From 1745 to 1996, the Kingdom of Great Britain considered the bagpipes weapons of war, not instruments played in battle, like the fife and drum that is used to direct troops, but an actual physical weapon, like a sword or a musket. Those of you who have heard bagpipes may not be completely shocked, but seriously has anyone actually been killed with bagpipes? Well no, but the Crown’s legal system need FACTS to prove it case. Consider the case of James Reid.

James Reid was one of several pipers who played at the Battle of Culloden. He was captured and taken to England where he was put on trial and accused of high treason against the English Crown. Piper Reid’s defense was that he was innocent because he had neither a gun nor a sword and did not participate in the actual combat. He said that the only thing he did that day on the battlefield was play the bagpipe.

Somewhat biased, the judges held a different view. Their argument was that a highland regiment never marched to war without a piper and therefore, in the eyes of the Crown, the bagpipe was an instrument of war. James Reid was condemned and executed.

Okay, George II held a grudge against the Stuart and, consequently Scotsmen. The bagpipes have continued to march with Highland regiments even through the “no mans land” between the trenches in WWI but why change this in 1996? Everyone who has ever heard the bagpipes played well, considers them to be an assault on the hearing (imagine if they were played poorly, if you could tell). Why not keep the designation of weapon?

Well, in 1996, after some disputes with authorities, a man known as Brooks was taken to court for playing the pipes on Hamstead Heath. Under a Victorian era by-law, playing of any musical instrument in this public park is strictly prohibited. When brought before the magistrate, Mr. Brooks plead not guilty claiming the pipes are not a musical instrument, but instead a weapon of war. Almost taunting the judges, he cited the case of James Reid as a precedent. Unamused, judges ruled that the pipes are first and foremost musical instruments returning them from a weapon of war to their rightful place as a musical instrument.

So which is true, are the pipes musical instruments, weapons, or something else? And why not the kazoo or the vuvuzela? Clearly the bagpipes are the WORST form of musical expression, just the most politically charged.

The moral of this posting is if you are a Scot, don’t get arrested. Britain may consider your argyles weapons next.


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Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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