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Title: Old and rare Scottish tartans

with historical introduction and descriptive notices

Author: Donald William Stewart

Release date: May 24, 2023 [eBook #70853]

Language: English

Original publication: United Kingdom: George P Johnston, 1893

Credits: Fiona Holmes and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


Transcriber’s Notes

Because there are so many Footnotes, these have been moved to the end of the Introduction and renumbered in sequence from #1.

Extra page numbers have been added to the ‘TARTANS’ section so they can be linked to the ‘TARTANS: with descriptive notices’ section, numbered page 1a to page 45a.

Variant spelling of Scots words have been left as printed.

Changes made are noted at the end of the book.


Impression limited to Three Hundred copies:
250 on Dutch hand-made paper, demy 4to
of which this is number 162 and
50 on Whatman’s hand-made paper, royal 4to

P. Johnston, signature






the tartan dress







TWO main objects have been kept in view in the preparation of the present volume.

The first was to render generally accessible some of those beautiful but comparatively unknown examples of old tartans represented in family portraits, miniatures, and relics, as well as in the few collections of tartans which exist in the country, and to set forth all that could be definitely ascertained regarding their origin and history. To carry this out efficiently, it was necessary to obtain the permission of the families possessing representations and examples of the tartans to inspect them, and to visit the different localities in Scotland in which they are preserved, for the purposes of examination and illustration. By the courtesy of the owners every facility and aid was given in the work of recording and identifying the setts, and in no case where permission was asked to reproduce a tartan was it refused. This preliminary work extended over a period of several years, in the course of which the Editor believes he allowed few collections to escape his notice. From the great number of setts now in his note-books he found the utmost difficulty in making the selection for the present work, and the exigencies of space alone have compelled him, to his regret, to omit many rare, beautiful, and historic examples he would willingly have included.

Having arranged as to the examples of tartan to appear in[vi] the volume, it became necessary to decide on the form of illustration. Hitherto the modes adopted in works of this description have been admittedly unsatisfactory, it being impossible, by the highest exercise of skill in colour printing, to render the shades correctly, particularly in those portions of the setts where the colours are crossed. Solid colours are generally rendered adequately by lithography, but when the most important and intricate portion of the design—viz., the representation of the interweaving of different shades—is in question, none of the processes of colour printing yet invented does justice to the great beauty of the actual fabric. The method adopted in the present work has been to weave the tartan to be represented in its proper colours in fine silk. The shades required for each specimen having been dyed, the weaving was executed by the hand-loom in exact proportion to the original. To ensure permanency the mounting was arranged so that no portion of the silk forming the illustration should come into contact with the adhesive.

The second object kept in view in the preparation of the work was to examine and present, in something like chronological order, the references in old writers to tartan and the Highland dress. The only attempt of the kind hitherto made was that by Donald Gregory and W. F. Skene, included in the Transactions of the Iona Club. Since that valuable work was published a great deal of interesting and original material has been discovered. But what may be termed the literature of the subject is so widely diffused, and contained in works so difficult of access to the general reader—many of them being in MS., and others rare and costly—that it seemed to be of importance to present these notices in a form which would render easy comparison between different ages and[vii] authors. Something of this kind the Editor has endeavoured to carry out in the Introduction. Particular attention has been paid to the accuracy of the extracts, which have been carefully verified by comparison with the authorities. One result has been the discovery of serious errors in quotations by previous writers, and the more important of these are pointed out. The Editor trusts that, considering the importance of the objects he had in view, the length to which several of the extracts have unavoidably run will be pardoned by his readers. He has omitted many references which he regarded as of minor consequence, while several of much importance are given for the first time.

There remains the pleasant duty of thanking those by whose aid the Editor has been enabled to produce the work.

Her Majesty the Queen permitted the Balmoral Tartan as used by the Royal Family to be reproduced, and communicated an account of its origin. Miss Dick Lauder placed at the disposal of the Editor the unique copy of the Vestiarium Scoticum made by her father at Relugas in 1828-29 from the manuscript in possession of the Messrs Hay, and also the correspondence between Sir Walter Scott and Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, so fully referred to in the Introduction. Mrs Charles Elphinstone Dalrymple kindly supplied transcripts of notes on tartans and the Highland dress made by the late Mr Charles Elphinstone Dalrymple, and lent several paintings and drawings, as well as a collection of tartans made by the Highland Society of London and the late Dr. W. F. Skene. To Mr Alexander Donald Mackenzie, Edinburgh, the Editor has been indebted for many valuable suggestions from the first inception of his work; and the fruits of Mr Mackenzie’s study of Gaelic literature and customs were freely placed at his disposal.


Opportunities of inspecting paintings and taking notes of the tartans depicted were kindly granted by His Grace the Duke of Sutherland, the Right Hon. the Earl of Eglinton, the Right Hon. the Earl of Ancaster, the Right Hon. the Countess of Seafield, the Right Hon. Lord Macdonald of the Isles, the Right Hon. Lord Donington, Macleod of Macleod, Cluny Macpherson, The Mackintosh of Mackintosh, the Hon. Mrs R. Baillie-Hamilton, Mr and Mrs Nisbet-Hamilton-Ogilvy, John Alastair Erskine Cunninghame, Esquire of Balgownie, Captain W. Home Drummond Moray of Abercairney, and Frederick Granville Sinclair, Esquire of Barrogill.

The collections of tartans preserved by several families were also placed at the disposal of the Editor.

Information and assistance on various points connected with the subject were accorded by the Most Hon. the Marquis of Ailsa, the Most Hon. the Marchioness of Breadalbane, Lord Archibald Campbell, Sir Arthur Halkett of Pitfirrane, Bart., Miss Fraser of Abertarff, Walter Douglas Campbell, Esquire of Blythswood, James Campbell, Esquire, representative of the Campbells of Craignish, Mr Godwin, Librarian to the Marquis of Bute, Mrs Tilly, London, and others.

To Dr. Thomas Dickson, Curator of the Historical Department H.M. Register House, and to Mr Andrew Ross, Marchmont Herald, the Editor is indebted for valuable direction in regard to many points contained in the Introduction.


EDINBURGH, May 1893.


PREFACE Pages v-viii

The Figure stamped on the cover is from the painting known as “The Regent Moray,” at Langton, formerly at Taymouth. It is one of the oldest pictures in Scotland showing the Highland dress.

The Vignette on the title-page is from a painting in Armadale Castle, dated about 1750. It represents Sir James Macdonald of Sleat and his brother Alexander, afterwards first Lord Macdonald of the Isles.




OF the dress of the Highlanders of Scotland prior to the fifteenth century the descriptions available are few and meagre. True, there are many references to a style of costume which consisted mainly of a loose outer garment, but these are equally applicable to the wear of neighbouring countries, and contain no account of the distinctive features associated with the Highland dress. Probably the earliest reference to the latter is to be found in the Saga of Magnus Barefoot, King of Norway, 1093-1103, who led marauding expeditions to the west of Scotland in the first year of his reign and subsequently. Of his return from such a raid the historian chronicles:—

People say that when King Magnus came home from his viking cruise to the Western countries, he and many of his people brought with them a great deal of the habits and fashions of clothing of those Western parts. They went about on the streets with bare legs, and had short kirtles and over-cloaks; and therefore his men called him Magnus Barefoot or Bareleg.[1]

The word “kyrtlu” probably indicates a garment corresponding somewhat to the feilebeg or kilt, though it may also indicate one which covered the upper portion of the body as well, and thus formed a species of tunic.[2] Still, the description of the distinctive costume of the Western Islanders at this remote period is extremely valuable, especially as it is written by one who lived so near the time when the incidents narrated took place. In accordance with the custom of fosterage then prevalent in Norway, and continued in Scotland long afterwards, Snorro Sturleson, the author of the Saga, was reared with the children of the king’s daughter, and so had opportunity of hearing and noting the use of the strange costume.


The chartularies of Aberdeen attest the use not merely of the style of dress that figures in the Saga, but also of a parti-coloured cloth, which was probably tartan. In these ancient records are notes on early customs of the utmost importance to antiquaries. They contain, besides the charters of the lands belonging to the See, the canons of the Scottish Church, and the statutes of the Church of Aberdeen, framed in the thirteenth century; it is there provided that “all ecclesiastics are to be suitably apparelled, avoiding red, green, and striped clothing, and their garments shall not be shorter than to the middle of the leg.”[3] Of course, it cannot be held that this conclusively proves the existence of breacan or tartan, but striped clothing is as near an approach to an accurate description of it as can be expected at so early a period. The injunctions indicate a general use of parti-coloured garments in the northern districts of the country in the thirteenth century.

The famous clan battle on the North Inch of Perth took place in 1396, but only the slightest reference is made to the dress of the combatants in any of the accounts now extant. In the narrative by Abbot Bower, the continuator of Fordun, it is recorded that the battle was waged

By thirty men against thirty of the opposite party, armed only with swords, bows and arrows, without mantles or other armour except axes.[4]

The mantle is doubtless the over-cloak of Magnus Barefoot’s time, and the prototype of the plaid often so designated by writers of later date.

Borthwick in his Antiquities[5] prints the Accounts for 1474 of John, Bishop of Glasgow, Treasurer to James III., which contain the entry: “Halve ane elne of double tartan to lyne riding collars to the queen.” Pinkerton adopts Borthwick’s reading.[6] Pitcairn cites entries, under date October 1488, of a fabric called “tarter,”and he adds “this is evidently tartan.”[7] Had the conclusions of these antiquaries as to the identity of the words been correct, then these would be the earliest specific references to tartan hitherto discovered in our records; but that they are not is pointed out by the editor of the Treasurer’s Accounts, who writes:—

Tartar, the name of which bespeaks its Eastern origin, though it was no doubt imitated by the weavers of Italy and France, is described as “single” or “double,” according to texture, and as “variant” or shot, the warp and woof being of contrasted colours. This not uncommon word has been frequently misread “tartan,” and examples [3]of its occurrence quoted from the Treasurer’s Accounts as illustrative of the early use of that material.[8]

The opinion of such eminent antiquaries has misled all subsequent writers of important works relating to tartans, with the exception of John Sobieski Stuart and W. F. Skene; even works appearing many years after the issue of the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer continue to perpetuate the old errors.

There is a significant passage in the old Gaelic tale of “Curio,” describing the giant Anteus, which runs thus:—

Nibidh dono tuighi na craibheach, na pell, no brotrach, na brecan, na crocend anmanna, fui isin leapaidh sin acht a thaoebh fri sin talmain.

Now he had not thatch, nor branches, nor hide, nor coverlet, nor breacan [i.e., tartan, or tartan plaid], nor skin under him in that bed, but his side to the earth.[9]

“Brecan,” literally a speckled or variegated cloth, has been employed in the Gaelic language as synonymous with tartan and the tartan plaid from earliest times, in evident allusion to the checked or spotted appearance of the garment. “Breac” signifies parti-coloured or spotted. It is a Gaelic name of the salmon and of the trout, conferred, no doubt, on account of their speckled aspect.

A curious fifteenth century reference to “hewyt,” i.e., coloured, striped, or variegated clothing, occurs in a sumptuary law of the Scots Parliament:—

Item it is statut that na yeman na comonner to landwarts wer hewyt clathes siddar na the kne na yit ragyt clathes bot allenarly centynal yemen in lords housis at rids with gentill men thar masters the quhilks sal haf narow slewis and litil poks.[10]

The introduction of printing naturally tended to produce and to preserve many descriptions of the Highland dress written in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Scottish historians and by travellers from other countries. Of the more important of these, the earliest in chronological order is John Major (1469-1550), whose work was originally published in Latin in 1521. He writes:—

Just as among the Scots we find two distinct tongues, so we likewise find two different [4]ways of life and conduct. For some are born in the forests and mountains of the north, and these we call men of the Highland, but the others men of the Lowland. By foreigners the former are called Wild Scots, the latter householding Scots. The Irish tongue is in use among the former, the English tongue among the latter. One half of Scotland speaks Irish, and all these as well as the Islanders we reckon to belong to the Wild Scots. In dress, in the manner of their outward life, and in good morals, for example, these come behind the householding Scots.... From the mid-leg to the foot they go uncovered; their dress is, for an over garment, a loose plaid, and a shirt saffron-dyed. They are armed with bow and arrows, a broadsword, and a small halbert. They always carry in their belt a stout dagger, single-edged, but of the sharpest. In time of war they cover the whole body with a coat of mail, made of iron rings, and in it they fight. The common folk among the Wild Scots go out to battle with the whole body clad in a linen garment sewed together in patchwork, well daubed with wax or with pitch, and with an over-coat of deerskin. But the common people among our domestic Scots and the English fight in a woollen garment.[11]

From these and other passages in Major’s work it may be inferred that the chiefs and upper classes of the Highlands alone wore the plaid, or any woollen clothing whatever, and that the lower orders were prevented by poverty from obtaining luxuries of this sort. Writing of the clan battle at Perth in 1396, Major states:—

Thirty men, naked but for a doublet that hung from one side, made for the field of battle, armed with bow and double-axe; and these forthwith met the encounter of a like number, armed in the same fashion.... One of the combatants made his escape from the fight.... And there was not found any man who would take the place of the runaway; and ’twas no marvel, since to fight for your life, naked but for a plaid, is no trifle.[12]

In his account of the revolt of Alexander, Lord of the Isles, against the king, describing the Wild Scots, and particularly Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron, Major observes:—

They lead a life of blissful ease; from the poor people they take what they want in victual; bows they have, and quivers, and they have halberts of great sharpness, for their iron ore is good. They carry a stout dirk in their belts; they are often naked from the knee down. In winter for an over garment they wear a plaid.[13]

Perhaps the first indisputable reference to the Highland breacan occurs in the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland in August 1538:—

The Expensis on the Kingis Persoun Deliverit to Thomas Arthure.

