A history of kilts and bagpipes in Scotland

11 April 2014
imports_CESC_0-8wfubl7d-100000_92530.jpg A history of kilts and bagpipes in Scotland
George Forbes takes a look at the history of two of Scotland's most recognisable symbols - the kilt and the bagpipes.

The kilt in general, like so many other things Scottish, has origins shrouded in mist, legend and folklore but it seems that it became closely associated with Highland garb simply because it was actually banned following the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, as was the pibroch which was considered an instrument of war. This prohibition helped clarify the Highlanders’ wardrobe and did more than anything else to associate clothing with martial endeavour and Scottish identity.

The kilt’s survival was guaranteed through its later adoption by the Highland regiments when all bans were lifted to enhance the fighting valour of the Scots.
Needless to say, that arch Caledonian propagandist Sir Walter Scott had a hand in making the kilt famous through his widespread promotion of it as the national dress for the 1822 state visit of King George 1V to Edinburgh. The adoption of distinctive, individual tartans soon followed, usually with contentious derivations and spurious connections regarding clan histories but all having in common a keen eye for the highly lucrative, commercial manufacturing aspects of this stylish fashion. It really was a case of ‘when in doubt, print the legend!’

A history of the bagpipes

Another symbol of Scottishness is of course the bagpipes. Like whisky, tartanry, the kilt and numerous other elements of Caledonian folklore, the origins of this bloodcurdling instrument remain controversial.

The first written references to bagpipes in Scotland date back to the early sixteenth century when they were in use at clan gatherings, on military marches, to encourage charges, to accompany dancing (which kept clansmen fit and agile) and they were also used to play touching laments at funerals, all mostly north of the Highland line.

The instrument had been quickly adopted throughout Scotland and lit up the Dark Ages before being duly regarded as native, even though the Roman Emperor Nero once played them and they had been noted on the Continent for centuries. Somehow, like the kilt, they became intrinsically Scottish, possibly because they were adapted with such enthusiasm by the clans, always keen on music that was cheap, adaptable, mobile and easily playable once mastery had been achieved.

In what would be considered military madness nowadays, a piper leading his men into battle was historically a tradition cherished among such a warlike race. There were pipers at Waterloo and on the eve of battle they entertained Wellington and the Duchess of Richmond at her renowned ball in Brussels.

(Image copyright Tuck DB Postcards)

Content continues after advertisements