doorkeepers being remonstrated with for admit-
ting a lady, they replied "that it never was the custom
of the king's palace to deny admission to minstrels,
especially on such high solemnities and feast days."
The minstrel's cloak and the minstrel's trappings
AND THE BAGPIPE. 263
on the horse evidently rendered the bold rider
inviolate, etiquette assenting.
We also read in an early Irish record, of date 1024,
that " the piper in Ireland had the right of entry into
the king's house by night or day, and the privilege of
drinking of the king's beer."
In the Scottish Exchequer Rolls there are numerous
payments to pipers and other minstrels, not always
princely in amount ; and an idea has got abroad that
these pipers were badly paid.
I have said before that they were better paid than
were the priests, and the following account shews
how handsomely the minstrel was paid at times, and
how high he stood in the esteem of the great and
In the year 1290, two of England's royal daughters
got married — one in May, the other in July.
To both ceremonies came minstrels from many
countries, playing upon many instruments.
On the first occasion 426 minstrels attended, includ-
ing three " Roys," or kings — viz., King Grey of
England, King de Champaigne from France, and
King Cawpenny from Scotland.
The bridegroom presented a sum equal to ;^i500
of our money to be distributed among the minstrels,
each of the kings receiving ;^50 as his share.
On the second occasion there were six kings.
These included our three friends above mentioned,
now designated as " Le Roy Robert," **Le Roy de
Champaigne," and *' Le Roy Cawpenny" — the latter
a characteristic name surely for a Scotchman. Each
264 SOME REMINISCENCES
of the six kings received the same sum again of
In all, on this occasion some ;^3000 of our money
was distributed amongst the minstrels.
Now, many people always associate the harp, and
the harp alone, with the minstrel ; but the term is a
generic one, and means a musician — a musician of
The word "harper," in the same way, grew in
time to mean any musician ; and so the harper's seat
in Mull, and the harper's croft : and the harper's
window at Duntulin, in Skye, probably applied
equally well to the piper or the fiddler, and does not
necessarily mean that harpers, as distinguished from
pipers or fiddlers, filled these seats.
In England, of course, the harp, which was an
Anglo-Saxon instrument, and the favourite one, was
the constant companion of the minstrel there, and thus
got so closely associated with his calling in people's
minds that minstrel and harper became synonymous
terms. And the following three incidents, which I
mention to shew the great immunity accorded to the
minstrel in the olden times by friend and foe alike,
and which happened to the Saxon, centre naturally
round the Saxon weapon, the harp.
Every one is familiar with the story of King Alfred
and the harp? of how he once played the harper or
minstrel, and passed through the Danish camp in his
disguise, unmolested ; and of how afterwards he
turned to good account the secrets which he picked
up from the Danes.
AND THE BAGPIPE. 265
But there is a much earlier instance of the same
kind, which occurred somewhat as follows, about
Colgrin, the leader of the Saxons, was besieged by
the British in the town of York.
He had agreed to surrender on a certain day if no
help came to him, as the water supply had been cut
off, and the food supplies were running terribly short,
and he had all but lost hope of some expected
At this juncture his brother, who was the bearer of
news from the outside, came boldly up to the British
lines, having first, however, '■^shaved his head and
face, and assumed the minstrel's cloak." In this
disguise he passed up and down through the British
lines singing and playing to the unsuspecting
soldiers. When night arrived he got into the moat
and played an air, which was immediately under-
stood by the soldiers inside the fortifications. By
means of ropes he was lifted over the wall, and gave
his brother the joyful news that reinforcements were
on the way, and would be at the gates in three
All idea of surrender was then over, and the British
had ultimately to raise the siege. This story would
lead one to infer that the minstrel in the fifth century
shaved in a peculiar fashion to distinguish him from
the common crowd, as well as wore the minstrel's
The third incident is perhaps better known, because
of the flavour of romance with which the two central
266 SOME REMINISCENCES
figures are surrounded. The story of Blondel's suc-
cessful adventure in quest of King Richard has
always been a favourite tale with the English people.