Item in the first for ij elnis ane quarter elne of variant cullorit velvet to be the Kingis Grace ane schort Heland coit price of the elne vjlib summa xiijlib xs.
Item for iij elnis quarter elne of grene taffatyis to lyne the said coit with, price of the elne xs summa xxxijs vjd.
Item for iij elnis of Heland tertane to be hoiss to the Kingis Grace, price of the elne iiijs iiijd summa xiijs.
Item for xv elnis of holland claith to be syde Heland sarkis to the Kingis Grace, price of the elne viijs summa vjlib.
Item for sewing and making of the said thre sarkis ixs.
Item for twa vnce of silk to sew thame xs.
Item for iiij elnis of rubeins to the handis of thame[14] ijs.

The costume thus consisted of a short “variant cullorit” Highland coat, tartan hose—that is, trews and stockings combined—and three “syde” or low-hanging Highland shirts (each of which, it would appear, contained five ells), with ties of ribbons at the cuffs. The trews, described in the extract as “hoiss,” extended from the waist to the foot, and were tied with a garter below the knee.

Doubts have been cast, indeed, on the possibility of existence in the rigours of a northern winter with the scanty raiment attributed to the poorer classes, but these are dispelled by the evidence on the point. Preserved in the British Museum is a remarkable letter written in 1542 or 1543 by John Elder, clerk, a “Reddshancke,” to Henry VIII., proposing the union of Scotland with England. The following excerpt affords positive testimony of the hardihood of the people, and of the title “Reddshanckes” conferred upon them by the Lowlanders:—

Moreover, wherfor they call us in Scotland Reddshanckes, and in your Graces dominion of England roghefootide Scottis, Pleas it your Maiestie to understande, that we of all people can tolleratt, suffir, and away best with colde, for boithe somer and wyntir, (excepte whene the froest is mooste vehement,) goynge alwaies bair leggide and bair footide, our delite and pleasure is not onely in huntynge of redd deir, wolfes, foxes, and graies, wherof we abounde, and have greate plentie, but also in rynninge, leapinge, swymynge, shootynge, and thrawinge of dartis: therfor, in so moche as we use and delite so to go alwaies, the tendir delicatt gentillmen of Scotland call us Reddshanckes. And agayne in wyntir, whene the froest is mooste vehement (as I have saide) which we can not suffir bair footide, so weill as snow, whiche can never hurt us whene it cummes to our girdills, we go a huntynge, and after that we have slayne redd deir, we flaye of the skyne, bey and bey, and settinge of our bair foote on the insyde therof, for neide of cunnynge shoemakers, by your Graces pardon, we play the sutters; compasinge and mesuringe so moche therof, as shall retche up to our ancklers, pryckynge the upper part therof also with holis, that the water may repas wher it entris, and stretchide up with a stronge thwange of the same, meitand above our saide ancklers, so, and pleas your noble Grace, we make our schoois: Therfor, we usinge suche maner of shoois, the roghe hairie syde outwart, in your Graces dominion of England we be callit roghefootide [6]Scottis; which maner of schoois (and pleas your Highnes) in Latyne be callid perones, wherof the poete Virgill makis mencioun, sayinge, That the olde auncient Latyns in tyme of warrs uside suche maner of schoos. And althoughe a greate sorte of us Reddshanckes go after this maner in our countrethe, yeit never the les, and pleas your Grace, whene we come to the courte (the Kinges grace our great master beinge alyve) waitinge on our Lordes and maisters, who also, for velvettis and silkis be right well araide, we have as good garmentis as some of our fellowis whiche gyve attendaunce in the court every daye.[15]

That the clothing of the Highlanders at this period was parti-coloured, or tartan, is evident from a foreign traveller’s record almost contemporaneous with John Elder’s epistle. Jean de Beaugué, who accompanied the expedition sent in 1548 by Henry II. of France under Montalembert, Sieur d’Essé, to aid the Scots against the English, wrote an account of his observations, printed in Paris in 1556. Of the appearance of certain Islanders among the troops at the siege of Haddington in the latter year he observes:—

Several Highlanders [or Wild Scots] followed them [the Scottish army] and they were naked except their stained shirts, and a certain light covering made of wool of various colours; carrying large bows, and similar swords and bucklers to the others, i.e. to the Lowlanders.[16]

Proof is thus supplied of the continued use of the Highland shirt, generally saffron-dyed; and the “light covering” was doubtless the mantle or breacan, the belted plaid, for this last is either identical with or a development of the over-cloak of Magnus Barefoot’s time.

In 1552 the Scottish Privy Council passed an Act for the formation of “tua ansaingyeis of fittmen,” to be raised in the Highland portion of Lord Huntly’s lieutenancy, for service in France. The instructions laid down for their equipment afford some idea of the dress of the Highland soldier of the period, since the levy was to be drawn from the north country. It is provided that the men are to be

Substantiouslie accomptirit with jack and plait, steilbonett, sword, bucklair, new hois and new dowblett of cannvus at the lest, and slevis of plait or splenttis, and ane speir of sax elnes lang or thairby.[17]

The trews (hois) and doublet are to be of canvas at least, presumably as a precaution against any shortcoming of woollen stuff; while the kilt or plaid appears to form no portion of the outfit on this occasion.


Of the dress of the common people another description, written about 1573, is given by Lindsay of Pitscottie. It is once more obvious that the belted plaid of latter days was then represented by a loose garment, which was probably plaited round the body to some extent. The chronicle sets forth:—

The other pairt [of Scotland] northerne, ar full of montaines, and verie rud and homlie kynd of people doeth inhabite, which is called the Reidschankis, or wyld Scottis. They be cloathed with ane mantle, with ane schirt fachioned (or saffroned) after the Irisch maner, going bair legged to the knie. Thair weapones ar bowis and dartes, with ane verie broad sword and ane dagger scharp onlie at the on syd.[18]

But the most detailed notice of the dress worn by the inhabitants of the Highlands and Islands in the sixteenth century is to be found in a work by John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, the devoted adherent of Mary Queen of Scots, originally published in Rome in 1578. From his conspicuous position, alike as historian and as statesman, his notes on the apparel of the men and women of his age are highly important. It appears that the belted plaid had become the wear of both rich and poor, through the extended manufacture of woollen fabrics and the increased prosperity of the people. He writes:—

In weiris quhen thay yokit the aduersar, thay invadet athir with ane arrow or a lance. Thay vsed ane twa edged sword lykwyse; the futmen a lang sword, the horsmen a schort sword bot baith vset a verie braid sword, with a scheiring sharpe edge that at the first straik, with little force, it walde scheir a man in twa in the waste or midle. Thay war harnest with Jacks al wouen throuch with yrne huikes, quhilkes habbirgeounis thay cal: This vpon, or as we say, abone a lathir cote, quhilke was na les stark than it was elegant, thay put on. Al thair harnesse was lycht, that gif thay fel in ony danger, the lychtlier thay mycht slip out of the handes of thair ennimies: for in swiftnes of fute, in quhilke thay walde ouirrin the swoftest horse, quhither the way war lang and plane, or gif it war cumirsum throuch hilis or hopes, in sik swoftnes, I say, thay obteined gret prais, athir quhen the ennimie flies to follow, or quhen the ennimie persues to flie, and gif mister be to declyne from perrel.... Thair cleithing was til necessitie, and nocht till decore, maist conuenient ay to the weiris; for thay al vset mantilis of ane forme, baith the Nobilitie and the commone people, excepte that the Nobilitie delyted mair in coloured claith and sindrie hewis, and thir mantilis war baith wyd and lang, notwithstandeng about the bosum, quhair thay walde decentlie losin. I can weil think thir same to be the kynd of cleithing quhilke in ald times in latin war called Brachæ. In thir only mantilis in the nyt seasone, thay rowit thame selfes, and in thame sleipit sound: this was thair maner, and this day the hilande men, and thay of Irland weiris even siklyke, bot now thay use ruch couirings, ane sorte to thair bed, another sorte to the Jornay conuenient. The rest of thair claithis, was a schorte cote of woll, with wyde and apne [8]sleiues that the radier quhen thay walde thay myt schote or caste a darte, or ane arrow, breickis thay had verie slichte, and indeid mair to hyd thair memberis than for ony pompe or pryd, or to defend thame frome the calde was meit. Of linnine lykwyse thay maid wyd sarkis, with mony bosumis, and wide sleifes of negligence hinging doune evin to thair knies. Thir sarkis the mair potent amang thame vset to smeir with saffronne, bot vthiris with a certane fatnes, and this thay did to keip thame cleine frome al filthines. Nathing thay thocht worthier of counsel than to exercise thame selfes continuallie in the sueit of the Barresse, or in siklyke ane exercise. In makeng thame, appeirit na kair or trauel neglected athir in arte or decore: as with threid of silke, cheiflie greine, or rid, al the partes of the sarke maist artificiouslie thay sewit.

Bot the cleithing of the women with thame was maist decent. For thair cotes war syd evin to the hanckleth, wyd mantilis abone, or playdes all embroudiret artificiouslie; bracelets about thair armes, iewalis about thair neck, broches hinging at thair halse, baith cumlie and decent, and mekle to thair decore and outsett.[19]

The editor in his notes to Book I. observes:—

The Latin braccæ is generally understood to be equivalent to our breeks. There are, however, traces of the Latin word being used in a wider sense to mean a loose flowing garment. Bishop Leslie here applies it to the plaid or tartan, and, as it would seem, on the ground of the variegated colours expressed by the Gaelic breac. This is felt even in the use of the Latin word. We find braccæ described as pictæ and virgatæ, coloured and striped. Perhaps the original braccæ, which so took the attention of the Romans when they met the Gauls, were striped and parti-coloured, and so gave rise to the name. In Irish breacan still means a plaid. It would seem, then, that the Latin word is borrowed from Celtic. The modern word breeks or breeches is a double plural, and stands for brec, plural of Anglo-Saxon broc. This last reminds us of Celtic brog, a shoe. Broc can hardly be derived from either breac or brog, for we find corresponding forms in all the Teutonic dialects. Neither can broc mean speckled, for we have freck, freckle, to represent breac. The Teutonic words, together with brog, may thus be cognate terms expressing the sense of cover or protect, perhaps allied to Anglo-Saxon beorgan. Comp. bark, the covering of a tree. Brock in modern English and Scots means a badger; but this is clearly the Gaelic broc. The animal was so named from its colour—pie or speckle.[20]

It has been held that this particular account, while establishing the use of tartans by the chiefs or nobles, proves them to have been by no means common wear. But, taken in conjunction with the writings of Buchanan, a few years later, the interpretation seems to be that, while the leaders preferred the more [9]brilliantly coloured patterns, the rank and file had quieter designs, at once more economical and more serviceable.

George Buchanan in his History, published in 1582, furnishes a detailed account of the dress and arms of the Highlanders. He writes:—

They delight in variegated garments, especially stripped, and their favourite colours are purple and blue. Their ancestors wore plaids of many different colours, and numbers still retain this custom, but the majority, now, in their dress, prefer a dark brown, imitating nearly the leaves of the heather, that when lying upon the heath in the day, they may not be discovered by the appearance of their clothes; in these, wrapped rather than covered, they brave the severest storms in the open air, and sometimes lay themselves down to sleep even in the midst of snow. In their houses, also, they lie upon the ground; strewing fern, or heath, on the floor, with the roots downward and the leaves turned up. In this manner they form a bed so pleasant, that it may vie in softness with the finest down, while in salubrity it far exceeds it; for heath, naturally possessing the power of absorption, drinks up the superfluous moisture, and restores strength to the fatigued nerves, so that those who lie down languid and weary in the evening, arise in the morning vigorous and sprightly. They have all, not only the greatest contempt for pillows, or blankets, but, in general, an affectation of uncultivated roughness, and hardihood, so that when choice, or necessity induces them to travel in other countries, they throw aside the pillows, and blankets of their hosts, and wrapping themselves round with their own plaids, thus go to sleep, afraid lest these barbarian luxuries, as they term them, should contaminate their native simple hardiness. Their defensive armour consists of an iron headpiece and a coat of mail, formed of small iron rings, and frequently reaching to the heels. Their weapons are, for the most part, a bow, and arrows barbed with iron, which cannot be extracted without widely enlarging the orifice of the wound; but a few carry swords or Lochaber axes. Instead of a trumpet they use a bagpipe. They are exceedingly fond of music, and employ harps of a peculiar kind, some of which are strung with brass, and some with catgut. In playing they strike the wires either with a quill, or with their nails, suffered to grow long for the purpose; but their grand ambition is to adorn their harps with great quantities of silver and gems, those who are too poor to afford jewels substituting crystals in their stead. Their songs are not inelegant, and, in general, celebrate the praises of brave men; their bards seldom choosing any other subject.[21]

In the Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland for the year 1575 the following ordinance against the use of sumptuous clothing by Ministers and Readers of the Church is recorded:—

The Generall Assembly haldin and begun the 6 day of August 1575, in the Ovir Tolbuith of Edenburgh: wher ther was present the Bischops of Galloway, Dunkeld, [10]Brechine, Dumblane, Glasgow, and the Bischop of the Yles, Superintendents of Angus and Lowthiane, Commissioners of Countreyes and Townes, with the Ministers. Mr Robert Pont (Provest of Trinity College), Moderatour.

The brether appointit to pen thair judgement anent the habite of the Ministers and thair wyfes, presentit the same to the Assemblie, quhilk was found good; and all the brether serving the functioun of the Kirk, ordaynes to conforme themselves and thair wyves therto, and ordainit effectuouslie to follow the same: Quherof the tenor followes in thir wordes.

