Great Tartan Revival
are currently some 500 tartans registered with the Lord Lyon King
of Arms. Every family of Scottish extraction has its tartans,
often proudly displayed in prominent places in homes far removed
from the Scottish shores. How authentic are they? Are the tartans
handed down from centuries ago or an ingenious marketing ploy?
As early as the Roman occupation of Britain, the Celts were known
for their love of color. Unlike the Romans' drab clothing, the
Celts' clothes were bright and varied, created in a process in
which vegetable dye was used.
speculate that women, vying to see who could make the most unique
colors and weaves, created these unusual designs in which to clothe
their families. There did not seem to be any significance to the
colors and patterns. Clans did not rise to prominence until the
13th century. The kilt as we know it, with its pleats and short
length, did not evolve until much later. Around 1600, the kilt
was a large piece of material with a long strip attached. To wear
it, the man would lie on his back on top of the material and bring
the two ends together over his stomach. He would secure it with
a belt, drape the long strip of leftover material over his shoulder
and pin it to the skirt. The outfit did double duty as a "sleeping
bag" at night. The kilt pin of today did not exist until
a "revealing" incident involving Queen Victoria, at
least according to tradition.
haphazard patterns and colors the inhabitants of Scotland were
known for had little significance until after the disastrous battle
of Culloden in 1745. The Jacobites, fighting to put Bonnie Prince
Charlie on the throne, were badly beaten by the English. As a
result of the rebellion, anything viewed as nationalistic was
severely prohibited from 1746 to 1782. Jacobite songs, Bagpipes
("instruments of war"), the wearing of kilts, and the
display of any tartans was forbidden. The tartans as a system
of popular heraldry only developed fully during this time, and
like the Jacobite songs provided an outlet for national sentiment.
The number of tartans distinguishing main Scottish clans grew
steadily, and some of the earlier types which had represented
districts eventually became associated with families.
the "Great Tartan Revival" in 1822, things really heated
up. King George IV was going to visit Edinburgh and requested
that the clan chiefs wear their clans' tartans. Many of the men
had no clan tartan, and so had to buy them from tailors only too
eager to cash in on the craze. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be
entitled to wear a tartan, with two results: largely bogus genealogy-using
"septs", or lists of names with each clan and tartan;
and, lowland and borderland families suddenly becoming clans with
tartans. This is especially ironic considering that prior to 1746
the Highlanders were held in great contempt by these same people.
Scots Kith & Kin, C. J. Cousland & Sons Ltd., Printers,
Scottish Highlanders, Charles MacKinnon, c. 1984 Marboro Books
Corp., Division of Barnes & Noble.