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The Life of Burns

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in the “auld cley biggin” that is known as Burns Cottage.

His birthday is celebrated throughout the world as Burns Night, with Burns Suppers, poems, songs and anecdotes about Scotland’s National Bard.

Burns undoubtedly remains a hugely important historical literary figure, but of course he was – and is – so much more than that.

Burns has become a potent symbol for Scotland and a global brand for Scots and their descendants across the globe.

Scottish Television (STV) viewers voted Burns ‘the Greatest Ever Scot’ in a 2009 poll and his song ‘Is there for Honest Poverty’ was chosen to open the new Scottish Parliament in October 2004.

Behind the global brand, lies a complex and surprising man. A man who rose from the obscurity of a small, rural Scottish village, to become perhaps the first modern celebrity.

Explore an interactive timeline of Burns life.

Robert Burns Timeline

1759 Born in Alloway on 25 January
1765–8 Burnes family move to Mount Oliphant Farm, near Alloway
1774 Writes his first song, ‘O once I lov’d [a bonnie lass]’
1777 Burnes family move to Lochlea Farm, near Tarbolton
1781 Becomes a Freemason
1781 Moves to Irvine to learn flax-dressing (turning flax into linen)
1784 Father William Burnes, dies. The family move to Mossgiel Farm, near Mauchline
1784 The family change their name to Burns
1785 Meets Jean Armour. Fathers his first child, born to maidservant Elizabeth Paton
1785–6 Has an affair with Margaret Campbell (AKA ‘Highland Mary’)
1786 The first edition of Burns’ ‘Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’ is published in Kilmarnock
1786 Abandons plans to emigrate to Jamaica to work on a slave plantation. Instead, travels to Edinburgh to look into publishing a second edition of his poems
1786 Enters into ‘a form of wedlock’ with Jean Armour
1786 Becomes a father to twins Robert and Jean Burns, born to Jean Armour
1787 Second edition of poems is published in Edinburgh. Meets James Johnson and agrees to contribute to ‘The Scots Musical Museum’
1787 Tours the Highlands, Stirlingshire and the Borders, collecting local songs and airs
1787 Becomes a father to a child, born to Edinburgh servant girl May Cameron
1787 Meets Agnes McLehose (AKA ‘Clarinda’)
1788 Marriage to Jean Armour is officially recognised by the Kirk
1788 Becomes a father to twin daughters, born to Jean
1788 Moves to Ellisland Farm, near Dumfries
1788 Fathers son Robert, born to Edinburgh serving maid Jenny Clow
1789 Fathers son Francis Wallace Burns, born to Jean
1789 Begins work as an Excise Officer
1790 Writes ‘Tam o’ Shanter’
1791 Fathers daughter Elizabeth (‘Betty’), born to barmaid Anna Park
1791 Moves to Dumfries
1791 Fathers son William Nicol Burns, born to Jean
1792 Fathers son to Elizabeth Riddell Burns, born to Jean
1792 Begins work on ‘A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs’ with George Thomson
1794 Fathers son James Glencairn Burns, born to Jean
1796 Dies in Dumfries, aged 37
1796 Robert’s youngest son, Maxwell Burns, is born to Jean on the day of Burns’ funeral. Jean is unable to attend the funeral.

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