Forsameikle as a comely and decent apparrell is requisite in all, namelie in the Ministers and sick as beares functioun in the Kirk: First we think all kynd of brodering vnseimlie, all bagaries of velvett on gownes, hoses, or coat, and all superfluous and vaine cutting out, steiking with silks; all kynd of costlie sewing on pasments, or sumptuous or large steiking with silks; all kynd of costlie sewing or variant hews in sarks, all kynd of light and variant hewes in cloathing, as red, blew, yellow, and sicklyke, quhilk declares the lightnes of the mynd; all wearing of rings, bracelets, buttons of silver, gold, or vther mettall; all kynd of superfluitie of cloath in makeing of hose; all vsing of plaids in the Kirk be Reidars or Ministers, namelie in tyme of thair ministry and vsing thair office: all kynd of gowning, coating or doubliting, or breiches of velvett, satine, taffettie, or sicklyke; all costlie gilting of whingers and knyves, or sicklyke; all silk hatts, or hatts of divers and light collours: Bot that thair haill habite be of grave collour, as black, russet, sad gray, sad broune or searges, wirssett chamlet, growgrame lytes wirssett, or sicklyke: and to be short, that the good word of God be them and thair immoderatenes be not slanderit; and thair wifes to be subiect to the same ordour.[22]

The Council Register of the Burgh of Aberdeen contains entries prohibiting the use of plaids, which appear to have attained considerable vogue in a district by no means Highland; and the reason annexed to the second of these seems to indicate a praiseworthy courtesy on the part of the city fathers:—

5th October 1576.It is statut and ordanit be the provest, baillies, consell, witht consent of the communitie present for the tyme, being conuenit on the gill court day, and that na burges of gild nor dekin of craft quhatsumeuir withtin this burght, be fund werand ane plaid fra the feist of Sanct Martein nixt to cum in ony time thairefter withtin the burtht, under the pain of fourtie s. to be uptakin onforgewin fra the persouns apprehendit wering the said plaid efter the forsaid feist of Sanct Martein, and the plaid to be gewin to the hospitall to thair support, that ar pleset thairin.

6th June 1621.The said day the prowest, baillies, and counsall considdering the inciuill forme of behaweour of a great manye wemen in this burght, of gude qualitie, quha resortis both to kirk and mercat with thair playddis about thair headis, and be thair exampill the meaner sort of wemen vses the samen forme of incivilitie, quhilk gewis offence to strangeris and occasioun to thame to speik reprochefullie of all wemen generallie within [11]this burght; for remeid quharof, it is statute and ordanit that na wemen within this burght of quhatsumeuir rank, qualitie, or degrie they be of, presvme or tak vpon hand to resort to kirk or mercat with thair playddis about their heidis, vnder the paines following, to be exactit of the contravenar without fauour, toties quoties: viz. xiii. sh. iiij. d. of the wyiff of ilk burges of gild, and sex sh. aucht d. of ilk craftisman, and this act to be intimat out of the pulpit of baith the kirkis on Sonday nixt, and thaireftir to hawe effect and executioun in tyme comeing.[23]

In view of what the old writers point out, that the early dress of the Irish people bore a close resemblance to that of the Scottish Highlanders, the description given by John Derricke in 1581 is valuable as attesting the prevalence in his time of the two forms of the dress—the kilt and the trews. It runs thus:—


With Jackettes long and large, which shroude simplicitie:
Though spitfull dartes which thei do beare importe iniquitie.
Their Shirts be verie straunge, not reachyng paste the thie:
With pleates on pleates thei pleated are, as thicke as pleates maie lye.
Whose sleues hang trailing doune almoste unto the Shoe:
And with a Mantell commonilie, the Irishe Karne doe goe.
Now some emongest the reste, doe use an other weede:
A coate I meane of strange device, whiche fancie first did breede.
His skirtes be verie shorte, with pleates set thicke about,
And Irishe trouzes more to put their straunge protractours out.[24]

Sir Walter Scott, writing of the verse, makes this comment:—

This second sort of dress, namely, a short woollen jacket, with plaited skirts, and long trowsers, made tight to the body, and chequered with various colours, was precisely that of a Highland gentleman, the plaid coming in place of the mantle.[25]

Of the dress and arms of the Highlanders at the close of the sixteenth century some details are furnished by M. Nicolay d’Arfeville, Cosmographer to the King of France, in an account of a visit to Scotland, published at Paris in 1583. The following is a translation of a portion of his description:—

Those who inhabit Scotland to the south of the Grampian chain, are tolerably civilized and obedient to the laws, and speak the English language; but those who inhabit [12]the north are more rude, homely, and unruly, and for this reason are called savages [or Wild Scots.] They wear, like the Irish, a large and full shirt, coloured with saffron, and over this a garment hanging to the knee, of thick wool, after the manner of a cassock. They go with bare heads, and allow their hair to grow very long, and they wear neither stockings nor shoes, except some who have buskins made in a very old fashion, which come as high as their knees.

Their arms are the bow and arrow, and some darts, which they throw with great dexterity, and a large sword, with a single-edged dagger. They are very swift of foot, and there is no horse so swift as to outstrip them, as I have seen proved several times, both in England and Scotland.[26]

One of the most striking and specific references to tartan is to be found in the year 1587, and it occurs in connection with the lands of Norraboll, in the island of Islay. In the Crown charter of Novodamus, dated 19th March 1587-8, granted to Hector Makclene, son and heir-apparent of Lauchlan Makclene of Dowart, the feu-duty for these lands is specified as:-

Pro Nerrabollsadh 60 ulnas panni, albi, nigri, et grosei coloris respective, et ulnam panni in augmentationem rentalis (vel 8 den pro qualibet ulna).[27]

John Sobieski Stuart, who first drew attention to this entry,[28] quotes the word “grosei” as “grisei,” and adds “in this enumeration there appears a slight error, from a presumption that the third colour should have been green. The word undoubtedly in each case is “grosei,” and is so printed in the Record Issue. What was meant by “grosei” we learn from two sources. In the signature upon which the Crown charter above quoted proceeds, the lands and the feu-duty exigible are thus described:—

All and haill the foirnamit fyve merk landis of Nerrabolsadh with the pertinentis the sowme of lx ellis claith quhite blak and grene cullouris respective or viiid vsuall money of this realme for ilk ell at the optioun of the said Hector and his foirsaidis at the termes foirsaidis be equal portiounis and ane el claith or viiid for the price thereof in augmentation of the rentale mair nor euir the same payit of befor.[29]

These lands formerly belonged to the “Abbot of the Isle of Iona.” They were annexed to the Crown at the period of the alteration of the State religion in Scotland in the sixteenth century, and feued out to Makclene [13]of Dowart on the conditions referred to, and they appear in the Register of Temporalities belonging to the Crown in this form:—

Charge. Argile and Tarbart. Item, the comptar charges him with the fewmaillis of the fyve merk lands of Narraboll liand within the said shirefdome set in few to Hector McClane of Dowart extending yeirlie in claith of quhite blak and grene cullouris respective to lx elnis. The eln sauld be infeftment at viiid with the new augmentation of the same extending to 1 eln of clayth sauld as said is Inde the yeir comptit in money to xls. viiid.[30]

John Sobieski Stuart’s transcriber had failed to give him the full reference by omitting the words “et ulnam panni in augmentationem rentalis,” which, taken in connection with the two contemporary vernacular readings above given, settles that the cloth was not to be of three separate pieces, each of an individual colour, but cloth in which the dyes specified were interwoven.

But more remains to be said about this remarkable feu-duty. About 1617 Makclene of Dowart appears to have got into difficulties. At all events, in that year a Crown charter of the lands was granted to Rorie M’Kenzie of Cogeauche. The reddendo is identical with that in the charter of 1587-8 already quoted, but the signature is in these words:—

And lykewise for the foirsaid fyve merk land of Narrobolsydh with the pertinentis thriescoir ellis of quhyte blak and gray claith respective or viiid money foirsaid for euerie elne in the optioun of the said Rory McKenzie his airis maill and assignais foirsaidis at the termes abone specifiet be equall portiones as the auld meill. And lykewise ane elne of claith or aucht penneis for the price thairof in yeirlie augmentatioun of the rentall gif it beis askit.[31]

When the lands were restored in 1630 to Makclene of Dowart, while the Latin charter remains unchanged, the signature is in these words:—

For the foirsaid fyve merk land of Morrabulsadtir with the pertinentis, thriescore elnis of claith quhyte blak and gras cullour respective or aucht penneis vsuell money of the said realme of Scotland for ilk elne at the will of the said Lauchlane his aires male and assignais foirsaidis at twa termes in the yeare Witsounday and Mertinmas in winter be equall portiounis as the auld fewferme. Ane elne of claith or aucht penneis for the price thereof in augmentatioun of the yeirlie rent gif it beis askit.[32]

The explanation is simple enough. White and black and green are the only colours in the oldest authenticated Mac Lean tartan.


The evidence of all accounts of the costume of the people inhabiting the northern and western portions of Scotland in the sixteenth century attests the use of the yellow saffron-dyed shirt, and the cloak, cassock or plaid, reaching to about the knee, as the ordinary dress. A reference to a yellow coat, which appears to have been a garment distinct from the yellow shirt, is found at this period. It occurs in a History of the Gordons, preserved in the Advocates’ Library, which states that in 1590:—

Angus, the son of Lachlan, chiefe of the Clanchattan, with a great party attempts to surpryze the Castle of Ruthven in Badenoch, belonging to Huntly, in which there was but a small garrison; but finding this attempt could neither by force nor fraude have successe, he retires a little to consult how to compasse his intent. In the meanetyme, one creeps out under the shelter of some old ruines, and levells with his piece at one of the Clanchattan cloathed in a yellow warr coat (which, amongst them, is the badge of the cheifetaines or heads of clans). And, peircing his body with the bullet, stricks him to the ground, and retires with gladness into the castle. The man killed was Angus himselfe, whom his people carry away, and conceill his death for many years, pretending he was gone beyond seas.[33]

On account of the proximity of the Western Isles of Scotland to the northern portions of Ireland there was frequent intercourse between the inhabitants, and aid in seasons of disturbance was a mutual courtesy. During the last years of the sixteenth century the Red Earl of Ulster, Hugh O’Donnell, was in arms against the English Crown; and in 1594 a body of warriors was despatched from the Western Isles to his assistance. Peregrine O’Clery’s description of these troops, as translated from the Irish by Edward O’Reilly, is as follows:—

These (the auxiliaries from the isles) were afterwards mixed with the Irish militia, with the diversity of their arms, their armour, their mode, manners, and speech. The outward clothing they wore was a mottled garment with numerous colours hanging in folds to the calf of the leg, with a girdle round the loins over the garment. Some of them with horn-hafted swords, large and military, over their shoulders. A man when he had to strike with them was obliged to apply both his hands to the haft. Others with bows, well polished, strong and serviceable, with long twanging hempen strings, and sharp-pointed arrows that whizzed in their flight.[34]

The tartan belted plaid is undoubtedly here described, since no other garment could have been so disposed as to afford the requisite protection.


In 1596 Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenvrquhay granted in heritage to his third son,

John Campbell of Auchinryre, the lands of Auchynrere, Drumnavoke, and Condolych, respectively of the old extent of six, four, and two marks, for the yearly payment of £10 Scots at the usual terms, and one gallon of sufficient aquavite “et optimam chlamidem coloratam, vulgo ane fyne hewed brakane” [i.e., breacan or tartan plaid] at Martinmas.[35]

In connection with the plantation of Ulster by Scots colonists towards the end of the sixteenth century, there is evidence that tartan was manufactured in Ireland at that period. Concerning Lady Montgomery, wife of Sir Hugh Montgomery of the Eglinton family, who was a daughter of the Laird of Greenock, we read:—

She set up and encouraged linen and woollen manufactory which soon brought down the prices of the breakens [i.e., tartans] and narrow cloths of both sorts.[36]

Of seventeenth century writings one of the earliest to provide a notice of the Highland dress is Camden’s Britannia, printed in 1607, which mentions that:-

This country is inhabited by a rough, warlike, and very mischievous sort of people, commonly called Highlandmen, who are the true offspring of the ancient Scotch, speak Irish, call themselves Albinnich, are set and tight moulded, of great strength and swiftness, high spirited, bred up in war or rather robbery, and extremely prone to revenge and deep resentment. They wear after the Irish fashion striped mantles and thick long hair, and live by hunting, fishing, and plunder.[37]

Doubtless there was greater intercourse between the English and their conquered dependants in Ireland than between the English and the Scots, and hence the dress in Ireland ranks before that in Scotland in the comparison instituted by the writer.

