What is the piper to the sovereign - and what do they do?

Also known as the Queen's Piper or King's Piper, the piper to the sovereign is responsible for playing the bagpipes at the monarch's request.


The role dates back to 1843, early in the reign of Queen Victoria. The previous year, the Queen and Prince Albert had visited a Scottish nobleman, the Marquess of Breadalbane. The Marquess, based at Taymouth Castle in the Highlands, had his own personal piper - and the Queen was very impressed. Indeed, she wrote to her mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent:

'We have heard nothing but bagpipes since we have been in the beautiful Highlands and I have become so fond of it that I mean to have a Piper, who can if you like it, pipe every night at Frogmore [the Dowager Duchess' residence near Windsor Castle].'

Since 1843, the Royal Household has always had its own piper to call upon - with a brief hiatus during World War II.

What are the responsibilities of the piper to the sovereign?

The piper's chief duty is to play under the Sovereign's window, for 15 minutes at 9 o'clock every morning. They also play on state occasions.

For example, after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Her Majesty’s coffin will be transferred to St George’s Chapel, Windsor for the committal service. The Choir of St George’s Chapel will sing during the service: then, when the late Queen’s coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault, the piper to the sovereign will play a Lament - possibly Flowers of the forest.

Who was the first piper to the sovereign?

The first person to occupy the role was one Angus MacKay. Interestingly, MacKay was a well-known collector and publisher of piobaireachd, a musical genre from the Scottish Highlands that typically features a theme and elaborate variations.

Subsequently, every piper to the sovereign has been chosen from a Scottish or Irish regiment. The piper is a member of the Royal Household - but retains their military rank while they are on secondment.


Who is the current piper to the sovereign?

The role is currently occupied by Paul Burns, from the Royal Regiment of Scotland.


Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.