• From the June 2001 Piping Times.

More on the office of Sovereign’s Piper with excerpts from the previously published article by Neville T. McKay and from a book by the late Duke of Windsor

William Ross was succeeded by James Campbell, who had been appointed in 1881 to replace James McHardy. Campbell was a native of Kintail who had served seven years in Ross’s former regiment, The Black Watch, with active service in the Ashanti Expedition in West Africa in 1873. He was now asked to recommend an assistant and with some diffidence he proposed his nephew, William Campbell who had been placed second in the Gold Medal at Inverness the previous year and was piper to Major Allenby at Ardrishaig. He was 20 years of age, unmarried and a teetotaller.

James Campbell, third Sovereign's Piper.
James Campbell, third Sovereign’s Piper.

The Queen confirmed James Campbell’s appointment at £100 ($170US) per year, and his nephew William received £55 ($90US). In 1885 James Campbell’s salary was raised by a further £10 and William received £5 extra a year for looking after the Queen’s dogs. In 1887 William competed at Inverness and won the Highland Society’s Gold Medal.

James Campbell provided some memoirs after his retirement and described his first duty in 1881 as playing the pipes during the Queen’s breakfast. In 1891 he records that she presented him with a silver-mounted set of pipes commissioned from the MacDougall’s of Aberfeldy, with the royal coat of arms in silver on the chanter stock. This instrument is still in the possession of the Campbell family. Campbell’s memoirs also give a description of one of the tableaux that the Queen liked to create at Balmoral for the entertainment of her guests. Several times during the chaste season the day’s kill of stags was displayed in front of the castle, a bonfire and torches would be lit, and the guests danced the Reel of Tulloch to the pipes. Campbell learned to wear his oldest tunic on these occasions because of the hazards of burning embers!

When the Queen died at Osborne on the Isle of Wight in January 1901, both James and William Campbell took part in the first stage of her funeral procession. They walked in front of the gun carriage and played The Dirge of the Black Watch and Flowers of the Forest. As the entries in her journal demonstrate, the Queen had a genuine affection for the Highland bagpipe and for what she perceived as Highland custom and Highland people. It is ironic that the plight of the true Gaels who were being evicted from their homelands during her reign should have failed to impress her. In correspondence with the Home Secretary over agitation for land reform in Skye in the 1880s, she told him that it would never do to encourage the crofters in “their wild and impossible demands, the result to a great extent of Irish agitators’ persistent preaching of sedition”. During a visit to Dunrobin Castle in 1872 she admired a statue of James Loch, architect of the infamous Sutherland clearances, and at the same time commended the playing of the Duke’s piper whose music was the last vestige of the culture that had been destroyed. At least it can be said that her example encouraged the retention of pipers on these estates, and several of the most distinguished performers, who were regarded as bearers of the traditional knowledge from the previous century, were employed by the royal family and their friends. In addition, the social season on Deeside in the 1860s brought together such men as William MacDonald, piper to the Prince of Wales, his brother Alexander, piper to the Duke of Fife, and James Farquharson, piper (and physician) to the Duke of Edinburgh. All these men had received their training in the intricacies of piobaireachd through the pupils of Angus MacKay’s father, linking them to the last of the MacCrimmon teachers on Skye.

On the estates neighbouring Balmoral, Alexander Cameron at Aboyne had a similar background and George MacDonald at Invercauld was a pupil of the Bruces, another famous Skye family.

The proximity of these men helped reinforce a particular style of ornamentation which became the standard, and their influence may have been enhanced by their social environment. Thus it can be seen that Queen Victoria’s patronage played a positive part in preserving piobaireachd.

The period which followed her death saw significant changes in the presentation of pipe music on royal occasions. Edward VII had already employed a piper when he was Prince of Wales and on the succession he retained the services of James Campbell, who served throughout the reign.

William Campbell had left the royal service in 1901 and no further appointment of second piper was made. It became the practice however, to employ one or two pipers as gamekeepers on the Balmoral estate, and they would join the King’s piper in playing a march around the table in the evening.

When George V ascended to the throne in 1910 he retained the services of Pipe Major Henry Forsyth who had come to him on retirement from the Scots Guards five years previously. The King demonstrated his interest in piping in a number of ways. By 1919 there were five qualified pipers employed as estate workers at Balmoral who were equipped to play with Forsyth in the evening after dinner. The following is an extract from the book A King’s Story by the late Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, which tells of Forsyth’s service …

Henry Forsyth leads the royal children in some drill.
Henry Forsyth leads the royal children in some drill.

“Another thing that I remember about our move to Marlborough House was the entrance into my father’s service of two Scots – Henry Forsyth and Findlay Cameron. Kilted retainers had been a Household tradition in the Royal Family ever since Queen Victoria’s and the Prince Consort’s first joyous discovery of the Highlands. My grandfather had had a kilted valet as well as a piper who awakened him in the morning with the skirl of the pipes and who sometimes, if there were guests, marched around the table playing Highland tunes. Now that my father had in his turn become Prince of Wales he carried on this tradition by engaging two veterans of the Boer War recently discharged from the Army. Forsyth had been a pipe major in the Scots Guards, which is to say he had risen to warrant rank and become the senior piper in one of the battalions. He had been born in Edinburgh in humble circumstances, and I recall my surprise when he told me one day that when he was my age he had never worn shoes even in winter.

“Every morning just before eight, carrying his pipes, the kilted Forsyth appeared in the garden under my father’s window. On the stroke of the hour the morning silence would be rent by the skirl of a Scottish march while the piper strode back and forth playing under my father’s window. My father took this reveille for granted, but I always thought that it was a trial to my mother, who no doubt felt there were gentler ways of being roused to the day’s obligations.

“Cameron was a different sort. He came, I believe, from Inverness-shire, the home of the clan whose name he bore; and he had seen 21 years service appropriately enough with the famous regiment, the 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. He had fought in the Sudan and South Africa and was reputed to possess more medals than any other British soldier of his day. Robust and erect of figure, with a ruddy complexion and an imposing handlebar moustache, he became a footman; and, when dressed in his kilted livery with his row of medals banked on his left chest, he seemed in our youthful eyes the undoubted hero of many wars. This awed impression was one that Cameron himself never attempted to minimise.

“He had an endless fund of hair-raising stories about his personal exploits; his accounts of hand-to-hand fights with ‘fuzzy-wuzzies’, or of desperate last stands when he shot it out with the Boers were masterpieces of self-glorification. In time my mother was to suspect Cameron carried the Scotsman’s well-known preference for whisky to a point that made him a dubious example for impressionable young princes.

“Understandably he never became altogether the model footman. I well recall an occasion when, either through inattention or else as a result of having perhaps imbibed a trifle more than the usual customary nip of his favourite restorative, he tripped as he entered the dining-room, catapulting across the room a large ham that missed one of the guests by inches.

“Happily, we children were oblivious of the minor blemishes that may have marred Cameron as a servant. To Bertie [the duke’s brother] and me he and Forsyth personified all that was exciting and stimulating in the world outside the quiet purlieus of Sandringham and the walled garden of Marlborough House. When we were in London, nothing open to Bertie and me could equal the thrill of watching with Forsyth and Cameron the Changing of the Guard. Forsyth taught us to salute the Colour as it was carried by. The picturesque ceremony filled us with admiration; Cameron was inspired to organise Mary [the duke’s sister], Bertie and me into a squad. Armed with wooden guns, we paraded every morning with Cameron in the role of drill sergeant and Forsyth marching ahead playing his pipes.”

• This series concludes next month.

• Part 4 HERE.
• Part 1 HERE.
• Part 2 HERE.