Peculiar interest attaches to the description of John Taylor in The Pennyless Pilgrimage; for his observations, carefully noted down in 1618, in view of the fact that they would come under the cognisance of the king (James VI.), are full and important, as this extract illustrates:—

Thus with extreme travell, ascending and descending, mounting and alighting, I came at night to the place where I would be, in the Brea of Marr, which is a large country, all composed of such mountaines, that Shooter’s hill, Gads hill, Highgate hill, Hampsted hill, Birdlip hill, or Malvernes hill, are but mole-hills in comparison, or like a liver, or a gizzard [16]under a capon’s wing, in respect to the altitude of their tops, or perpendicularitie of their bottomes. There I saw mount Benawne [Benavon in Braemar] with a furr’d mist upon his snowie head instead of a night cap: for you must understand, that the oldest man alive never saw but the snow was on the top of divers of those hills, both in summer, as well as in winter. There did I finde the truely noble and right honourable Lords John Erskin Earle of Marr, James Stuart Earle of Murray, George Gordon Earle of Engye, sonne and heire to the Marquesse of Huntly, James Erskin Earle of Bughan, and John Lord Erskin, sonne and heire to the Earle of Marr, and their Countesses, with my much honoured, and my best assured and approved friend, Sir William Murray knight, of Abercarny, and hundred of others knights, esquires, and their followers; all and every man in generall in one habit, as if Licurgus had beene there, and made lawes of equality. For once in the yeere, which is the whole moneth of August, and sometimes part of September, many of the nobility and gentry of the kingdome (for their pleasure) doe come into these high-land countries to hunt, where they doe conforme themselves to the habite of the High-land-men, who for the most part, speake nothing but Irish; and in former time were those people which were called the Red-shankes. Their habite is shooes with but one sole apiece; stockings (which they call short hose) made of a warm stuffe of divers colours, which they call Tartane: as for breeches, many of them, nor their forefathers, never wore any, but a jerkin of the same stuffe that their hose is of, their garters being bands or wreathes of hay or straw, with a plead about their shoulders, which is a mantle of divers colours, much finer and lighter stuffe than their hose, with blue flat caps on their heads, a handkerchiefe knit with two knots about their necke; and thus are they attyred. Now, their weapons are long bowes and forked arrowes, swords and targets, harquebusses, muskets, durks, and Loquhabor-axes. With these armes I found many of them armed for the hunting. As for their attire, any man of what degree soever that comes amongst them, must not disdaine to weare it: for if they doe, then they will disdaine to hunt, or willingly to bring in their dogges: but if men be kind unto them, and be in their habit; then are they conquered with kindnesse, and the sport will be plentifull. This was the reason that I found so many noblemen and gentlemen in those shapes. But to proceed to the hunting.

My good Lord of Marr having put me into that shape, I rode with him from his house, where I saw the ruines of an old castle, called the castle of Kindroghit. It was built by King Malcolm Canmore (for a hunting house) who raigned in Scotland when Edward the Confessor, Harold, and Norman William raigned in England: I speak of it, because it was the last house I saw in those parts; for I was the space of twelve days after, before I saw either house, corne-field, or habitation for any creature, but deere, wilde horses, wolves, and suche like creatures, which made me doubt that I should never have seene a house againe.[38]

The attachment of the Highlanders to their distinctive attire is conspicuously evident in this account, which deserves careful study in consequence of its [17]profusion of detail. Trews (breeches) were not worn, but in their stead was a tartan “jerkin”; and this had no connection with the plaid, for the people had a “plead about their shoulders, which is a mantle of divers colours, much finer and lighter stuffe than their hose.” Being coarser and thicker than the plaid, the “jerkin” could scarcely have been the shirt, and it was most probably the feilebeg, or little kilt, used as a separate garment.

That the form of the feilebeg was known to the Highlanders before the civil wars of the seventeenth century, and that the belted plaid was thrown occasionally into the form of the feilebeg, is proved by the following extract:—

As for their Apparel; next the skin, they wear a short linnen Shirt, which the great Men among them sometimes dye of saffron Colour. They use it short, that it may not incumber them, when running or travelling. Major says the common People among them went out to Battle, having their Body cover’d with Linnen of many Folds sewed together and done over with Wax or Pitch, with a covering of Hart’s Skin; but that the English and common lowland Scots fought in Clokes. In the sharp Winter weather the Highland Men wear close trowzes, which cover the Thighs, Legs, and Feet. To fence their feet they put on Rullions or raw leather shoes. Above their Shirt they have a single Coat, reaching no farther than the Navel. Their uppermost Garment is a loose Cloke of several Ells, striped and party colour’d (the tartan plaid), which they gird breadth-wise with a Leathern Belt so as it scarce covers the knees, and that for the above-mention’d Reason, that it may be no Lett to them, when on a Journey or doing any Work. Far the greatest part of the Plaid covers the uppermost parts of the Body. Sometimes it is all folded round the Body about the Region of the Belt, for disengaging and leaving the Hands free; and sometimes ’tis wrapped round all that is above the Flank. The trowzes are for Winter use; at other Times they content themselves with short Hose, which scarce reach to the knees. When they compose themselves to Rest and Sleep, they loose the Belt, and roll themselves in the Plaid, lying down on the bare Ground, or putting Heather under them nicely set together after their Manner; or, for want of that, they use a little Straw or Hay.[39]

It has been already noted that the Scottish auxiliaries who went to France in 1552 were in trews (“hois”), and, similarly, when the northern army invaded England in 1639, no reference is made to the kilt or to the bare legs, the first peculiarity to impress strangers. It would thus appear that the kilt did not at this time form part of the military dress. The following description is extracted from Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier, which evinces considerable acquaintance with military habits and equipments:—

I confess, the soldiers made a very uncouth figure, especially the highlanders: the oddness and barbarity of their garb and arms seemed to have something in it remarkable. [18]They were generally tall swinging fellows; their swords were extravagantly and I think insignificantly broad, and they carried great wooden targets, large enough to cover the upper part of their bodies. Their dress was as antique as the rest; a cap on their heads, called by them a bonnet, long hanging sleeves behind, and their doublet, breeches, and stockings, of a stuff they called plaid, striped across red and yellow, with short cloaks of the same. These fellows looked, when drawn out, like a regiment of merry-andrews, ready for Bartholomew Fair. They are in companies all of a name and therefore call one another only by their christian names, ... and they scorn to be commanded but by one of their own clan or family.... There were three or four thousand of these in the Scots’ army, armed only with swords and targets; and in their belts some of them had a pistol, but no musquets at that time among them.[40]

Here again there appears to be evidence of the plaid, under the designation of “short cloak,” as a separate garment, which, taken in conjunction with Taylor’s description in 1618, affords a strong presumption that its use, along with, but detached from, kilt or trews, was quite common.

In the act and decreet in favour of Thomas M’Kenzie of Pluscardin against a band of Highlanders who had plundered him and his tenants in the month of June 1649, there are enumerated as among the articles taken away or destroyed:—

Item ane whyt plaid worth eight punds With coat and trews and shoes worth four pund scots with four pair of lining sheits worth four pund the pair, ane pair of bed plaids worth twentie four punds tuo coverings worth four punds the peice Ten elne of new lining worth twentie shilling the elne. Item ten elnes of tartan at threttie shilling the elne.[41]

In 1669 the Rev. James Brome, M.A., Rector of Cheriton in Kent, visited Scotland, and in 1700 he published his work. His description of Highland dress and arms is largely adapted from Buchanan, whose work is, indeed, appropriated by many other writers. Brome’s note is as follows:—

The Highlanders, who inhabit the West part of the Country, in their Language Habit and Manners agree much with the Customs of the Wild Irish, and their chief City is Elgin, in the County of Murray, seated upon the Water of Lossy, formerly the Bishop of Murray’s Seat, with a Church sumptuously built, but now gone to decay. They go habited in Mantles striped, or streaked with divers colours about their Shoulders, which they call Plodden, with a Coat girt close to their Bodies, and commonly are naked upon their Legs, but wear Sandals upon the Soles of their Feet, and their Women go clad much after the same Fashion: They get their Living mostly by Hunting, Fishing, and Fowling; and when they go to War, the Armour wherewith they cover their Bodies, is a Morion or Bonnet of Iron, and an Habergeon, which comes down almost to their very [19]Heels; their Weapons against their Enemies are Bows and Arrows, and they are generally reputed good Marks-Men upon all occasions; their Arrows for the most part are barbed or crooked, which once entred within the Body cannot well be drawn out again, unless the Wound be made wider; some of them fight with broad Swords and Axes, and in the room of a Drum make use of a Bag-pipe. They delight much in Musick, but chiefly in Harps and Clarishoes of their own Fashion, the strings of which are made of Brass-Wire, and the strings of their Harps with Sinews, which strings they strike either with their Nails growing long, or else with an Instrument appointed for that use.[42]

Thomas Kirk, of Cookridge, Yorkshire, who made an extensive tour in Scotland in 1677, kept a journal of his observations, and, thanks to his minute description, it becomes possible to demonstrate that the story of the modern invention of the feilebeg or kilt as a separate article of dress is a fabrication. For not only does he describe the kilt precisely, but he notes with great exactness the manner of wearing the plaid, which corresponds in every particular with its use at the present time. Writing at Inverness, he says:—

Here we may note the habit of a Highlander: their doublets are slashed in the sleeves, and open on the back; their breeches and stockings are either all on a piece, and straight to them, plaid colour; or otherwise, a sort of breeches, not unlike a petticoat, that reaches not so low, by far, as their knees, and their stockings are rolled up about the calves of their legs, and tied with a garter, their knee and thigh being naked. On their right side they wear a dagger, about a foot or half-a-yard long, the back filed like a saw, and several kinnes (? skeans) struck in the sheath of it; in either pocket a case of iron or brass pistols, a sword about a handful broad, and five feet long, on the other side, and perhaps a gun on one shoulder and a sack of luggage on the other. Thus accoutred, with a plaid over the left shoulder and under the right arm, and a cap a-cock, he struts like a peacock, and rather prides in than disdains his speckled feet.[43]

It is somewhat remarkable that this testimony, which decides the vexed question of the separate use of kilt and plaid prior to the eighteenth century, has hitherto escaped the notice of all writers on the subject.

During the turbulent period of the wars of Montrose and Dundee many bodies of armed Highlanders were imported into the Lowlands. One of the largest, known as the Highland Host, consisted of ten thousand men employed in the repression of the Western Shires. A letter in the Wodrow MSS., Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, written under date 1st February 1678, states:—

We are now all quartered in and about this town [? Ayr], the Highlanders only in free quarters. It would be truely a pleasant sight, were it at an ordinary weaponshaw, to see this Highland crew. You know the fashion of their wild apparel, not one of ten of them [20]hath breaches, yet hose and shoes are their greatest need and most clever prey, and they spare not to take them every where: In so much that the committee here, and the Counsel with you (as it is said) have ordered some thousands of pairs of shoes to be made to stanch this great spoil. As for their armes and other militarie acoutrements, it is not possible for me to describe them in writing; here you may see head-pieces and steel-bonnets raised like pyramides, and such as a man would affirme they had only found in chamber-boxes; targets and shields of the most odde and anticque forme, and pouder hornes hung in strings, garnished with beaten nails and plates of burnished brass. And truely I doubt not but a man, curious in our antiquities, might in this host finde explications of the strange pieces of armour mentioned in our old lawes, such as bosnet, iron-hat, gorget, pesane, wambrassers, and reerbrassers, panns, leg-splents, and the like, above what any occasion in the Lowlands would have afforded for several hundereds of yeers. Among their ensignes also, besides other singularities, the Glencow men were very remarkable, who had for their ensigne a faire bush of heath, wel-spred and displayed on the head of a staff, such as might have affrighted a Roman eagle.[44]

This letter is especially noteworthy as containing an early reference to the badge or ensign used to distinguish particular clans. The “Glencow” men—no doubt the Mac Ians of Glencoe, a sept of the Clan Mac Donald—“had for their ensign a fair bush of heath,” and the badge of the Mac Donalds is still Fraoch or heath. The writer’s description implies that the rank and file of the Highland Host wore the kilt or the belted plaid; those who did not being, of course, the officers, who would wear the trews. That such was the fact is confirmed by what follows.

A sarcastic and amusing description of the Highlanders concerned in the expedition of 1678 was written by Lieut.-Colonel William Cleland (1661-1689), of the Cameronian or Earl of Angus’s Regiment, who was killed fighting the remnant of Viscount Dundee’s army. Not only does it confirm the description in the Wodrow letter, but it furnishes information of a detailed character as to dress and accoutrements, as the following quotation shows:—

But to discrive them right surpasses
The art of nine Parnassus Lasses.

* * * * *

Their head, their neck, their leggs and thighs:
Are influenced by the skies,
Without a clout to interrupt them
They need not strip them when they whip them;
Nor loose their doublet, when they’re hang’d
If they be miss’d, its sure they’re wrong’d.

* * * * *

Their durks hang down between their leggs
Where they made many slopes and geggs;
By rubbing on their naked side,
And wambling from side to side.
But those who were their chief Commanders,
As such who bore the pirnie standarts,
Who led the van, and drove the rear,
Were right well mounted of their gear;
With brogues, trues, and pirnie plaides,
With good blew bonnets on their heads,
Which on the one side had a flipe
Adorn’d with a tobacco pipe.
With durk, and snap-work, and snuff-mill,
A bagg which they with onions fill,
And, as their strick observers say,
A tupe horn fill’d with usquebay;
A slasht out coat beneath her plaides,
A targe of timber, nails and hides;
With a long two handed sword,
As good’s the country can affoord;
Had they not need of bulk and bones,
Who fight with all these arms at once?
It’s marvelous how in such weather,
Ov’r hill and hop they came together;
How in such stormes they came so farr;
The reason is, they’re smear’d with tar,
Which doth defend them heel and neck,
Just as it doth their sheep protect;
But least ye doubt that this is true,
They’re just the colour of tar’d wool.[45]

Here we have two distinct forms of dress—that of the men, the kilt or the belted plaid, and that of the “chief Commanders,” who “were right well mounted of their gear; with brogues, trues, and pirnie plaides.”

