Royal visit to Edinburgh 1822 – the background



Two hundred years ago Edinburgh was in a frenzy of Royal celebrations equal to those in London in 2022. This was to mark the visit by George IV, the first of the Hanoverian kings to visit Scotland. George IV succeeded to the throne on the death of his father George III in 1820. This was a year of political unrest with radical risings through the country. In Scotland the 1820 rising had resulted in executions or transportation for many of those involved.

As is still the case today, a Royal event can be used as a distraction from other occurrences, so the new reign was to begin with a celebratory tour by the King beginning in 1821 when the tour included a visit to Ireland, while in Edinburgh plans were made for the King to visit in the following year.

•Prince Charles entering he ballroom at Hollyrood

At that time the most recent Royal visit to Edinburgh had made by Prince Charles in 1745 accompanied by his Highland supporters. In 1822 there could have been people aged 80 or more who remembered that visit, while others in the city would have heard about it from their parents or grandparents.  

Prince Charles had arrived in Edinburgh on September 17, 1745, when 20,000 people lined the streets for a glimpse of the Stuart prince as he rode into the Palace of Holyrood House to set up court in the former home of his ancestors. Just four days later on September 21 the Prince’s army had a resounding victory at the Battle of Prestonpans. The Prince’s time at the Palace of Holyrood house was full of glittering moments, from his initial entrance cheered by great crowds, to the extravagant balls he held in the Great Gallery, lit by hundreds of candles. The Prince dined in the palace, watched by crowds of admiring spectators, and is believed to have slept in Lord Darnley’s bedchamber. Early in November the Prince and his army left on their march into England.

Walter Scott and the Celtic Society

Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) was the author of the novel Waverley which popularised a romantic image of the Scottish Highlands. In 1815 this led to his being invited to dine with George, who was then the Prince Regent. By 1822 Scott had become a baronet. His life story is well known so there is no need to repeat it here. Scott was well acquainted with both Highland and Lowland nobility and employed John Bruce as his piper.

John Bruce, named ‘John o’ Skye’ in Walter Scott’s diaries was born on the Isle of Skye in 1775. He was a cowherd employed by John Nicolson, Skye, in 1807 and 1808, then forester and piper to Sir Walter Scott from 1818, presumably until Sir Walter died.  In 1832 he was the piper on the Steamship United Kingdom. He played at the Edinburgh competition in 1818 and 1832. His later life was sad as described in his obituary in the Inverness Courier of The Inverness Courier of 30th November 1847: “We learn from a gentleman in Edinburgh, that among the latest victims of the fever at present raging in that city, was John Bruce, or ‘John of Skye’ for some years the Highland piper at Abbotsford. In his best days, John was a fine athletic man, and when dressed in full costume, playing a pibroch, or marching up the dining room at Abbotsford, to receive from the hands of his illustrious master his Celtic Quaich, brim-full of Glenlivet, he had a most imposing and picturesque appearance. Latterly, however, the poor fellow got wild and unsettled. He imagined himself to be a descendant of the great Robert Bruce, and hinted at his pretensions to the throne, which only his regard for ‘the young lady Queen’ prevented him from asserting. He still wandered about, playing the pipes which he had received from Sir Walter, and though more than seventy years of age, and subject to much hardship and privation, John of Skye walked erect, and had a military air to the last. There was no relation to claim the poor piper’s remains, and his body was sent to one of the dissecting rooms. A medical student purchased for a trifle the bagpipes which he was so proud to bear as a gift of the great magician.”

The Celtic Society had been founded in Edinburgh in 1820 at a meeting convened by Captain William Mackenzie of Gruinard.  Those at the first meeting included David Stewart of Garth. Three weeks later Sir Walter Scott became a member and the society’s first Vice President. The Society’s first meeting was in Oman’s Tavern, situated very close to where Register House now stands. The Society was to play a prominent role in George IV’s historic visit in 1822. When his advice was sought, Sir Walter Scott seized the opportunity to invent a pageant in which ancient Scotland would be reborn.  A small committee was set up, with Scott’s principal assistant being his friend, Major General David Stewart of Garth.

•Major General David Stewart of Garth

Major General David Stewart of Drumachary and Garth, 1768-1829, claimed descent from Alexander Stewart the Wolf of Badenoch, son of King Robert II. David was brought up as a Gaelic speaking Jacobite and educated locally at Fortingall School.

In 1787, aged 19, his father bought him into the 77th Regiment as an ensign. He was small, only five feet six inches in height, short sighted, and lacking in money, but he was strong, brave, intelligent, self-confident and ambitious, all qualities which led to his successful career in the army. Over the following twenty years he served under the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ in Belgium, the West Indies, Alexandria, Sicily, Italy and as a training officer at Fort George. He was seriously wounded twice but recovered and was able to continue with his career. Promotion was a difficulty as he didn’t have the money to buy his majority, but he overcame this and gained his promotion by the alternative method of producing 90 recruits for the regiment. In 1812 he retired on half pay as a Brevet-Colonel, was awarded the CB for distinguished service and tried in vain to get a Governorship in the West Indies. He joined the Highland Society of London, becoming a vice-president and at the request of the Duke of York wrote a history of the Black Watch. He pioneered a system for the registration of tartans and spoke out against the Highland Clearances, thus gaining a reputation as a radical.

When George IV wore the kilt, and it was Colonel Stewart’s task to make sure that the seams of His Majesty’s pink silk tights were properly aligned. In that same year Colonel Stewart’s major work, Sketches of the Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland, with details of the Military Service of the Highland Regiments, was published and became a best seller, soon going into a second and third edition. In 1823 he was promoted to Major General, retired and in 1828 achieved his West Indian Governorship. However, only a few months after reaching St Lucia, and shortly after a St. Andrew’s night party, which he had organised, he caught malaria and died. He was the subject of the reel General Stewart of Garth, published in the Seaforth Highlanders Collection and the Queen’s Own Highlanders Collection but it appears first in William Ross’s book of 1869 under the title General Stewart’s Reel. A statue of him can be seen on the roadside near Fortingall.

•General Stewart’s statue on the roadside near Fortingall

The King had been persuaded by Scott that he was not only a Stuart prince, but also a Jacobite Highlander, and could rightly and properly swathe himself in tartan, so in July 1822 the King placed his order with George Hunter & Co., outfitters of Tokenhouse Yard, London and Princes StreetEdinburgh, for £1,354 18s worth of Highland outfit in bright red tartan, later known as Royal Stuart, complete with gold chains and assorted weaponry including dirk, sword and pistols.

Scott brought the Highland societies and the Clan chieftains together in making the arrangements. Stewart of Garth organised the Celtic Society as honour guards but this offended Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry, who demanded that his Society of True Highlanders be given precedence, but this was disregarded. Some chieftains took the event as a chance to show impressive forces and thus disprove allegations about the Highland Clearances, but the decimation of their tenantry rather undermined this. James Loch acting for the Countess of Sutherland solved the problem of finding kilts by borrowing army uniforms from the Sutherland Highlanders.

•Part two of the article can be found here.

•Part three of the article can be found here.