ROBERT BURNS MEMBER OF “THE ROYAL COMPANY OF SCOTTISH ARCHERS”
Many people are aware that Robert Burns was a member of the Royal Dumfries Volunteers. There are fewer still who will be aware that he was a member of “THE ROYAL COMPANY OF SCOTTISH ARCHERS”. Robert Burns was one who spoke out regarding privilege “The Tinsel o’ Trash o’ State” yet this most democratic of men was a member of a most aristocratic organisation. Being a member of the Royal Company of Scottish Archers (The Monarchs Body Guard in Scotland) made Burns a minor servant of King George 111. The Archers date from 1686 and they were constituted by an Act of the Privy Council of Scotland. However its existence is much older and probably dates to the time of James 1 who appointed commissioners to ensure that the people practiced archery. Queen Anne confirmed a new charter granting all the old privileges and granting new ones in 1703. Robert Burns was appointed to the Royal Archers 10th April 1792 although through negligence no record is to be found in the archives of the Archers. The certificate of his admission does exist and was presented to the City of Edinburgh Museum. It consists of paper; print and ink with a ribbon and seal housed in a frame and is 425mm wide x 340mm high including the frame.
The certificate reads
“The Council of the Royal Company of Archers, after tryal taken by the judges of the company and their report have admitted and received and hereby admit and receive you, Robert Burns, Esq., to be one of his Majesty’s Royal Company of Archers, giving and granting to you all the privileges and immunities that are or may be competent to any of the said company. In witness thereof these present are sealed with the common seal and signed by the secretary, day and place aforesaid. James Gray, SY. R.C.A.”
The seal, is attached to the certificate by a piece of parchment, and bears the company’s arms; on its reverse is a yew tree in the centre, and on each side a archer in lowland attire holding a bow in the right hand and a arrow in the left. At the top on a ribbon, is the motto of the archers
“In Peace and War”. On the back of the certificate is an inscription “Diploma Royal Company of Scottish Archers in favour of Robert Burns, Esq., and a figure of an archer wearing a kilt and drawing a bow.” It should be noted that this is not the original seal as after the death of his wife in 1834 his son James Glencairn Burns, took the document to East India where he was serving as an officer in the East India Company. The result being the wax seal melted in the heat and was destroyed. When James returned from the East application was made to the Royal Archers to have the document resealed with the old seal. When Burns was a member of the Royal Archers most of the Company were noblemen of rank. The Captain-General was the Duke of Buccleuch, The Lieutenant-Generals the Dukes of Hamilton, Gordon and Athole, and Wemyss. Other positions were filled by the Duke of Montrose, the Marquis of Lothian, the Earl of Hopetoun, the Earl of Morton, the Earl of Galloway, the Earls of Ancrum, Lords Elibank, Elphinstone, and Haddo. There is no doubt that these were aristocrats of the highest order.
The uniform, when Burns was admitted in 1792, consisted of
“A green frock lapelled yellow, gilt buttons engraved or stamped with a Royal Crown, cross arrows and a thistle. A white cloth waistcoat and breeches, with smaller buttons, than the frock, but in the same pattern and white silk stockings. A cap of blue cloth (Velvet for Generals) with a green and white ribboned border. A badge with the figure of Saint Andrew, enamelled with a crown and thistle. Black feathers covered with green and white cockade in the cap. Cross belts with a tassel on one and a quiver on the other. (It should be noted that there are many variations of uniform during the time of its founding and now) Burns was recommended to the Royal Archers by his patron and friend James Cunningham to whom Burns wrote from Ellisland in March 1791 to his friend that a suggestion that Burns should write a poem about the Archers Company was proving difficult. “I have felt along the line of my muse’s inclination, and I fear your archery work would be an uphill struggle for her” A latter letter dated September 1792, he states that “It was through the action of his friend that “He had been presented with the diploma.” This letter is from the Glenriddel Manuscripts and the date of this letter is about 5 months after the presentation of the diploma. Burns also notes that up until this time he had not acknowledged the great compliment paid to him by the Royal Archers. “I might”, he writes, “Have thanked the Caledonian Archers for the honor they have done me, though, to do myself justice, I intended to have done (this) in Rhyme, else I had done (it) before now”. Doubtless he did write to them but no record exists. A number of Burns’s friends were members of the Archer Company and his patron James Earl of Glencairn was a Major-General at the time of his death in 1791. William Kerr, surveyor of Edinburgh General post Office, was admitted a member in the same year as Burns. To Kerr the poet was indebted for “Franking” of many of Burns letters. Kerr writing to Mrs Dunlop justified his action on the grounds that he was not defrauding the public, as they were all the poets’ debtors. Another who was admitted in 1792 was Patrick Heron of Heron, and Burns vistited him two years latter at Kerroughtree and in whose support the Election Ballads were written in 1795. Lord Daer, the first peer with whom the poet “Dinnered”, was enrolled an Archer in 1787; two years latter John Syme who was resident in Edinburgh was admitted. Dr. Adair, who was Burns companion on his visit to Ochtertyre and who married Charlotte Hamilton, was admitted, if we believe the date on the 38th of March. Two others mentioned in Burns writings are Andrew MacDowall, Younger of Logan 12 August 1786: He was the person whose treatment of Miss Kennedy of Daljarrock was probably in Burns’s mind when he wrote “Ye Banks and Braes.” The other was William Ramsey Maule of Panmure, latter Lord Panmure, who was admitted four months before Burns. He was stationed at Dumfries with his regiment and incurred the displeasure of Burns. The result was an epigram of some bitterness sent to Mrs Dunlop 29th October 1794
“Thou fool, in thy phaeton towering,
Art proud when thy phaeton is prais’d?
Tis the pride of a Thiefs exhibition
When higher his pillory’s rais’d”
If the epigram was known to Maule it did not stop him in 1817 from settling a pension of £50 pounds per year on the widow of his fellow archer. Burns son James relieved him of this charge 18 months latter. Maule was Acting Grand Master Mason of Scotland 1808 / 1810. Member of parliament for Forfarshire April to June 1796. Member of parliament for Forfarshire 1805 / 1831. Created Baron Panmure 1831 / 1852.