But perhaps the most striking evidence that two forms of dress were in use in the Highlands at this time is that supplied by the supporters of the arms of Skene of that Ilk. The blazon of the supporters in the Lyon Register is:—

forms of dress for men

On the dexter by a highland man in his proper garb holding a skene with his right hand in a guarding posture, and on the sinister be another in a servill habit his target on the left arm and the darlach by his side.[46]


In the Introduction to the Nisbet Plates,[47] the work from which the illustration is taken, it is pointed out that in the Nisbet MS. the description of the supporters runs as follows:—

Supported on the dexter by a highland gentleman in his proper garb, holding a skein with his right hand in a guarding posture, and on the sinister by another highlandman in a servill habit, with his target on his left arme and his dorloch be his side.[48]

It is impossible to conceive of evidence of a more conclusive and satisfactory character than that here adduced of the existence of both modes of dress at this period and of the rank of the respective wearers. The original illustration is the work of Robert Wood, an Edinburgh engraver, and in Mr Ross’s Opinion was executed, and Alexander Nisbet’s description above quoted written, 1695-1704.[49]

The Grameid, written in 1691, contains many references to the clothing and uniforms of the Highland army serving under Viscount Dundee. From the shoulder of Keppoch “hung the tartan plaid.” The inhabitants of the Hebrides are clothed “in yellow and blue.” Dundee, addressing the leaders, bids them “draw out your clans in their saffron array upon the plain,” and speaks of “the plaided race of Grampian giants.” General Mackay is represented as concluding “that he had subdued the tartaned bands of ancient Albion.” A most explicit description is that of the followers of Glengarry, “three hundred illustrious youths in the first flower of vigorous manhood, each of whom a tartan garb covers, woven with Phrygian skill in triple stripe, and as a garment clothes their broad chests and flanks. A helmet defends the temples of the men. A coloured plaid veils their shoulders, and otherwise they are naked.... Following him closely comes his brother Allan, the brave, with a hundred men all clothed in garments interwoven with the red stripe, their brawny calves bound with the red buskin.” Of Locheil, the poet says, “his tartan hose are gartered round his calf.” M’Martin in “variegated array advances with lofty mien”; the garter ribbons “hanging at his leg were dyed with Corycian saffron, and with the tint of the Tyrian shell, as was his plaid.” Of Mac Lean of Duart and his brother Alexander “the flowing plaid with yellow stripe covers the shoulders of both the brothers.” Mac Neill of Barra “displays as many colours woven into his plaid as the rainbow in the clouds shows in the sunlight.” The Mac Leods of [23]Raasay advance “with plumed heads erect, and shoulders covered with girded plaid.” The Dougals of Craignish “all carry the brazen-hilted sword, and wear the girded plaid.” “The whole plaided forces of the Highland chiefs, both horse and foot, the entire body take post.” Dundee beholds his “bands gleaming with brass, and admires the companies in their brilliant colours, and is refreshed by the sharp note of the pipe.” The “tartaned host” pours itself out upon the field. In sight of their opponents the Highland warriors “draw their swords, and, extended on the plain, they move in ordered ranks; they cast their brogues of bull’s hide, and make a pile of their plaids, and thus stripped, prepare for the battle.” General Mackay takes counsel how he “will overwhelm the tartaned lines of the target-bearing Scot”; while the poet writes of the march of his opponents, “the whole body of the Highlanders is formed into one column, and forthwith the cavalry mount their horses, and the whole plaided army, with floating banners, went forth from the deserted camp into the open plain.”[50]

It appears from various references that the trews and the belted plaid were sometimes worn together. On a powder-horn which belonged to the late James Drummond, R.S.A., and now in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, there are figures in the Highland dress, and one of these seems to illustrate this mode. As to the age of the relic, Mr Drummond, in a communication to the Society in April 1872, gave various reasons for believing it to have been the property of Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat, who was born in 1630. Again, in an extract from a MS. stated to have been in the possession of Dr. Mac Lean, Oban, giving an account of the battle of Killiecrankie, it is stated that John Macrae of Inversheil, having been struck in the thigh by a musket shot—

The ball having carried into the wound the cloth of his belted plade, and the trewes that he wore under them, the woolen did so wrankle the flesh, that with his hard travail, and need of a chirurgeon, it was long after before he got cured.[51]

In fact, so late as 1746, when Prince Charles Edward embarked on his return to France, a letter written by Colonel Warren, and preserved among the Stuart papers, records that he was dressed in “a threadbare coat of coarse black frieze, tartan trews, and over them a belted plaid.”

In 1688 William Sacheverell, Governor of the Isle of Man, visited Mull [24]and other Western Islands, and his account is valuable and interesting because it is fair in its criticism and accurate in its description; and it affords evidence of the general use of the belted plaid, to the exclusion of the trews, among the common people. Sacheverell superintended the efforts made to recover the guns and other fittings of the Florida, one of the scattered vessels of the Spanish Armada, blown up, according to the traditions of the Mac Leans, by Donald Glas, son of Mac Lean of Morvern, in Tobermory Bay in 1588. Thus he had ample opportunity of noting the costume and manners of the natives of Mull and other Highlanders, of whom he writes:—

During my stay I generally observed the men to be large-bodied, stout, subtle, active, patient of cold and hunger. There appeared in all their actions a certain generous air of freedom, and contempt of those trifles, luxury and ambition, which we so servilely creep after. They bound their appetites by their necessities, and their happiness consists, not in having much, but in coveting little. The women seem to have the same sentiments with the men; though their habits were mean and they had not our sort of breeding, yet in many of them there was a natural beauty and a graceful modesty, which never fails of attracting. The usual habit of both sexes is the pladd; the women’s much finer, the colours more lively, and the squares larger than the men’s, and put me in mind of the ancient Picts. This serves them for a veil, and covers both head and body. The men wear theirs after another manner; especially when designed for ornament, it is loose and flowing, like the mantles our painters give their heroes. Their thighs are bare, with brawny muscles. Nature has drawn all her strokes bold and masterly; what is covered is only adapted to necessity; a thin brogue on the foot, a short buskin of various colours on the legg, tied above the calf with a striped pair of garters. What should be concealed is hid with a large shot-pouch, on each side of which hangs a pistol and a dagger; as if they found it necessary to keep those parts well guarded. A round target on their backs, a blew bonnet on their heads, in one hand a broadsword, and a musquet in the other, perhaps no nation goes better armed; and I assure you they will handle them with bravery and dexterity, especially the sword and target, as our veteran regiments found to their cost at Gille Crankee.[52]

In the closing years of the seventeenth century the Western Isles of Scotland were visited by a traveller, who has left the most complete account of the people and their manner of life which had been written up to that date. The author, Martin, undertook the journey with the specific purpose of recording particulars concerning the people; and, as his work evinces careful observation, reliance may be placed on his description of their dress at the time of his visit. It supplies the first indication, in any book of travel, of the use of special colours or setts for tartans used in different localities.


The first Habit wore by Persons of Distinction in the Islands, was the Leni-Croich, from the Irish word Leni, which signifies a Shirt, and Croich Saffron, because their Shirt was dyed with that Herb: the ordinary number of Ells us’d to make this Robe, was twenty four; it was the upper Garb, reaching below the Knees, and was tied with a Belt round the middle: but the Islanders have laid it aside about a hundred Years ago.

They now generally use Coat, Wastcoat, and Breeches, as elsewhere; and on their Heads wear Bonnets made of thick Cloth, some blue, some black, and some grey.

Many of the People wear Trowis: some have them very fine woven like Stockings of those made of Cloth; some are colour’d, and others striped: the latter are as well shap’d as the former, lying close to the Body from the middle downwards, and tied round with a Belt above the Haunches. There is a square Piece of Cloth which hangs down before. The Measure for shaping the Trowis is a Stick of Wood, whose Length is a Cubit, and that divided into the Length of a Finger, and half a Finger; so that it requires more Skill to make it than the ordinary Habit.

The Shoes antiently wore, were a piece of the Hide of a Deer, Cow, or Horse, with the Hair on, being tied behind and before with a Point of Leather. The generality now wear Shoes, having one thin Sole only, and shaped after the right and left Foot; so that what is for one Foot, will not serve the other.

But Persons of Distinction wear the Garb in Fashion in the South of Scotland.

The Plad wore only by the Men, is made of fine Wool, the Thred as fine as can be made of that kind; it consists of divers Colours, and there is a great deal of Ingenuity requir’d in sorting the Colours, so as to be agreeable to the nicest Fancy. For this reason the Women are at great pains, first to give an exact Pattern of the Plad upon a piece of Wood, having the number of every Thred of the Stripe on it. The Length of it is commonly seven double Ells; the one end hangs by the Middle over the left Arm, the other going round the Body, hangs by the end over the left Arm also; the right Hand above it is to be at liberty to do any thing upon occasion. Every Isle differs from each other in their Fancy of making Plads, as to the Stripes in Breadth, and Colours. This Humour is as different thro the main Land of the Highlands, in-so-far that they who have seen those Places, are able, at the first View of a Man’s Plad, to guess the Place of his Residence.

When they travel on foot, the Plad is tied on the Breast with a Bodkin of Bone or Wood (just as the Spina wore by the Germans, according to the Description of C. Tacitus:) the Plad is tied round the middle with a Leather Belt; it is pleated from the Belt to the Knee very nicely: this Dress for Footmen is found much easier and lighter than Breeches, or Trowis.

The antient Dress wore by the Women, and which is yet wore by some of the Vulgar, called Arisad, is a white Plad, having a few small Stripes of black, blue, and red; it reach’d from the Neck to the Heels, and was tied before on the Breast with a Buckle of Silver, or Brass, according to the Quality of the Person. I have seen some of the former of an hundred Marks value; it was broad as any ordinary Pewter Plate, the whole[26] curiously engraven with various Animals, &c. There was a lesser Buckle, which was wore in the middle of the larger, and above two Ounces weight; it had in the Center a large piece of Chrystal, or some finer Stone, and this was set all round with several finer Stones of a lesser size.

The Plad being pleated all round, was tied with a Belt below the Breast; the Belt was of Leather, and several Pieces of Silver intermix’d with the Leather like a Chain. The lower end of the Belt has a Piece of Plate about eight Inches long, and three in breadth, curiously engraven; the end of which was adorned with fine Stones, or Pieces of Red Coral. They wore Sleeves of Scarlet Cloth, clos’d at the end as Mens Vests, with Gold Lace round ’em, having Plate Buttons set with fine Stones. The Head-dress was a fine Kerchief of Linen strait about the Head, hanging down the Back taper-wise; a large Lock of Hair hangs down their Cheeks above their Breast, the lower end tied with a Knot of Ribbands....

The antient way of Fighting was by set Battles; and for Arms some had broad two-handed Swords and Head-pieces, and others Bows and Arrows. When all their Arrows were spent, they attack’d one another with Sword in hand. Since the Invention of Guns, they are very early accustomed to use them, and carry their Pieces with them where-ever they go: They likewise learn to handle the broad Sword and Target. The Chief of each Tribe advances with his Followers within shot of the Enemy, having first laid aside their upper Garments; and after one general Discharge, they attack them with Sword in hand, having their Target on their left Hand (as they did at Kelicranky) which soon brings the Matter to an Issue, and verifies the Observation made of ’em [by] your Historians:

Aut Mors cito, aut Victoria læta.[53]

Certainly this is evidence of the employment of fixed designs and special colours in the tartans, as well by the Islanders as by the Highlanders of the mainland; and many have held it to settle the question of their use as clan distinctions at that period. At all events, it shows that district tartans were in use in Martin’s day, and that their colourings furnished an indication of the localities whence the wearers came.

It is out of the question to suppose that the tartans described by Martin sprang into being in his day. On the contrary, all the evidence we possess—proving, as it does, the extremely conservative character of the inhabitants of the Western Islands—points to the conclusion that Martin was the witness, at the end of the seventeenth century, of habits and customs in use long previously.

Of the existence of a uniform clan pattern at the very commencement of the eighteenth century there is a complete chain of evidence. Captain [27]Hamilton writes from Inverness, 23rd July 1703, to Brigadier-General Maitland, Governor of Fort-William:—

I wrote to you Tuesday last in answer to your last letter to me, but I neglected to acquaint you of our news here. The thing is there is a match of Hunting to be as is said against 2nd of next month amongst several of our great folks, particularly the Duke of Hamilton is to be there, the Marquis of Athole, and our neighbour the Laird of Grant, who has ordered 600 of his men in arms, in good order, with Tartane Coats all of one colour and fashion. This is his order to his people in Straithspey. If it be a match at Hunting only I know not, but I think it my duty to acquaint you, whatever may fall out, of any such body of men in arms, particularly in our Northern Parts.[54]

The following entries in the Court Books of the Regality of Grant, 1703-1710, are given in full, because they are of the utmost importance, and have never hitherto been accurately quoted. Among others, Sir William Fraser, in his Chiefs of Grant, refers merely to the second entry, and that incorrectly:—

Court of the Lordship of the parochine of Duthell holden at Duthell the 20 July 1704 be Duncan Grant of Mullochard bailie constitute be the Right Honoll Alexr Grant of that Ilk your bailie principall of the Regalitie of Grant David Blair notar and clerk to the said Regalitie Court of the District of Duthell. Suites called and the Court lawfullie fenced and affirmed.

The said day Ronald Makdonald of Gelloway and Archibald Makdonald of Tulloch Crombie wassales of Lugan in Badzenoch to the Right Honoll Ludovick Grant of that Ilk and the tennantes and indwellers on these landes are ordained to have readie tartan short coates trewes and short hose of red and grein set dyce all broad springed betuixt and the eight of August nixt and to be readie upon 48 hours advertisement to rendevouze when the Laird of Grant shall call them for his hosting or hunteing under the failie of fyve pounds sterling.

(Signed) D. GRANT, B.

Court of the Landes of Tulchine and Skeiradvey, holdine at Delay upon the 27 July 1704 be William Grant of Delay bailie of the saids lands constitute be the Right Honoll the Laird of Grant heretor of the saidis landis, David Blair notar and clerk; James Gedlie officer. Suites called and the court lawfully fenced and affirmed.