During one of the many wars waged by England on
the Continent, Richard was taken prisoner, and his
captors managed to smuggle him away so secretly that
none of his friends, although they hunted "'high and
low," could learn of his whereabouts. His faithful
minstrel continued the search after all the rest had
given up hope of ever finding the king. With his
harp for sole companion, he visited every keep and
stronghold on the road, and under the frowning walls
of each he sang always the first verse of a song which
had been a favourite of the imprisoned monarch, and
waited often and wearily for the reply, which seemed
as if it would never come. But one day — the day of
days it was ever after to the brave and patient Blondel
— out through barred window floated the second verse
of the song in the well-known and beloved voice of
his lord and master ; and the faithful harper's search
was at an end.
This story shews that the minstrel's cloak was a
protection to its wearer in foreign countries, as well
as at home ; and as far back as history goes we find
the same sense of security nestling under its xg'is,
and the same honour and respect accorded the
wearer of it.
These three stories — and I could give many more
such — point to the delight with which music inspired
the early inhabitants of these islands ; but nothing
can shew how great was the respect accorded to the
AND THE BAGPIPE. 267
musician in those days better than the story of
Blondel, which also demonstrates that the enemy's
country, and even the enemy's camp, /;/ times of war ^
were open to the visits of the man with the shaved
head and the minstrel's cloak.
But, again, the minstrel took a much higher stand-
ing in the estimation of the people than the priest;
and we have seen that he was better paid. It was in
these early days that the seed of strife was sewn
between piper and priest, as the priest naturally grew
jealous of the attentions paid the piper. When the
glory passed away from the guild, and its member-
ship no longer protected the piper, and he was classed
with the "vagabond," then did the priest, who was
rapidly acquiring fresh power, and a big hold over
the people, do everything in his power to stamp out
the poor musician who had so long robbed him of
And what the Roman Catholic priest began so
well in the South in the fifteenth century, the
Free Church priest in the Highlands finished
handsomely in the nineteenth century; so that it is
no uncommon experience to meet with Highlanders
to-day in Argyleshire and Inverness-shire — I speak
of the two counties which I know best — who shut
their ears in horror (or pretended horror !) — at the
sound of the Bagpipe, and call the piper "a bad
man." So much for the teaching of the Free
Church. This may seem an exaggerated statement
to make, but it is, alas ! sober truth, to which
many can testify, and is in accord with my own
268 SOME REMINISCENCES
experience, gained during many holiday wanderings
through the Highlands and Islands.
Only last June I was staying in one of the smaller
Western Islands, and there I became acquainted with
one, Mrs M'Phee, a decent, God-fearing woman,
albeit a little gloomy and severe, and with Highland
manners which could not be improved upon, who
looked after our golf clubs. On the last day of my
stay in the island, feeling that the modest fee charged
by her for cleaning the clubs was rather less than
her due, I took my Bagpipe, and accompanied by
a friend, started off to walk to her house, which was
almost two miles from the hotel.
She lived in a very lonely spot, with no neigh-
bours near, and I felt sure that a tune on the
"Pipes" would be welcome, and would cheer her
up a bit. When I told her of my mission, she —
to my utter amazement — told me that she did not
want to hear the "Pipes." "No! no! whateffer."
At first I believed that she was only bashful, and
began to play, but she soon undeceived me by her
behaviour, and shewed that she was in deadly
earnest. Her face grew black as night, and the
children, who crowded behind her, as she stood in
the doorway and struggled to get a peep at the
" piper," she drove back into the house with strong
Gaelic epithets. While I struggled along, piping
under these adverse circumstances, Mrs M'Phee
entered into a long and earnest talk with my friend,
paying no attention whatever to poor me.
