Royal visit 1822 – the Edinburgh competition

Annette Bird Dana portraits


Not long before the Royal visit the Edinburgh piping competition was held as usual at the Theatre Royal and was reported in the papers on August 3, 1822.  The competition had been held on the previous Tuesday and was judged by 18 members of the Highland Society of Scotland. A rehearsal had taken place prior to the competition and the judges had selected 17 pipers to play in public for the prizes.

The performance began by a tune on the prize pipe, precisely at 12 o’clock, in the presence of a brilliant assembly. When the curtain was raised the whole competitors, pipers and dancers, numbering 60 fine Highlanders, in their full native dress, were seen arranged round the stage. The piping was interspersed with the performances of Highland reels and strathspeys which delighted the audience. When the performances were finished the judges retired to deliberate for almost an hour before returning to announce their decision.

The prize pipe with 40 merks in money was awarded to Donald MacKay, piper to Ranald George MacDonald esq of Clanranald; the second prize, 60 merks to John MacKenzie piper to Duncan Davidson esq of Tulloch; the third 50 merks to Kenneth McRa piper to the Hon James Sinclair; the fourth 45 merks to Alexander Dewar piper to Sir Neil Menzies of Menzies bt; the fifth 40 merks to John Smith piper to the Hon Colonel Grant of Grant. The extra prize, a brace of Highland pistols was awarded to Donald Scrimgeour, piper to the centre regiment of Forfarshire Militia, who had formerly gained a second prize. Under the rules of the competition, he was only eligible for the first prize. The three prizes for the best dressed competitors went to pipers James MacDonald first, John Cameron second and Donald MacDonald third.

The newspaper report stated: “A little boy in the full Highland costume, with his pipe under his arm attracted some notice. Mr Murray of the theatre, with his usual taste, had provided one of the silver medals struck in honour of his Majesty’s intended visit, and attached it to a tartan ribbon, which was presented to the young Highlander, as a mark of approbation of his zeal for the national music.”

Prior to the Visit

In the days leading up to the King’s arrival the newspapers gave details of the planned parade and other events. Every room in Edinburgh was booked and the stagecoaches arriving in Edinburgh were fully booked for the days ahead of the visit. Seating was being erected for those watching the parade, with tickets on sale. There were even advertisements for windows to let in buildings along the route.

On August 12 the newspapers printed details of the arrangements for the King’s arrival. A gun salute would be fired from Calton Hill as he landed and a procession would lead the King from Leith, through Edinburgh to Holyrood. The order of the procession was given in detail but there was no mention of pipers.

The Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Breadalbane were in residence at Holyrood Palace and the papers reported that several Highland Chiefs had arrived, and were attended by their followers dressed in the National costume.

The first of Scott’s pageants preceded the visit. It took place on the King’s 60th birthday, on Monday, August 12, 1822. In procession the Midlothian Yeomanry and companies of Highlanders escorted coaches carrying the Regalia of Scotland and dignitaries from the Castle to Holyrood Palace. The procession assembled on The Mound before going up to the Castle, and within minutes of setting off was halted by the arrival on horseback of a flamboyantly dressed Glengarry who announced that it was his rightful place to ride at the head of the procession. After a pause, a Captain Ewan MacDougall persuaded the hot-tempered Glengarry to go away. Watched by packed crowds, the procession formally received the regalia then returned down to The Mound then down to Princes Street and on by Calton Hill to Holyroodhouse.

•Alastair MacDonell of Glengarry by Sir Henry Raeburn

The King’s Visit

The King’s ship the Royal George arrived in the Firth of Forth about noon on Wednesday,  August 14, and everything was in place for his reception and the procession into Edinburgh. However due to torrential rain it was decided to postpone his landing until the following day. Despite the rain Sir Walter Scott was rowed out to see the King. When his arrival was announced the King reportedly exclaimed: “What! Sir Walter Scott the man in Scotland I most wish to see! After a drink of whisky Scott presented to the King a jewel designed and embroidered by the ladies of Edinburgh, in the form of a silver St Andrews cross embroidered with pearls on blue velvet, with a belt of gold, a diamond buckle and magnificent Scottish pearl surmounted by the imperial crown picked out in brilliants, rubies, emeralds and topaz. Inscribed on the cross was ‘Righ Albainn gu brath’, translated as Long life for the King.