The said day by ordor from the Laird of Grant younger the said bailie ordanes and enacts that the haill tennantes cottars malenders tradesmen and servantes within the saidis landis of Skearadvie Tulchine and Calender that are fencible men shall provyd and have in readiness against the eight day of August nixt ilk ane of them Heighland coates trewes [28]and short hoes of tartane of red and greine sett broad springed and also with gun sword pistoll and durk, and with these present themselves to ane rendewouze when called upone 48 hours advertisement within the country of Strathspey, for the said Laird of Grant or his faither their hosting and hunteing. And this under the failie of twenty poundes Scotis ilk ane that shall faill in the premisses. And the Master to outrig the servantes in the saids coates trewes and hose out of their fies.[55]

A very curious and somewhat puzzling state of affairs is disclosed by a minute examination of the fine series of family portraits preserved at Castle Grant.[56] Of these portraits no fewer than ten were painted by Richard Waitt, namely, Brigadier Grant of Grant and Donald Grant of Glenbeg, in 1713; Patrick Grant of Miltown, Mungo Grant of Mulloch-hard, —— Grant of Delbuaick, David Grant of Delbuaick, Patrick Grant of Tullochgriban, Alister Grant “Mohr,” and the Piper to the Laird of Grant, in 1714; and John Grant of Burnside, in 1725. Besides these, Waitt painted other Grant portraits in tartan attire. By permission of the Countess of Seafield, coloured drawings of these have been made, and comparison discovers a variety of design well-nigh as great as would be the case in an equal number of examples selected at random from as many different families. In one particular alone do they agree, and that is in the absence of any completely dark-coloured sett, such as is usually designated “uaine” or green. It is not till after the ’45 that there is an instance of any member of the clan wearing the so-called undress Grant tartan, now the familiar “Forty-Second” or Black Watch pattern.

Similar remarks might be made concerning other family portraits. For example, in the Mac Donald portraits at Armadale there are at least six distinct setts of tartan. The Campbell portraits at Loudoun Castle and Langton House exhibit equal diversity, while differing at the same time from any of the Campbell setts at present in use. In the same way the pictures of the Sutherland family at Dunrobin and Barrogill, the Mac Donell portraits at Balgownie, the Mac Leod at Dunvegan, the Drummond at Gordon Castle and Drummond Castle, the Macpherson at Cluny, the Frasers in Inverness-shire, show remarkable variety of arrangement and colouring. Whatever the reason of this, it assuredly did not arise from carelessness or ignorance on the part of the artists employed. On the contrary, in the great majority of the pictures referred to, painful attention has been paid to minuteness and accuracy in details of the dress, and the sett of a tartan is reproduced in [29]different portions of the costume with a faithfulness which leaves no room for doubt that the artists were studiously copying distinct patterns.

The importance of the tartan manufacture to Scotland in the beginning of the eighteenth century is evident from the following:—

In this place it’s proper to mention their Plaids, a Manufacture wherein they exceed all Nations, both as to Colour and Fineness. They have of late been pretty much fancy’d in England, and are very ornamental as well as durable for Beds, Hangings, Window-Curtains and Night-Gowns for Men and Women; so that Attempts have been made in England to resemble them, at Norwich and elsewhere, but they fall much short both in Colour, Fineness, and Workmanship, as is evident at first sight. A good improvement may be made of this manufacture for domestick use and export, now that the prohibition is remov’d by the Union. The stronger sort of those Plaids is the usual Cloathing for their Men in the Highlands, where they never alter the form of their Habit, which, to other People, seems uncouth, because not us’d elsewhere; yet it must be own’d, that as they are us’d by those of the better sort in the Highlands, they make a manly as well as a decent Habit.[57]

In A Journey through Scotland, undertaken between 1716 and 1723, occurs this description of the cattle fair at Crieff and of the dress of the Highland gentlemen and their followers, which confirms in all particulars the other accounts of the use of tartan at the period, and the distinction between the dress of the upper and lower orders:—

The Highland Fair of Criff happening when I was at Stirling, I had the Curiosity to go see it. There were at least Thirty Thousand Cattle sold there, most of them to English Drovers; who paid down above Thirty Thousand Guineas in ready Money to the Highlanders; a Sum they had never seen before, and proves one good Effect of the Union. The Highland Gentlemen were mighty civil, dress’d in their slash’d short Wastcoats, a Trousing, (which is, Breeches and Stockings of one Piece of strip’d Stuff) with a Plaid for a Cloak, and a blue Bonnet. They have a Ponyard Knife and Fork in one Sheath, hanging at one side of their Belt, their Pistol at the other, and their Snuff-Mill before; with a great broad Sword by their side. Their Attendance [attendants] were very numerous, all in belted Plaids, girt like Womens Petticoats down to the Knee; their Thighs and Half of the Leg all bare. They had also each their broad Sword and Ponyard, and spake all Irish, an unintelligible Language to the English.[58]

It appears from the regulations issued to the retainers of the Clan Grant anent the wearing of a uniform tartan that distinctive patterns were in use, at least for military purposes, or on occasions of great gatherings, early in the eighteenth century. That widespread attention was at that period [30]bestowed upon particular arrangements of tartan appears from a letter quoted by Sir Walter Scott, dated from the Manse of Comrie, 2nd July 1717:—

I give your lady hearty thanks for the highland plaid. Its good cloath but it does not answer the sett I sent some time agoe with McArthur.

This implies, at the least, in a district on the southern border of the Highlands, adhesion to particular patterns, just as in Martin’s account of the Western Islands, already quoted, the existence of district setts is proved by the use of the words “able, at the first view of a man’s plad, to guess the place of his residence.”

Alexander Nisbet, the great herald, referring to the supporters of Macpherson of Cluny, writes:—

The family has been in use to have their arms supported with two Highland men with steel helmets on their heads and cut out short doublets azure, thighs bare, their shirts tied between them, and round targets on their arms, being the dress wherein those of this clan were wont to fight in many battles for the crown being always loyal.[59]

That the dress thus described by Nisbet was intended by him to represent what we know to be the usual dress of the Highlanders at that period, viz., the belted plaid, is proved by another allusion of his to the Cluny arms in a portion of his work not yet published, and preserved in the Lyon Office, in which, treating generally of supporters, he writes:—

McPherson of Clunie two highlandmen in their belted plaids with targets.[60]

An almost contemporary example of the peculiar mode of wearing the dress, described as “shirts tied,” is to be found in the portrait of Sir Stuart Threipland of Fingask, by Delacour, painted about this period.[61]

Without exception the most complete description of the Highlands and the dress worn there, written during the eighteenth century, is that given by Burt. The account has been frequently the subject of criticism, but it is now generally accepted as presenting a faithful picture of the state of the country at the period to which it relates. As it traverses a wide field, a lengthened extract is given, for the purpose of comparison with earlier descriptions of the costume and manners of the people already quoted:—

The plaid is the undress of the ladies [writing of Inverness]; and to a genteel [31]woman, who adjusts it with a good air, is a becoming veil. But as I am pretty sure you never saw one of them in England, I shall employ a few words to describe it to you. It is made of silk or fine worsted, chequered with various lively colours, two breadths wide, and three yards in length; it is brought over the head, and may hide or discover the face according to the wearer’s fancy or occasion; it reaches to the waist behind; one corner falls as low as the ankle on one side; and the other part, in folds, hangs down from the opposite arm.

I have been told, in Edinburgh, that the ladies distinguish their political principles, whether Whig or Tory, by the manner of wearing their plaids;—that is, one of the parties reverses the old fashion, but which of them it is, I do not remember, nor is it material.

As I was travelling in a very wild part of the country, and approaching the house of one of those gentlemen, who had notice of my coming, he met me at some distance from his dwelling, with his Arcadian offering of milk and cream, as usual, carried before him by his servants. He afterwards invited me to his hut, which was built like the others, only very long, but without any partition, where the family was at one end, and some cattle at the other. By the way (although the weather was not warm), he was without shoes, stockings, or breeches, in a short coat, with a shirt not much longer, which hung between his thighs, and just hid his nakedness from two daughters, about seventeen or eighteen years old, who sat over against him. After some compliments on either side, and his wishing me good weather, we entered into conversation, in which he seemed to be a man of as good sense as he was well-proportioned. In speaking of the country, he told me he knew I wondered how any body would undergo the inconveniences of a Highland life.

The Highland dress consists of a bonnet made of thrum without a brim, a short coat, a waistcoat, longer by five or six inches, short stockings, and brogues, or pumps without heels. By the way, they cut holes in their brogues, though new made, to let out the water, when they have far to go and rivers to pass: this they do to preserve their feet from galling.

Few besides gentlemen wear the trowze,—that is, the breeches and stockings all of one piece, and drawn on together; over this habit they wear a plaid, which is usually three yards long and two breadths wide, and the whole garb is made of chequered tartan, or plaiding: this, with the sword and pistol, is called a full dress, and, to a well-proportioned man, with any tolerable air, it makes an agreeable figure; but this you have seen in London, and it is chiefly their mode of dressing when they are in the Lowlands, or when they make a neighbouring visit, or go anywhere on horseback; but when those among them who travel on foot, and have not attendants to carry them over the waters, they vary it into the quelt [kilt], which is a manner I am about to describe.

The common habit of the ordinary Highlanders is far from being acceptable to the eye: with them a small part of the plaid, which is not so large as the former, is set in folds and girt round the waist, to make of it a short petticoat that reaches half way down the thigh, and the rest is brought over the shoulders, and then fastened before, below the neck, often with a fork, and sometimes with a bodkin or sharpened piece of stick, so that they make pretty nearly the appearance of the poor women in London when they bring their gowns over their heads to shelter them from the rain. In this way of wearing the[32] plaid, they have sometimes nothing else to cover them, and are often barefoot; but some I have seen shod with a kind of pumps, made out of a raw cow-hide, with the hair turned outward, which being ill made, the wearer’s foot looked something like those of a rough-footed hen or pigeon: these are called quarrants, and are not only offensive to the sight, but intolerable to the smell of those who are near them. The stocking rises no higher than the thick of the calf, and from the middle of the thigh to the middle of the leg is a naked space, which, being exposed to all weathers, becomes tanned and freckled, and the joint being mostly infected with the country distemper, the whole is very disagreeable to the eye. This dress is called the quelt; and, for the most part, they wear the petticoat so very short, that in a windy day, going up a hill, or stooping, the indecency of it is plainly discovered....

Various reasons are given both for and against the Highland dress. It is urged against it, that it distinguishes the natives as a body of people distinct and separate from the rest of the subjects of Great Britain, and thereby is one cause of their narrow adherence among themselves, to the exclusion of all the rest of the kingdom; but the part of the habit chiefly objected to is the plaid (or mantle), which, they say, is calculated for the encouragement of an idle life, in lying about upon the heath, in the day-time, instead of following some lawful employment; that it serves to cover them in the night when they lie in wait among the mountains, to commit their robberies and depredations; and is composed of such colours as altogether, in the mass, so nearly resemble the heath on which they lie, that it is hardly to be distinguished from it until one is so near them as to be within their power, if they have any evil intention; that it renders them ready, at a moment’s warning, to join in any rebellion, as they carry continually their tents about them: and, lastly, it was thought necessary, in Ireland, to suppress that habit by act of parliament, for the above reasons, and no complaint for the want of it now remains among the mountaineers of that country.

On the other hand, it is alleged, the dress is most convenient to those who, with no ill design, are obliged to travel from one part to another upon their lawful occasions, viz.—That they would not be so free to skip over the rocks and bogs with breeches as they are in the short petticoat; that it would be greatly incommodious to those who are frequently to wade through waters, to wear breeches, which must be taken off upon every such occurrence, or would not only gall the wearer, but render it very unhealthful and dangerous to their limbs, to be constantly wet in that part of the body, especially in winter-time, when they might be frozen: and with respect to the plaid in particular, the distance between one place of shelter and another, is often too great to be reached before night comes on; and, being intercepted by sudden floods, or hindered by other impediments, they are frequently obliged to lie all night in the hills, in which case they must perish, were it not for the covering they carry with them. That even if they should be so fortunate as to reach some hospitable hut, they must lie upon the ground uncovered, there being nothing to be spared from the family for that purpose.

And to conclude, a few shillings will buy this dress for an ordinary Highlander, who, very probably, might hardly ever be in condition to purchase a Lowland suit, though of the coarsest cloth or stuff, fit to keep him warm in that cold climate.


I shall determine nothing in this dispute, but leave you to judge which of these two reasonings is the most cogent.

The whole people are fond and tenacious of the Highland clothing, as you may believe by what is here to follow.

Being, in a wet season, upon one of my peregrinations, accompanied by a Highland gentleman, who was one of the clan through which I was passing, I observed the women to be in great anger with him about something that I did not understand: at length, I asked him wherein he had offended them? Upon this question he laughed, and told me his great-coat was the cause of their wrath; and that their reproach was that he could not be contented with the garb of his ancestors, but was degenerated into a Lowlander, and condescended to follow their unmanly fashions.[62]

To the edition of the Letters from which the above is quoted the editor appended some notes on the Highland dress, which, though open to criticism on many points, are sufficiently interesting to justify their insertion here:—

The chequered stuff, commonly worn by the Highlanders, by them called breacan (parti-coloured), and by the Lowlanders tartan (Fr. tiretaine), is neither peculiar to Celts nor Goths, and is to be found, at this day, although not in such general use, among many of the Sclavonic tribes, who have no connection with either. The wife of every Russian boor, in the north-western provinces at least, who can make her such a present at her marriage (and it is often a sine quâ non), has a tartan plaid, which she wears just as the Scotish women, in our author’s time, did theirs: it is of massy silk, richly varied, with broad cross-bars of gold and silver tissue, and makes a very splendid appearance.