My performance otherwise was received with
AND THE BAGPIPE. 269
chilly silence, and when I had finished there was
not one word of thanks forthcoming. It was not
in the cheeriest of moods that I walked to the
links for my last game, and on the road, Mr
repeated the conversation that he had had with
Mrs M'Phee, or rather which Mrs M'Phee had had
with him, for she did all the talking, the while I
inwardly blessed the cause of it all.
She told him that she did not approve of the Bag-
pipes, or of any secular music '' whateffer," and
looked upon all such as part of the devil's wiles
to draw away people's thoughts from heaven, and
all that sort of thing. And she finished off with
a very pointed rebuke to myself, saying, as she
watched me fearfully out of the corner of her eye,
'* My father was a great piper, oh yes ; and he won
many prizes, and he played on the ' Pipes ' until
six years before his death, whe7i he became a good
man, and destroyed his * Pipes ^^ and I don't want
any of my children to learn them. The eldest one
— ah! Bheist!'" — this to the boy as she caught him
looking over her shoulder and listening, " he is too
fond of the chanter already." It was heart-breaking
to me to find such prejudice and fanaticism in
the Highlands, the old home of the Bagpipe :
its innocent music condemned as ungodly ; its
cheery companionship refused ; the piper shunned
as a leper.
I often wonder how Mrs M'Phee's children amuse
themselves in that lonely spot during the dark and
idle winter months, and think how much brighter
270 SOME REMINISCENCES
the house would be for an occasional tune on the
Fond of music as these children are, what sub-
stitute does the Free Church mean to provide for
them when they leave home and become dwellers
in the great city with its "sins and sorrows?"
Once free to follow the bent of their own fancy,
music they will have, and in that day will music
of the Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay type be as healthy, or as
good for them, as that which their own Church
denied them at home ?
I said before, that the Priest gave the Piper a
bad name once, and in some places it has evidently
stuck to him ever since. He called them " Profli-
gates, low-bred buffoons, who blew up their cheeks
and contorted their persons, and played on harps,
trumpets, and pipes for the pleasure of their lords,
and who, moreover, flattered them by songs and
ballads, for which their masters are not ashamed"
— this is evidently the sore point ! — " to repay these
ministers of the Prince of Darkness with large sums
of gold and silver, and rich embroidered robes. ^
At times the piper did his best to earn this sorry
character ; but the old proverb, *' As drunk as a
piper," is, I think, misread. It came into existence
in an age when the piper was a gentleman — as the
Highland Clan piper always was — and it only meant
that a piper could get as drunk as a gentleman, or
get drunk, and still be a gentleman. In other
words, that he could always play, stopping short in
his drinking before the maudlin stage was reached.
AND THE BAGPIPE. 271
*• As fou as a fiddler," on the other hand, meant
the beastial form of drunkenness, of which no gentle-
man ever could be guilty. The old Crovvder, in
short, never was a gentleman, and did not know
how to drink genteelly. He was a sot, and kept on
swilling as long as a drop of liquor was left, or
until the fiddle dropped through his listless fingers.
I speak, of course, of the old days, long since gone,
when the Guild was breaking up. From my own
small experience of pipers and piping, I can bear
testimony to the fact that drinking and piping go
very badly together ; and the piper who drinks im-
moderately has no reputation to lose, for he cannot
win at competitions. There is a story told by Mr
Manson which seems to contradict this : —
William M 'Donald, a well-known piper in his day,
could play, drunk or sober, " so well," to quote this
writer, "even when rivals had given him too much
drink, that he always got a prize at competitions."
I could not understand this at all, because in my own
case, a single glass of beer or wine puts my fingers
out in piping, and I was therefore more than pleased
to learn from Mr John M 'Donald, of Inverness —
himself one of the finest Pibroch players of the day —
that the story is not true.
William M 'Donald, who was his uncle, was not
born in Badenoch as Mr Manson says, and he was
a life-long teetotaller; so that the story of his brother
pipers making him drunk is a libel on both parties.