Guns salutes were fired from various locations and many boats ran excursions out to the ship. The King was seen on deck where he acknowledged the acclamation of the crowds. Several boats contained a Highland piper and Highlanders dressed in their national costume. That evening there was a bonfire on Arthur’s seat, although this was reported as being rather affected by the rain.

The landing took place on Thursday, August 15. Robert Mudie’s account of the landing says: “The Royal barge now passed the pier-head, where three young men, the sons of gentlemen in Leith, struck up some national airs on the great Scots bagpipe; which gave a national note to those demonstrations of welcome and joy that seemed to have delighted his Majesty.” The arrival of the King was reported that same day in late editions of the papers. The streets were crowded as were all the windows from Leith to Edinburgh that could command a view of the procession. At 20 minutes past twelve the Royal barge came alongside and the King assisted by the Marquis of Conyngham stepped out. The Marquis of Lothian greeted the King at the bottom of the steps and the King leaning on the two marquises ascended to the platform where he was greeted by Mr McFie, the senior magistrate of Leith, with a speech of welcome. The King then proceeded along the platform to his carriage which he entered along with the Duke of Dorset and the Marquis of Winchelsea.

The King was dressed in a naval uniform but in his hat he had a thistle and a twig of heath to gratify the national feeling of his Scottish subjects. There followed a quiet pause for the King to rest, but this was interrupted by Glengarry on horseback galloping up beside the King, sweeping off his bonnet and loudly announcing: ‘Your Majesty is welcome to Scotland.’

One newspaper reported: “The Glengarry Highlanders, under the command of Colonel Ranaldson Macdonell of Glengarry and Clanronald, arrived at Leith at a little past eleven, keeping possession of the Royal carriage till his Majesty stepped into it; they then occupied the station appointed to them, which was nearest to the Royal Person of all the Highlanders, being next to the Royal Company of Archers.

The procession then formed up ready to march off. The order of the procession according to the papers was:

  • Deputy Lieutenants, in green coats, mounted
  • Two pipers
  • General Graham Stirling and Tail
  • Barons of Exchequer
  • Lord Clerk Register
  • Lords of Justiciary and Session, in carriages
  • Marquis of Lothian, Lord Lieutenant, mounted
  • City Officers
  • Lord Provost in carriage of six
  • Magistrates and Council in carriages
  • Two Heralds, mounted
  • Three trumpeters, Mid Lothian yeomanry cavalry
  • Squadron Mid Lothian yeomanry
  • Two Highland Pipers
  • Captain Campbell and Tail of Breadalbane
  • Squadron Scots Greys
  • Two Highland Pipers
  • Colonel Stewart of Garth and Celtic Club
  • Sir Evan McGregor, mounted on horseback and Tail of McGregor
  • Two Equerries on horseback
  • Sir Alexander Keith, Knight Marischal, on a black horse
  • Pages and grooms
  • Sheriff mounted
  • Sheriff officers
  • Glengarry, mounted and grooms
  • Young Glengarry and two supporters – Tail
  • Four Herald Trumpeters
  • White Rod, mounted and equerries
  • Lord Lyon Depute, mounted and grooms
  • Earl of Errol, Lord High Constable, in a lancer uniform, mounted
  • Two Heralds, mounted
  • Squadron Scots Greys
  • Royal carriage and six
  • Ten Royal Footmen, two and two
  • Sixteen Yeomen, two and two
  • Archers Greys THE KING Archers, Greys
  • Sir Thomas Bradford and Staff
  • Squadron Greys
  • Three Clans of Highlanders and Banners
  • Two Squadrons of Mid Lothian Yeomanry
  • Grenadier of 77th Regiment
  • Two Squadrons Third Dragoon Guards
  • Band and Greys

Another paper gave some additional detail about some parts of the procession, describing about eighty of the Celtic Society, in the Highland costume and under the command of General Graham Stirling, saying Sir Walter Scott was in one of the carriages with the Judges and Officers of State and describing a Celtic guard under the orders of Colonel Stewart. According to this report Sir Evan MacGregor was in his proper Highland tartan, with his tail, banner and pipers. This report also mentioned the band of the 13th Regiment with the Squadron of Greys.