That the Lowlanders had their tartan from the French, at a time when it was fashionable in other countries, may be presumed from the name; and to imagine that the manufacture began among the Highlanders would be ridiculous.

The Highland field-dress of the men was of a coarser texture, and thickened by fulling; it was called cadda (cath da’, the war colour), and was a tartan of such colours as were least likely to betray the wearer, among the woods and heaths, either to the game he was in quest of, or to his enemies. The dyes were mostly extracted from woad, when it could be got, and from heath-tops, the bark and tender twigs of the alder, and other vegetable substances. As to the ancient form of the dress, nothing could be more simple: the gentlemen, having less frequent occasion to use their full suit as a blanket, wore a yellow shirt, a vest, trowsers, and mantle, of the same fashion as their neighbours. In Ireland, a few centuries ago, the lower class seldom encumbered themselves with dress of any kind within doors; and there is every reason to suppose that this was also the case among their brethren in Scotland. When they went out, they threw a light blanket round their shoulders, the upper part made tight with skewers, and the lower gathered up into folds, which they secured under the girdle, from which the sword, dagger, purse, &c., were suspended; this they called feile, a word of the same origin with the Scotish fell, English, peel; Old English, pilche; German and Northern, peltz, pels, &c.; and the Latin, pellis, all [34]which signified an external surface, skin, or covering of any kind. Skins, in the modern acceptation of the term, were, no doubt, the first covering; and the name was afterwards properly enough applied to a covering of cloth. At night they took out the skewers, unbuckled the girdle, and reduced the feile to its primary form of a blanket, to sleep in. The women wore a petticoat, or trowsers, of skin, cloth, or what they could get, and a cloth thrown round their bodies when they went out. As civilization advanced, a shirt, with a tunic, or short jacket, was introduced; the plaits of the feile were rendered permanent by sewing, and the plaid, to be used either as a mantle or blanket, was added. The kilt, feilebeg (little feile), or petticoat, now worn, has succeeded to the folded-up ends of the original blanket; it is all that remains of the ancient costume, and was reduced to its present form some time in the beginning of the last century. The bonnet, or flat, blue thrum cap, is of a very modern date, and was introduced from the Lowlands. The gentlemen of the Highlands wore such hats and caps as were worn by gentlemen of their times in neighbouring countries; and, in the days of our grandfathers, the lower class of Highlanders were, by their Lowland neighbours (in the north-east Lowlands, at least), denominated humblies, from their wearing no covering on their head but their hair, which, at a more early period, they probably matted and felted, for horror and defence, as the Irish did in Queen Elizabeth’s time. The helmet-looking bonnet, now worn, was introduced within the memory of persons still living.

From this simple account of the Highland dress, it will be seen that it has in itself nothing peculiar to one country more than another; as the different improvements upon the manner of girding the loins, and trussing up a blanket, can hardly be called a national costume. The dress of the Romans began in the same manner, and went through nearly the same varieties of form; but, for a long time after the Romans left Britain, it can hardly be imagined, that the inhabitants of the more remote Highlands had either wool or cloth of their own produce. Scattered as their sheep, if they had any, must have been upon the mountains, they had no means of protecting them from the wolves; and they had not then patient industry enough to look after tame animals that could not take care of themselves.

The names of the different parts of this dress are all conformable to what has been said above. The feilebeg is, by the Lowlanders, called a kilt, from its having been kilted, quilted, or trussed up under the girdle. The meaning of the Latin toga is found in the Gaëlic toga’; in English, to tuck up, from the same circumstance; and a square body-cloth, still worn round the shoulders by the Highland women, is called a tunic, or tonnac. Plaid (which is always misapplied in England), in its primary sense, means simply any thing broad and flat, and thence, a broad, unformed piece of cloth, and, in its secondary and modern acceptation, a blanket; in which last import alone it is now used by the Highlanders. The trews, or trowsers, formerly worn only by the gentry, and by the lower classes, after the philibeg was proscribed by act of parliament, are so denominated, from the Gaëlic trusa’, to truss up, as they supplied the place of the end of the feile which was trussed under the girdle.[63]


During the period following the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England (1707), tartan plaids were worn in the Lowlands by all classes. The significance of this universal display of a simple article of dress consisted in the fact that its wear was regarded as a sort of sumptuary protest against the Union and the surrender of Scottish independence. Certain it is that up to the prohibition of the use of tartans and of the Highland dress by the Act of 1747 the tartan plaid continued in general use throughout Scotland. Many references to the prevalence of the habit in the Lowlands as well as in the Highlands might be quoted. One interesting contribution is that of Ramsay of Ochtertyre, who, writing in 1795 of the congregation of the Rev. John Skinner’s church at Linshart, in Buchan, observes:—

In point of mode and plainness their dress reminded me of that of our country-people more than forty years ago, bonnets and parti-coloured plaids being frequent.... In those days every lady in an undress wore a plaid when she went abroad. It was sometimes of one colour, scarlet, crimson, &c., but more commonly tartan or variegated. People fond of finery had silk ones, others wore woollen lined with silk; whilst the lower classes were satisfied with plain worsted.... In 1747, when I first knew Edinburgh, nine-tenths of the ladies still wore plaids, especially at church. By this time, however, silk or velvet cloaks of one form or another were much in request among people of fashion. And so rapidly did the plaid wear out, that when I returned to Edinburgh in 1752 one could hardly see a lady in that piece of dress.[64]

Of the extensive manufacture of tartans in Scotland during the eighteenth century some evidence may be obtained from a reference to the newspapers of the period. For example:—

Last Saturday the Agatha and Jane, Thomas Christie [master] cleared out from Leith for London, having on board the following Scots manufactures, viz., 53,381 yards of Linen, 3006 yards of Tartans.[65]

Leith, Feb. 18.—The Edinburgh Merchant, John Dick, cleared out for London with the following Scots manufactures, viz., 41,400 yards of Linen, 6400 yards of Tartan.[66]

In the same newspaper, and side by side with the orders issued by Prince Charles Edward, then at Holyrood, appears the following:—

Gairdner and Taylor, in their Warehouse at the Sign of the Golden Key, opposite to Forrester’s Wynd, Lawn-Market, Edinburgh, continue to sell, in Wholesale and Retail, at lowest Prices, all sorts of Woollen Narrow and Broad Cloths of the Manufacture of Scotland, in same manner as was done by the late Andrew Gairdner, who was one of the [36]first Introducers of an extensive Manufactory of this Kind, so very beneficial to, and so much wanted in this Country.... At above Warehouse to be sold at lowest Rates, great Choice of Tartans, the newest Patterns, Cotton Checks and Sarges, of which they are also Makers.[67]

This advertisement, it may be urged, is a stumbling-block in the way of those who argue for the antiquity of clan patterns; for it seems peculiar that, when the city was filled with Highlanders of all ranks and many clans, they should be offered, not their ancient setts, but “great choice of the newest patterns.”

A statement which points in exactly the contrary direction appears in the Lockhart Papers to the following effect:—

It was necessary for us [i.e., the troops under the command of the Duke of Perth and the Earl of Cromarty in the Prince’s army], in order to come at him [i.e., Lord Louden, who commanded a detachment in the Duke of Cumberland’s army], to go about by the head of Tyne,[68] through Torendonel, about ten miles’ march, and accordingly Glengary’s, Clanronald’s, Ardsheal’s, Glengyle’s, and Barisdale’s battalions were ordered after them, under the command of the Duke of Perth and Lord Cromarty. Those under Lord Louden’s command were the M’Loads, Sir Alexander M’Donald’s men, the Makays and Monroes, and the Grants—about three thousand in all.... We M’Donalds were much perplex’d, in the event of ane ingagement, how to distinguish ourselves from our bretheren and nighbours the M’Donalds of Sky, seeing we were both Highlanders and both wore heather in our bonnets, only our white cocades made some distinction.[69]

The inference from the passage is, that the opposing battalions being of the same great family, with dress and badge alike, the sole remaining difference between them was the cockade.

One result of the civil war of 1745-6 was the proscription by Act of Parliament of the Highland dress:—

19 George II., Cap. 39, Sec. 17, 1746.

From and after the first day of August one thousand seven hundred and forty-seven, no man or boy within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as officers and soldiers in his Majesty’s forces, shall, on any pretence whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philibeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland garb; and that no Tartan or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats, or for upper coats; and if any such person [37]shall presume, after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garments, or any part of them, every such person so offending, being thereof convicted by the oath of one or more credible witness or witnesses before any court of justiciary, or any one or more justices of the peace for the shire or stewartry, or judge ordinary of the place where such offence shall be committed, shall suffer imprisonment, without bail, during the space of six months, and no longer; and being convicted for a second offence before a court of justiciary, or at the circuits, shall be liable to be transported to any of his Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

“It is impossible,” writes General Stewart of Garth, “to read this latter Act without considering it rather as an ignorant wantonness of power than the proceeding of a wise and a beneficent Legislature. To be compelled to wear a new dress has always been found painful. So the Highlanders found; and it certainly was not consistent with the boasted freedom of our country to inflict on a whole people the severest punishment short of death for wearing a particular dress. Had the whole race been decimated, more violent grief, indignation, and shame could not have been excited among them than by being deprived of this long-inherited costume. This was an encroachment on the feelings of a people whose ancient and manly garb had been worn from a period remote beyond all history or even tradition.”[70] The spirit in which the Act was carried out may be gathered from the following extract from the General Orders to the Army in Scotland in 1748:—

By the act passed last session of Parliament, the time for the general abolishing the Highland dress is enlarged to the 1st day of August 1749.

But that the wearing and use of such parts thereof as are called the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, is absolutely prohibited and abolished from and after the 25th day of this instant December, and as to these particulars the law takes place from that day.

His grace the Duke of Newcastle has therefore signified to me his majesty’s commands, that the same be punctually observed throughout the Highlands, and that I should give orders to all the troops quartered in those parts to be particularly attentive to this service, and to take all due care that the act be punctually executed and observed, and the offenders brought to punishment according to law.

In obedience to these his majesty’s commands, you are to seize all such persons as shall be found offending herein, by wearing the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, and carry them before a civil magistrate, in the same dress, that he may be convinced with his own eyes of their having offended, in order to their being punished for the same according to law; in the performance of which, let no insult or abuse be offered to the person or persons of those who shall be so taken up and carried before the civil power, who are solely authorised to inflict the punishment as the act directs; but in [38]case the magistrate before whom such offenders are carried shall refuse or neglect putting the law in execution, in that case let me know immediately the name of such magistrate, with the reason of his not doing it, that I may acquaint the Duke of Newcastle with it, who will no doubt send immediately orders to the lord advocate of this country to prosecute him to the utmost for his contempt of the said act, by not putting it in execution.

That the people in the Highlands might have no excuse by pleading ignorance, the lord chief justice clerk wrote to the sheriffs depute of the Highland counties, ordering them to give notice at every parish church, that they must quit the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt on Christmas-day, as the act directs, otherwise they would be carried before the civil magistrate and punished for it accordingly.

I must likewise desire you will let me know from time to time what obedience the people pay to this act, for they must and shall obey it, with the names of those magistrates who are industrious in putting the laws in execution, that I may take an opportunity of thanking them for performing their duty, and acquainting the Duke of Newcastle with it.

You may acquaint the magistrates and justices of the peace in your neighbourhood with the contents of this letter, since it may be the means of inciting them the more readily to perform their duty.

P.S.—Let a copy of this letter be sent to the officers commanding the general detachments of your regiment respectively.[71]

All manner of ingenious evasions were thought of and practised to defeat the law. “The tight breeches,” observes General Stewart, “were particularly obnoxious. Some who were fearful of offending, or wished to render obedience to the law, which had not specified on what part of the body the breeches were to be worn, satisfied themselves with having in their possession this article of legal and loyal dress, which, either as the signal of their submission, or more probably to suit their own convenience when on journeys, they often suspended over their shoulders upon their sticks; others, who were either more wary or less submissive, sewed up the centre of the kilt with a few stitches between the thighs, which gave it something of the form of the trowsers worn by Dutch skippers. At first these evasions of the Act were visited with considerable severity.”[72] It was most probably for conniving at some such breach of the law that a young grenadier of the 20th Foot narrowly escaped a tremendous punishment.

The court-martial has judged the crime of Rigby, the grenadier, to be of so pernicious a nature that they have sentenced him to receive six hundred lashes. His youth and former good behaviour are the only considerations that could induce the lieutenant-colonel to pardon him: but if hereafter any sergeant or corporal is known to receive [39]a bribe from a Highlander, or from any person whatever, found or known to transgress the laws, and does not seize the person or report such transgression, he, the non-commissioned officer guilty of so heinous a crime, will be instantly broke and severely punished: and if any private soldier ever takes money, or a reward of any kind, that may lead him to betray his trust, such soldier will be whipped without mercy.[73]

The harsh and bitter administration of the law continued for many years—for a long enough period, indeed, to stamp out the use of the dress, at least among the lower orders. In the south the wear of tartan does not seem to have been interfered with. For instance, we read:—

There is to be sold by roup in the shop of William Watson in the front of the New Exchange of Edinburgh upon Monday 3rd day of March next the whole goods which belonged to the said William Watson consisting of Tartans of all kinds poplins durants calicoes thick-sets hollands lawns broadcloths stockings handkerchiefs ribbons worsteds and a great variety of other goods too tedious to mention. The goods are all fresh and in good condition and fashionable.[74]

James Baillie Merchant in Edinburgh has removed his warehouse to the Exchange fronting the Tron where Tartans or Plaids with other goods are sold as formerly.[75]

At length the enactment was repealed. The Marquis of Graham, afterwards Duke of Montrose, when a Member of the House of Commons in 1782, having brought in a Bill for the purpose, it was, according to General Stewart, passed without a dissentient voice.[76]

22 George III., Cap. 63, 1782.

Whereas by an act made in the nineteenth year of the reign of his late majesty King George the Second, entituled “An act for the more effectual disarming the Highlands in Scotland and for more effectually securing the peace of the said Highlands; and for restraining the use of the Highland dress;” ... it was, among other things, enacted that from and after the first day of August one thousand seven hundred and forty-seven, no man or boy, within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as officers and soldiers in his Majesty’s forces [&c., as quoted, pp. 36-7]. And whereas it is judged expedient that so much of the acts above mentioned as restrains the use of the Highland dress should be repealed: Be it therefore enacted by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That so much of the acts above mentioned, or any other act or acts of Parliament, as restrains the use of the Highland dress, be, and the same are hereby repealed.