The story of Wm. M 'Donald's son, who was piper
to the Prince of Wales, giving up his situation and
272 SOME REMINISCENCES
burning his Bagpipe from religious scruples — as the
good Mr M'Phee did — is, I believe, quite true. Of
course, there were always pipers and pipers. When
the Guild of Minstrelsy was at length suppressed,
the pipers in the South, in common with the
Harpers, were denounced as vagabonds, and were
liable to be whipped, and to be put in the stocks
for following what had hitherto been a respectable
and strictly legal calling, and in this way they
were forced to herd with tlie lower classes, who
were themselves outside the pale of society — often,
even, outside of the law, but who sheltered and
favoured the poor musicians, and it is no wonder
that the character of the latter rapidly degenerated.
But the Clan Piper, not exposed to such de-
grading surroundings, maintained his dignity and
his character of gentleman to the last ; and
never, above all, forgot that he was a musician. He
never gave himself up to riotous living, or to
beggary, like the crowd of disrobed minstrels, and
his descendants to-day, I am proud to say, main-
tain well, on the whole, the old character of
"musician and gentleman," so worthily held by their
THE BAGPIPE IN SCOTLAND.
'T^HERE are more frequent references to the Bag-
pipe in Early England than in Early Scotland,
not because the Pipe was first introduced into
England, but because English records were made
earlier, and are fuller and more complete, and were
better preserved, as M'Bain says, than Scottish
Scotland was too much occupied with the sword
in her young days to take up the pen, and perhaps
with nation-making on hand, she had too little
leisure ; her early scholars also thought the small
details of everyday life too trivial to be recorded,
and in this way the Bagpipe was neglected, and
the historians of England stole a march upon her.
Indeed, but for the fact, firstly, that a Welshman
in the twelfth century — who visited Scotland with the
express object of studying its musical system — wrote
a book, giving a list of the musical instruments used
by the Scots ; and, secondly, that the expenses of the
274 SOME REMINISCENCES
Royal Household in the fourteenth century were
jotted down and preserved in the old exchequer rolls,
we would be without any certain proof to-day that
the Bagpipe was known in Scotland before the middle
of the fifteenth century, when M'Vurich, the bard,
reviled it in song ; and the claim of those who say
" it came, of course, from England into Scotland,"
would be as strong now as it is weak, and would be
much more difficult to disprove by men who, like
myself, believe in the Celtic origin of the Bagpipe.
The history of the Bagpipe in Scotland is similar
to its history elsewhere in Celtdom : it is a story of
gradual progress from small beginnings.
The historian who first mentions the Pipe in
Panonnia agrees, in his description of the instrument,
with the writer who first describes the Pipe in
Scotland, although fifteen hundred years separate
The early Bagpipe in both countries was found to
consist of a simple reed and bladder ; and out of this
little Pipe the Great War Pipe of the Highlands has
been slowly, but surely, evolved. We in the south
did not get it put into our hands a ready-made instru-
ment of one drone, nor did the Highlander in the
north begin with the " Great Pipe" of two drones, as
the Inverness School asserts. The little Bagpipe of
"ane reid and ane bleddir," the original Pipe of the
Celt, survived alongside of its more powerful and
useful offspring, the Drone Bagpipe, almost to our
own day ; and in 1548 the author of the " Complaynt
of Scotland" places this little Pipe second in a list of
AND THE BAGPIPE. 275
seven instruments well known to the Scottish peasant
of that period.
The first instrument on the list — in order of merit
and popularity, I presume — is a Drone Bagpipe; the
second is "a Bagpipe of ane reid and ane bleddir;"
the third is the Jew's Harp or Trump, an instrument
very common in my young days ; and the seventh is
There is no mention of the harp whatever, which is
surely strange if the harp were in such universal use
among the common people as recent writers would
have us believe ; and the Fiddle — Sir A. C.
M'Kenzie's Scotch Fiddle — comes in a bad seventh.
There is an old tradition still in existence, which the
poet Burns heard at Stirling and elsewhere, that the
Pipe was played at Bannockburn, and for believing