6 Unusual Facts You Didn’t Know about Robert Burns
Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 15th January 2018, last updated: 9th November 2020
January 25th sees the annual celebration of the birth of ‘The Bard’ – Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Marked by the sharing of haggis, traditional music and Scots poetry, Burns Night is a renowned international festival.
We often think we know Burns as well as the words to Auld Lang Syne, but how many lesser known facts about The Bard do you know? Dinnae ken? Read on!
1. Whit’s His Name?
Robert Burns was fondly known as Rabbie Burns, but Scotland’s Bard was not even born with either name. Rabbie was in fact Robert Burness until he chose to shorten his last name at the age of 27. He also never signed his name ‘Rabbie.’ The poet went by Rob, Rab, Robin – even Spunlie – but never once Rabbie.
2. Keep the Heid
Not only was Robert Burns remarkably talented, he was also known for boasting an unusually large head. It was measured when his body was exhumed in 1815, before being laid to rest in the new Dumfries mausoleum. During his life, his large heid was marked by a distinguishable ponytail, grown solely to annoy his da.
3. Robert Burns Dearly Lov’d the Lasses
Quite the ladies’ man, Rabbie started his romantic ways from an early age. At just 15 he wrote his first song, ‘O Once I Lov’d (A Bonnie Lass)’ to impress a girl called Nellie. Three years later he took dance classes to the same end. Rabbie fathered 12 children with four different women during his lifetime, including nine to his wife Jean.
“Statue of Jean Armour” by James Denham is licensed under CC BY 2.0
4. The Best-Laid Schemes
In 2009 a hand-written poem by Rabbie Burns, The Battle of Sherramuir, was put on display in the National Library of Scotland alongside other key artefacts from Scottish history. Amongst the temporary collection was a 300-year-old document which ordered the infamous Massacre of Glencoe.
5. Whit’s Fur Ye’ll No Go past Ye
Despite his success, Rabbie’s net worth upon his death was a measly £1. Yet the value of his life and work today is immeasurable. In 2010 a book of his poetry travelled 5.7 million miles to space, making 217 orbits of Earth. Burns’ work has inspired the likes of Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Bob Dylan.
6. We’ll Take a Cup O’ Kindness
The first ‘Burns Supper’ was held in July 1802 – on the fifth anniversary of Rabbie’s death – when nine of his closest friends gathered to celebrate his life. It was such a success that they met on 25 January the following year – the date of his birth. Little did they know that their own tradition would become a global phenomenon.
When you sit down to your Burns supper this year (want to learn how to cook a haggis?) , keep in mind each of the facets that created this rich individual. Surprise your friends, family and guests with unknown tales of The Bard, and keep his memory alive. To celebrate Robert Burns in all his glory, learn how the Scots traditionally celebrate Burns Night.
Don’t forget to print out your Rabbie Burns factsheet for the evening. Simply click the image below, download and print!
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