About one o’clock the procession reached the barrier below Picardy Place where the Magistrates waited to greet the King. A Herald from Sir Patrick Walker Usher of the White Rod advanced and knocked thrice on the gate of the barrier after which Sir Patrick advanced and required the gate to be opened in the King’s name. The gate was opened, the procession advanced and the Lord Provost attended by the Magistrates presented the keys to the King. After more speeches the King returned the keys and the procession formed up again with the Provost and council taking their places. The procession reached Holyrood at about half past one and was greeted by a detachment of Celts, various noblemen, gentlemen and the King’s household servants. Royal salutes were then fired from Salisbury Crags, Calton Hill and the Castle. The King was escorted into the Palace and was seated on the throne where he was presented with the crown and regalia which had been brought down from the Castle on Monday. He then left in a closed carriage by private roads and travelled to Dalkeith Palace, arriving at 3.30pm. That evening he dined with a select party of distinguished personages.

Celebrations continued in Edinburgh that evening with illuminations and displays throughout the town.

It was Saturday afternoon before the King returned to Edinburgh to hold a levee at Holyrood where the great and good queued to be greeted by George in his Highland outfit complete with pink pantaloons to conceal his bloated legs, described as ‘buff coloured trowsers like flesh to imitate his Royal knees’. When someone complained that the kilt had been too short for modesty, Lady Hamilton-Dalrymple wittily responded, ‘Since he is to be among us for so short a time, the more we see of him the better.’

•The flattering portrait of George IV

In the official paintings the kilt was lengthened and the King slimmed down but there were many caricatures and cartoons which show a different figure. The reality was probably somewhere between the two extremes.

The King would not be seen again by the public until Monday afternoon when a medium-sized crowd caught a brief glimpse of him as he went into Holyroodhouse to hear long repetitive addresses from the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, universities, burghs, counties and the Highland Society, and give his short formal responses.

The King’s Drawing Room on Tuesday, August 20 was attended by 457 ladies, and custom required that he kiss each one on the cheek. This brief occasion took him away from Dalkeith House for two hours, and the presentation of the ladies lasted from 2.15 to 3.30. In the rush some ladies received no kiss on the cheek or in their nervousness scarcely felt the kiss at all. All were dressed in rich gowns with sweeping trains, and most had coloured ostrich plumes above their elaborately curled hair. The King spent the next day at Dalkeith, and that evening Scott dined with him.

Heavy rain returned on Thursday, August 22. A Grand Procession was planned and again the order of the procession, which included the regalia, was detailed in the papers, but this time no pipers were mentioned. The route went from Holyrood via Canongate, High Street and Castle Hill to Edinburgh Castle. The King was in a closed carriage and was cheered by crowds obscured by their umbrellas. At the castle, the King climbed out onto the battlements of the Half Moon Battery to wave his cocked hat to the crowd for fifteen minutes. On the return journey the procession turned down Bank Street, crossed the Mound to Prince’s Street then turned right into Waterloo Place and then back to Holyrood.

Show Page Insights

•George Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland by Thomas Phillips

On Friday, August 23, a review of 3,000 volunteer cavalrymen was held on Portobello sands. The Highlanders assembled in Queen Street, with the Celtic Society on the right, under the command of Colonel Stewart of Garth, followed by the Breadalbanes under Lord Glenorchy, the MacGregors under Sir Evan Murray MacGregor, the Drummonds under Lord Gwydyr, and the Sutherlands under Lord Leveson-Gower; the whole under the command of His Grace the Duke of Argyll proceeded to Portobello Sands. Each clan had its own standard, badges and pipers. The Duke of Argyll was unanimously chosen the leader and marched in front dressed in full costume. On arrival they took up a position to the right of the cavalry and artillery. On the King’s arrival the pipers played The Prince’s Salute. A piquet of cavalry which had been keeping the ground clear around the Highlanders was ordered to move and immediately carriages, carts and other vehicles, together with an immense crowd surged in and the Highlanders were cut off from the review. After protests were made the Highlanders were able to take part in the Grand March Past then were cheered by the crowds as they marched back to Edinburgh.

