The stories of Queen Victoria’s pipers are well known and there is no need to repeat them here, but there were several more pipers, perhaps less well known, who were employed by other members of Queen Victoria’s family. The young queen’s visit to Taymouth and her enchantment with the piping of John Ban Mackenzie is usually given as the reason for her wish to have a piper in her household. This was followed by the appointment of Angus MacKay but less well known is the fact that Angus’s older brother had been in the Royal service for some time and as a child Victoria had often heard him play at Kensington Palace where she grew up.

John MacGregor

The first piper to be associated with the Queen’s family was John MacGregor. We first hear of him at the Edinburgh competition in 1792 when he was awarded the third prize, being described as a boy twelve years of age son of Patrick MacGregor piper to Edradour. He obtained the second prize in 1798, when again he was described as the son of Patrick MacGregor. By 1806, when he won the first prize, he was employed as piper, pipe‑maker and flute‑maker to the Highland Society of London. During his time in London he was also piper to HRH the Duke of Sussex and had a flourishing business as a pipe maker. In addition, he was Pipe Major to the Loyal North Britons, a volunteer corps formed in London, which existed from 1803 to 1813 and of which the Duke of Sussex was the commandant.

Angus MacKay wrote in his 1838 account of the 1781 Falkirk competition: “The judges almost unanimously awarded the first prize to Patrick MacGregor, Piper to Henry Balnaves Esq. of Adradour, in the parish of Mullin and county of Perth”, added a note that “Although this Piper wanted almost the whole third finger of the upper hand (on the chanter,) yet he managed his pipes with the greatest dexterity; he used the little finger instead, and was known by the appellation of Patrick Na Coraig. This man’s son became Piper to His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, Earl of Strathearn, and officiated with great applause at the meetings of the Highland Society of London, he died suddenly from apoplexy.”

The Duke of Kent was Edward 1767-1820, fourth son of George III. After education and military training in Germany he was appointed a General and commander-in-chief of British forces in the Maritime Provinces of North America. Edward was the first member of the royal family to live in North America for more than a short visit (1791–1800) and, in 1794, the first prince to enter the United States (travelling to Boston on foot from Lower Canada) after independence. In 1818 he married Victoria, daughter of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, a widow with two children. His only legitimate child, later to be Queen Victoria, was born in 1819.

John MacGregor was probably the writer of the Highland Society of London manuscript of piobaireachd, which was dictated by Angus MacArthur shortly before he died. Reports of the Highland Society describe John as officiating with great applause at their meetings. He died suddenly from apoplexy on the January 1, 1822, after playing at a dinner given by the Highland Society. His obituary notice appeared in the Edinburgh Magazine: “1822 Jan 1 in London, Mr John MacGregor, the celebrated Scottish piper, in consequence of having fallen down a stair in the residence of Mr John Wedderburne in the Albany, where he had been exercising his professional talents for the entertainment of a party. Mr MacGregor was a native of the Highlands of Perthshire, and one of the Clann is Iain Sgeulish, distinguished from time immemorial as pipers. His father, Peter MacGregor, who is still living at Fortingall, gained the first prize pipe ever given by the Highland Society of London, when the competition of pipers was held at Falkirk. The deceased, while yet very young, accompanied his father to London, and such was his proficiency in his profession that he was soon after appointed piper to the Highland Society of London, and to his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex. In passing through Perth last season, on his return from the Highlands for London, he was prevailed on to give a concert under the patronage of the Perth Gaelic Society in the Salutation Hall. Although the entertainment had scarcely been twenty four hours advertised, Mr MacGregor had a pretty good house, and all who heard him were delighted at his superior execution upon the Great Highland Bagpipe, Union Pipe, Flageolet and German Flute.”

The Duke of Sussex was Augustus Frederick (1773-1843) the sixth son of George the Third. He was a younger brother of George IV and William IV and uncle of Queen Victoria. A closer look at his career reveals why he might have had an interest in piping. While travelling in Italy, Augustus met Lady Augusta Murray (1761–1830), the second daughter of the 4th Earl of Dunmore. The couple secretly married in Rome on April 4, 1793. On returning to England the couple were married again in London later in 1793, using their own names but not revealing their full identities. The marriage was in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act so was annulled in 1794, but despite attempts to split them up the couple remained together. They split up officially in 1801 when Augustus was created Duke of Sussex and given a parliamentary grant of £12,000 per year. Augusta received £4,000 per year and retained custody of their children. Lady Augusta Murray’s family, the Earls of Dunmore, were known as supporters of piping.  The 4th Earl was fond of the bagpipe and this was so well known at the time even as far south as Hampshire. On the April 15, 1776, the Hampshire Chronicle featured an extract from a letter written from York on April 4. This said: “A gentleman of this city, who is fond of Scotch musick, and has a servant who plays on the bagpipes, sent to Edinburgh to a famous maker there for a pair to be made immediately, to which he received for answer that he had five hundred pair to make for Government, and till they were finished he could not possibly set about any other work. The gentleman says, he cannot imagine what the use of them can be for; unless they are to be sent with proper persons to play on them, to Lord Dunmore (who is fond of that melody) in order to encourage the Savages to enter with more alacrity at the King’s standard, and afterwards join in a Scotch reel against the American Christians, who always had a dislike to that musick, having been always famed for their love of constitutional freedom and liberty.” The Earl had served with the army but left in 1756 when he succeeded to the title. In 1771 he was appointed governor of New York and in 1771 governor of Virginia.

