what is the role of the “sovereign’s piper”?

The Queen’s final pipes will be played at her funeral in Westminster on Monday. Paul Burns is heir to a tradition dating back to Queen Victoria of combining public appearances with more intimate commitments.

Even after death, Scotland does not leave Elizabeth II. While she died on September 8 at her residence in Balmoral, a bagpipe was to be heard at her funeral on Monday at Westminster Abbey.

The task is entrusted to the “sovereign’s piper”, an official function that is almost 200 years old. Attached to the person of the monarch, this bagpiper performs his art during the monarchy’s key ceremonies, but also on a daily basis. A tradition that is not exempt from political considerations.

Paul Burns, at the center of the ceremony

His name is Paul Burns. But by virtue of its function, it gets many other names: “Blowjob major” (or “pipe major”), “Piper to the sovereign“(“Sovereign’s Piper”), or more simply “Queen/king piper” (“the queen’s/king’s piper”).

In any case, he is the one responsible for playing an ultimate complain to the bagpipes at the end of the funeral of Elizabeth II this Monday, as pointed out The sun. He will also officiate later in the day – around 4:00 p.m. – when the coffin arrives at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where the Queen’s remains will be buried.

Paul Burns is the 17th and final piper to Elizabeth II since taking the honor in 2021.

Scottish journey

Because every British monarch always has their own bagpipe player. And it has been for 180 years. The idea came to Queen Victoria during a visit with her husband to a Scottish aristocrat at his Highland estate in 1843.

Apparently envious of her host, the Marquess of Breadalbane, because he was accompanied by a personal piper, she immediately wrote to her mother in a letter quoted by Delia Millar in her book entitled Queen Victoria’s Life in the Highlands“We have heard nothing but bagpipes since we arrived in this beautiful highland, and I have been so taken with them that I intend to have a piper to play every evening at your Frogmore mansion.”

A Scottish color that time has never faded. All “Sovereign’s Pipers” are non-commissioned officers serving in a Scottish regiment (although with some Irish exceptions). Paul Burns himself comes from the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

More political than it seems

If the bagpipes pass from one shoulder to the other according to the holders appointed by the monarch, the job description has remained the same since the Victorian era until this second Elizabethan period which is closing. In addition to playing at his sovereign’s funeral, the official piper provides his interpretation during all ceremonies related to his lord or the dynasty. He must also fulfill a more unexpected but equally essential duty: to accompany the royal awakening.

As Neville McKay wrote in his book The story of the Sovereign’s Pipershipevery day at At 9.00 the latter blows his tunes for 15 minutes under the windows of the King or Queen, at least when the latter lives in Buckingham Palace.

However, this feature, far apart in the British monarchical galaxy, is not anecdotal. Neville McKay thus emphasized the political advantage that the masters of a multi-component Britain, often fueled by nationalist claims, were able to derive from it: “The role of the piper (…) shows how Scottish Gaelic music, until here seen as part of a hostile culture, came to symbolize Scottish interests in the British Crown”.

Understood in this way, it is a completely different music that the sovereign’s pipes bring forth from the lungs.

Robin Verner BFMTV journalist

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