That evening the Peers’ Grand Ball was held, commencing at 8pm. George appeared at about 10pm wearing a field marshal‘s uniform which he had worn earlier in the day rather than the anticipated kilt, and sat to watch the Scottish country dancing. One paper reported that the dancing of reels appeared to give him most delight. A lady and gentleman in Highland dress danced a strathspey with much taste, which his Majesty so greatly admired that he clapped his hands in token of approbation. He left at a few minutes past eleven to return to Dalkeith, but the Ball continued until past one in the morning. The Assembly Rooms had been theatrically transformed by William Henry Murray, and the occasion was hailed as a triumph for him.

Saturday morning, August 24, was marked by a small ceremony and procession, including a Clan MacGregor Regalia Guard, as the Honours of Scotland were returned from Holyroodhouse up the Royal Mile to the Castle. The order of the procession this time was:

  • Scots Greys
  • Two Pipers
  • Sir Evan M MacGregor mounted
  • Division of MacGregors
  • Two Pipers
  • Part of Marischal’s guard of Highland Gentlemen
  • Carriage containing the Regalia
  • Part of Marischal’s guard of Highland Gentlemen
  • Scots Greys

On arrival at the castle the procession was received by a guard of honour of the 77th regiment and then it proceeded to the crown room with the crown carried by the Knight Marischal, the sceptre by the Honourable J M Stuart and the sword by Captain Ferguson, keeper of the regalia.

That evening the King attended a tumultuous civic banquet in the great Hall of Parliament House which Murray had splendidly decorated.

On Sunday the King attended a service in St Giles. On Monday he made a private visit to Holyrood to see the apartments of his ancestor Mary Queen of Scots and that evening attended the Caledonian Hunt Ball dressed in a Guards uniform. According to the newspaper report the King on accepting the invitation had said: “Now let us have Scotch reels and strathspeys in abundance, but none of your foreign dances. I dislike seeing anything in Scotland that is not purely national and characteristic. I am determined to introduce no bad customs.”

On the Tuesday, August 27, George attended a theatre performance of Scott’s Rob Roy adapted and produced by William Henry Murray.

Newspapers had advertised an assembly on August 27 in the Rooms in George Street beginning at 10pm. Gentlemen’s tickets were one guinea and Ladies’ tickets half a guinea. The advertising stated that the King would attend but no reports to confirm this have been found.

Newspapers continued to report on the activities: “On Wednesday evening the company at Dalkeith House was enlivened by twelve Highlanders, who danced strathspeys and reels to the bagpipes, with which His Majesty appeared highly delighted. Atholl brose was introduced, when Sir Walter Scott drank to the ‘Chief of the Clans, the King’, which he explained to the Highlanders. His Majesty then drank to them empathically, ‘May God bless you all,’ and directed them to retire and enjoy themselves; a mandate they readily obeyed.”

George’s time in Scotland ended on Thursday, August 29, with a brief visit to Hopetoun House twelve miles west of Edinburgh. Crowds waited in the rain to see him. On his departure he conferred the honour of Knighthood on Captain Adam Ferguson Deputy keeper of the Scottish regalia and Henry Raeburn the selected representative of Scotland’s fine arts. He then joined his ship at nearby South Queensferry and departed.

On August 31 the papers announced that His Majesty had commanded the attendance of Sir Henry Raeburn in London, in order to have a likeness of himself, in the full Highland costume, executed by that eminent artist.

•Part one of the article can be found here.

•Part three of the article can be found here.