Donald MacKay Sr.

Donald MacKay senior was born in 1794 and was the brother of Angus MacKay and eldest son of John MacKay, Raasay and Margaret MacLean who had ten children. At the 1820 competition, Donald was awarded third prize and was described as piper to James MacLeod Esq. of Raasay. In 1821 he was awarded second prize, as piper to R.C. MacDonald Esq. of Clanranald. The following year 1822, he won first prize, the Prize Pipe. He went on to become piper to Abercairney and during the following years was mentioned several times in competition results.

In 1834 Donald MacKay became piper to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex and Earl of Inverness and from then onwards he lived mainly in London. Donald remained at Kensington Palace with the Duchess after the death of the Duke in 1843 and played at various events over the following years. In June 1844 many newspapers had this report: “The members of the Club of True Highlanders mustered very strong, in full Highland costume, on Monday, and proceeded to Blackheath, headed by their piper, and spent a delightful day in playing the national game of ‘shinty’, nearly similar to the game of golf in England.  James Logan, author of the History of the Gael, was elected chief for the occasion, and the scene when they arrived at the ground, marching to the excellently performed music of Donald MacKay, formerly piper the late Duke of Sussex, was of the most interesting nature to hundreds of the natives of Caledonia who were present, and was a scene of wonder to a great number of persons from the surrounding parts of the country who had assembled to witness the athletic exercises of the day. The company dined in a large tent erected on the heath, and the evening was spent in dancing Highland reels with their fair partners. The members of the club returned to town by the last Greenwich railway train, and left the London terminus, headed by their piper, and accompanied by a large assembly of holiday folks who had joined them on the heath.”

On June 21, 1849, the Inverness Courier reported on the Caledonian Ball in London, saying: “The staircase, as usual, was lined with stalwart Highlanders, each bearing claymores and battle axes of most colossal dimensions. The pipers of the late Duke of Sussex, the Duke of Sutherland, the Duke Argyll, and Captain Forbes, were also in attendance.”

In an account of the Scottish Fete in London at Holland Park the correspondent of the Inverness Courier on July 5, 1849, wrote: “Donald MacKay, late piper to the Duke of Sussex; Angus Mackay, piper to the Queen; John M’Beth, piper to the Duke of Sutherland; and John Mackenzie, piper the Marquis of Breadalbane, did not compete for prizes at all. They rested upon their former laurels, having already carried off first-class prizes at the competitions in Edinburgh and Inverness. Thus the competition was left open to younger aspirants for musical celebrity, who were not impeded by the performances of more veteran professors of the art.”

Donald MacKay made the Prize Pipes for the Northern Meeting competitions from 1842 to 1845 and may have been the maker of the Prize Pipes for the Edinburgh competitions of 1841 and 1844.

In December of 1841 Donald married Caroline Linstead in London. A son, John, was born in 1843 and a son Donald in 1845, both born at Kensington Palace. Caroline died in March of 1846. There are several other MacKay births registered in the London area, any of which could be the third child who does not appear in any later records. Donald MacKay died in London in September of 1850, leaving his children to the care of his brother Angus MacKay (1813-1859) who had been appointed piper to Queen Victoria in 1843. In his will Angus notes that he was responsible for his brother Donald’s three children. In his manuscript Angus lists his siblings and their families and notes that Donald had three children. Angus was hospitalised with mental illness in 1854 and died in 1859.

William Ross became piper to the Queen in 1854 after Angus was hospitalised. William Ross died in 1891 and was succeeded by James Campbell (1853 – 1930), who had been assistant piper under William Ross since 1880. James Campbell’s nephew, William Campbell, became second piper.

Ewen Henderson

•Ewen Henderson

The next member of the Royal family to show his support for piping was George the 2nd Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904). He was the son of Adolphus 1st Duke of Cambridge, the 7th son of George III and therefore a first cousin of Queen Victoria. He was educated in Hanover and served as a Colonel in the Hanoverian army before serving in the British army. On January 28, 1854, orders were issued that each Highland regiment was to have a Pipe Major and five pipers. The Guards, Lowland regiments and Irish regiments were not included and although they had pipers they were classed as ordinary soldiers. The Scots Fusilier Guards appointed Ewen Henderson as their Pipe Major in 1853 but this was purely private enterprise and received no official support at the time. As this was not an official appointment it was cancelled when the regiment returned to London. In 1856 their Colonel the Duke of Cambridge, wrote to the War Office as follows: “It having been represented to me by the Officer Commanding the Scots Fusilier Guards, of which I have the Honour to be Colonel, that the regiment being a Scotch one, the recruiting of the Regiment would be much facilitated were a Pipe Major and a limited number of pipers to be allowed to each Battalion.” The request was granted and a Pipe Major and five pipers were authorised for each of the two battalions.

Ewen Henderson was born in 1831 at Fort William, son of Angus Henderson, a sergeant in the 92nd. He joined the 92nd in 1853 then transferred to the Scots Fusilier Guards serving as Pipe Major 1854-1868. He saw active service during the Crimean War. He was discharged on pension in 1874 after 21 years service.  He left a MS of pipe music which is now in the archives of Glasgow University. He died in London in 1886.

Duncan MacDougall

•Duncan MacDougall

Queen Victoria’s eldest son was Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, born in 1841. In 1865 Duncan MacDougall was appointed as his piper.

On September 28, 1865, the following appeared in the Perthshire Advertiser: “Piper to the Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales having some time ago intimated his intention of attaching a piper to his establishment, it gives no little pleasure to state, that, on the recommendation of the Earl of Dunmore, our townsman Mr Duncan McDougall, bagpipe maker, has been instructed to proceed to his Royal Highness’s residence at Abergeldie to fill this important office. Mr D McDougall is, we believe, the first bagpipe maker in the Kingdom and stands second to few in Scotland as a reel, strathspey and march player upon the great Highland instrument. His breast is covered with medals obtained at the different Highland games at which he has competed; and we do not know that he ever failed in securing a prize when he appeared upon such occasions. We have no doubt Lord Dunmore’s recommendation will be amply justified when Mr McDougall takes his position in the Prince’s establishment.”

On October 5, 1865, an announcement appeared in the London Standard but was quoted from the Perth Courier of a few days previously: “Appointment of a Piper to the Prince of Wales. We understand that Mr Duncan McDougall, bagpipe maker, High Street, Perth, has been appointed piper to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, on the recommendation of the Earl of Dunmore, and that he will proceed to Abergeldie in a few days to commence his duties. Perthshire Courier.” A similar announcement appeared in the Inverness Courier on October 5.

Duncan MacDougall was born in Perth in 1837, son of bagpipe maker John MacDougall. He took over the business in 1857 on the death of his father.  By July 1862 Duncan was piper to Lord Elphinstone. Over the following years Duncan travelled abroad with Lord Elphinstone but had returned to Perth by February 1865 and advertised the re-opening of the bagpipe making business. The following advertisement was placed in the Perthshire Advertiser on March 2: “Duncan McDougall, Fancy Wood and Ivory Turner, and Bagpipe Maker. 150 High Street, Perth, Respectfully intimates that he has just opened the above Establishment, where, in Turning and Bagpipe Making in all their branches, he begs to solicit a continuance of that patronage bestowed upon his late Father and Grandfather for nearly a Century. Bagpipes made of the Finest Woods, and Mounted according to order in Silver, German Silver, Ivory and Bone. Ornaments for the Highland Dress. Practising Chanter and Clarionet Reeds always on hand; as also a choice selection of Concertinas and Flutes. D. McD. will always have on hand a choice and Complete Stock of Rod Fishing Tackle of every description, to which he at present invites attention. Orders from the Country punctually attended to. Perth, February 28, 1865.”

Duncan MacDougall did not spend very long in the Royal service. From newspaper references we can see that the change of pipers to the Prince of Wales came in 1866 between July and September. Until July 26 competition reports describe Duncan as Piper to the Prince of Wales then from September 22 William MacDonald was so described. According to some accounts Duncan was offered and declined the post of assistant piper to Queen Victoria, under Pipe Major William Ross, but went for a season as piper to Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. If this were so, it was probably immediately after his service with the Prince of Wales. Following his period of Royal service, Duncan settled in Edinburgh. At the time of his marriage in August 1867 he was living at 33 Thistle Street, Edinburgh and was employed as a wood turner. Later he became a bagpipe maker in Edinburgh under his own name. Duncan won the Prize Pipe at the Northern Meeting in 1870, when he was described as Pipe Major, Edinburgh Volunteers. By 1873 he had returned to Perthshire as piper to the Earl of Breadalbane at Taymouth Castle. In 1873 at the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal for Former Winners of the Prize Pipe and was described as piper to the Earl of Breadalbane. In 1892 Duncan MacDougall was appointed by a Royal Warrant bagpipe maker to Her Majesty the Queen. He made pipes for the Queen’s piper, James Campbell, and according to newspaper reports, the MacDougalls also made pipes for King Edward VII and for the Duke of Windsor when he was Prince of Wales. Duncan died in 1898.