The repeal of the enactment, received so joyously by the Highlanders, was celebrated by the famous poet, Duncan Ban M’Intyre, in the following lines, which are freely adapted from the Gaelic:—

Indulgent laws at last restore
The noble dress our fathers wore.
Exulting, let us then resume
The bonnet blue and eagle plume;
The tartan coat and jaunty vest
And belted plaid become us best.
With limbs unchained and footsteps free,
The pleated kilt just shows the knee;
In hose and brogues we’ll roam at will
O’er purple moor and heather hill.

How quickly the dress was resumed—at all events in certain portions of the country—is shown by the following testimony. One of the Hebridean missionaries of the Church of Scotland, whose travels among the people extended over the eight years from 1782 to 1790, observes:—

The men wear the short coat, the feilabeg, and the short hose, with bonnets sewed with black ribbons around their rims, and a slit behind with the same ribbon in a knot. Their coats are commonly tartan, striped with black, red, or some other colour, after a pattern made, upon a stick, of the yarn, by themselves, or some other ingenious contriver. Their waistcoats are either of the same, or some such stuff; but the feilabegs are commonly of breacan, or fine Stirling plaids, if their money can afford them.

At common work they use either short or long coats and breeches made of striped cloth, and many of them very coarse, according to their work. Their shirts are commonly made of wool; and however coarse they may appear to strangers, they are allowed to conduce much to the health and longevity for which this country is famous; as I have known them eighty, ninety, and some even a hundred years old, in these islands, and able to do their daily work.

When they go in quest of the herring, they dress something like the sailors, but of coarser cloth, with hats over their eyes, to mark the fish the better. They are careful about drying their nets, and other fishing tackle.

Their brogues (shoes) are made of cow or horse leather, and often of seals skins, that are commonly well tanned by the root of tormintile, which they dig out from the hillocks, and uncultivated lands, about the sea-side. This, properly pounded and prepared, without either lime or bark, is sufficient to make the hides pliant and fit for wearing. It answers their purpose much better than leather tanned with lime or bark, because they seldom grow hard or shrink when dried, even though wet all day; which is not the case with such as are burnt with lime. They never use tan-pits, but bind the hides fast with ropes, and hold them for several days in some remote solitary stream, until the hair begins to come off, of its own accord; and after that, the tormintile roots are applied for bark, as above described. Such of the men as can afford them, wear large forest coats above their other garb, especially on Sundays, or at the public meetings, as weddings, burials, or fairs. Either in this or a coarse breacan (i.e. the plaid) with their best apparel, they appear on these solemn occasions; but many of those who are poor, and cannot afford it, often do[41] and must appear in their tattered clothes and dirty shirts, without either stockings or brogues, quite bare-footed, even in frost and snow, in distress sufficient to extort compassion from every person, but such tyrants as are the cause of so much misery to those starved creatures, who are often creeping along with white or striped petticoats belonging to their wives, or daughters and sisters, about their shoulders.

The women wear long or short gowns, with a waistcoat and two petticoats, mostly of the stripes or tartan, as already described, except the lower coat, which is white. The married wives wear linen mutches, or caps, either fastened with ribbons of various colours, or with tape straps, if they cannot afford ribbons. All of them wear a small plaid, a yard broad, called guilechan, about their shoulders, fastened by a large broach. The broaches are generally round, and of silver, if the wearer be in tolerable circumstances: if poor, the broaches, being either circular or triangular, are of baser metal and modern date. The first kind has been worn time immemorial even by the ladies. The arrisats are quite laid aside in all this country, by the different ranks of women; being the most ancient dress used by that class. It consisted of one large piece of flannel, that reached down to the shoe, and fastened with clasps below, and the large silver broach at the breast, while the whole arm was entirely naked. The ladies made use of the finer, while common women used coarser kinds of flannel, or white woollen cloths. The married women bind up their hair with a large pin into a knot on the crown of their heads, below their linens; and the unmarried frequently go bare-headed, with their hair bound up with ribbons, or garters. They often wear linen caps, called mutches, particularly on Sabbaths. Many of the more wealthy appear at church with a profusion of ribbons and head-dresses, with cloaks and high-heeled shoes. Those whose circumstances cannot admit of that, must appear with one of their petticoats, either tartan, or of one colour, around their shoulders, on Sundays, as well as on week days. They seldom travel any where without this appendage; nay, in the house, when at such work as will admit of it; seeing it would be thought naked in a woman to go without it: it also defends them from the inclemency of the weather. Most of them wear napkins, or handkerchiefs, on their necks; and many of the richest of them use silk ones, whether black or spotted, as suits their fancies.

Frequently the old women wear little guilechans, (small plaids) about their shoulders, and woollen hoods about their heads, with very coarse linen under them fastened with a pin below their chins. The breeid, or curtah, a fine linen handkerchief fastened about married women’s heads, with a flap hanging behind their backs, above the guilechan, is mostly laid aside.

Most of the poorer tenants cannot afford to wear brogues in Summer, unless they are obliged to be treading among the sharp rocks on the shores, at their master’s kelp, when the master must supply them, except they can afford to provide for themselves. It would be too great a luxury for a poor one to use them, unless at the same, or similar rugged employment. Nothing short of extreme necessity obliges them to appear in public meetings in these humiliating garbs; for otherwise their pride would revolt at the very thought of such shabby dresses.[77]


Gough thus describes the dress of the Highlanders in the district of Breadalbane about 1789:—

The dress of the men is the brechan or plaid, 12 or 13 yards of narrow stuff wrapped round the middle and reaching to the knees, often girt round the waist, and in cold weather covering the whole body, even on the open hills, all night, and fastened on the shoulders with a broche: short stockings tied below the knee; truish, a genteeler kind of breeches, and stockings of one piece; cuoranen, a laced shoe of skin with the hairy side out, rather disused; kelt or fillebeg, q. d. little plaid or short petticoat, reaching to the knees, substituted of late to the longer end of the plaid: and lastly the pouch of badger or other skins, with tassels hanging before them. The Lochaber axe, used now only by the town guard of Edinburgh, was a tremendous weapon. Bows and arrows were in use in the middle of the last century, now as well as the broadsword and target laid aside since the disarming act, but the dirk, or ancient pugio, is still worn as a dress with the knife and fork.... The women’s dress is the kirch, or white linen pinned round behind like a hood, and over the foreheads of married women, whereas maidens wear only a snood or ribbon round their heads: the tanac or plaid fastened over their shoulders and drawn over their heads in bad weather: a plaited long stocking, called ossan, is their high dress.[78]

These notes bring us down to the present century, and the account of works written on the subject which follows will give our readers some idea of the present state of the literature relating to tartan. Before concluding, however, it is worth while to make some special references to one of these works, the Vestiarium Scoticum.[79] John Sobieski Stuart’s account of the origin of the work is as follows:—

The tract now published in the following volume, is printed from a MS. in my possession, collated with the transcript of another in the Library of the Monastery of St Augustine in Cadiz. It is a small black-letter quarto of the sixteenth century, containing thirty-four pages of vellum, illuminated with small, plain, capitals, such as the ordinary initials of inferior missals. It was once in the possession of the historian and faithful adherent of Queen Mary, John Lesley, bishop of Ross, as appears by his signature in the first leaf—“Jo. Rossen.” Immediately below is noted, in his small neat hand, “Primo Maii, 1571, I tuck my feaver and ageu at ix huris at nyt.”... Some of the many calamities which scattered the adherents of the house of Stuart, and brought together many of their persons and their remains in the Catholic seclusions of the Continent, conveyed the Vestiarium Scoticum, and many papers of the Bishop of Ross into the Library of the Scots College at Douay. During the long incognito of the prince Charles Edward, between the years 1749 and 1754, he visited that seminary, for purposes which expired in the obscurity wherein they were planned; and, during his [43]stay, he received from the fathers many papers which had belonged to Queen Mary, her adherents, and King James the Seventh. Among others, of a very different nature, was found the Bishop of Ross’s copy of the Vestiarium Scoticum. This copy, now in my possession, being the oldest and the most perfect, has served as the original to the present publication.

The next in value, that which belonged to the Library of the Convent of St Augustine, is a small paper folio, bound in panel, written in the ordinary running hand of the time of James the Sixth. By the signature and date, it had at one time belonged to “ane honerabil man Maister James Dunbarre wtin ye burg of Innernesse, in ye yeir of God ain thousand sax hunder and aucht yeirs.” By a subsequent name upon the cover—“Johan O’Neil, cleric”—it had probably passed into the hands of one of the many expatriated Irish priests, who were driven to the Continent, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James the Sixth; and, in this revolution, probably found its way into the Monastery of St Augustine. Spain was at that time the principal sanctuary for the Irish and Island refugees; and it is not improbable that the possessor of the volume might have been one of the followers of the unfortunate James McDonald of Isla and the Glens, who, on his expulsion from Ulster and the Isles, fled to the Court of Philip the Third. Between this copy and that of the Bishop of Ross there are but very few variations, and almost all, apparently, accidental omissions of the copyist: wherever they occur they have been noted on the margin of this edition.

Besides these copies, there is, also, in my possession, a third, of a much lower character and later period, obtained from an old Ross-shire Highlander named John Ross, one of the last of the sword-players, who may yet be remembered by those who recollect the porters of Edinburgh twenty years ago. It is an inferior, modern copy, bearing the stigmats of various barbarous hands, which have inflicted upon its pages divers attempts to transmit to posterity the names of a certain John and Marye Inglis, who have borne testimony to their familiarity with its leaves in the year 1721. It is written with negligence and inaccuracy, in a very ill hand, and with several substitutions, variations, and omissions, which, in some instances, appear to have been the result of carelessness; in others, the attempts of an illiterate transcriber to adapt the work to his ideas of the clans in his own time. It may, indeed, be conjectured that it was transcribed from an original which, in some degree, differed from the copies of the Bishop of Ross and the Library of St Augustine, since the names of several clans and low-country families follow in a succession different from these MSS. This, however, might have been the result of accidental omission and subsequent re-entry.... These last [the three preceding copies] are the only MSS. of that work which have fallen under my observation; but, according to a notice communicated by Lord Lovat, it appears that another was long in possession of the Frasers of Inchberry. Since the removal of that family it is supposed to have been taken to America, and is described as a small quarto MS. in black letter, containing not only a description, but illuminations, of all the clan tartans. If this tract was not the Vestiarium Scoticum, it must have been one containing a more elaborate illustration of tartans than the work of Sir Richard Urquhart, and of which I have discovered no other copy.


Of the author of the Vestiarium I have discovered no illustration, and of his period there is little evidence. In his Envoi, he intimates that he had spent the greater part of his life in military service, and that, at various times, he had composed some works upon heraldry, hunting, and the use of arms; but of these productions I am not aware of any existing notices; and I know of no one of his name who has pursued such studies, except the genealogical knight, Sir Thomas, who deduced the descent of his family from Adam.[80]

The contents of the Vestiarium are remarkable. In a short introduction the author rebukes his countrymen for their adoption of foreign modes to the neglect of those of their ancestors, and, lest the old Scots fashions should sink into oblivion, as in the case of other nations, “I have taken on hande to compil accordant to my pvir habylitye, a trewe ensample off alle or the maiste parte, the pryncyppul tartanis of Scotlonde sic as I may discerne them.” A short treatise “of the settiss or stryppis and coullouris of terteinis” follows. Then come in succession the tartans of the chief Highland clans, each tartan being described with a technical minuteness which permits of their representation, either by way of illustration or in a fabric, with perfect ease and certainty. The tartans of the clans of the lesser families or houses in the Highlands, and, after them, those of the Low Country or Border clans, are detailed in a similar manner. Short notes on the plaids worn by women, and on hose and trews, with a list of the badges of clans and families, and a poetical conclusion, complete the volume.

As to the dates when the three works on which the Vestiarium is based came into his possession, the editor is explicit in reference to only one—that obtained from John Ross, the old swordsman, of which he got possession in 1819.[81] The two others were, however, several years in his possession before publication, and he had apparently no intention of giving their contents to the world until urged to do so by the late Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. In 1829 Sir Thomas was staying at Relugas House in Morayshire, while John Sobieski Stuart and his brother, Charles Edward Stuart, under the name of Hay, or Hay Allan, were occupants of Logie, about a mile from Relugas. Sir Thomas brought the MSS. under Sir Walter Scott’s notice in a letter dated from Relugas 1st June 1829, in which he gives a general account of the only one of the three manuscripts referred to in the introduction to the Vestiarium which was ever in his possession—viz., John Ross’s copy[82]—from which the transcript now in possession of Miss Dick Lauder was made.[83] It was lent him for the purpose by [45]John Sobieski Stuart, and it contains those skits which it was prophesied at the time would cast ridicule on the original.[84] He writes to Sir Walter:—

I wish to communicate to you an account of a very curious manuscript which I have great hope may interest you as much as it has done me. It is entitled Liber Vest[i]arium Scotia, otherwise clippit the Garderope of Scotland, Beand ane Mirrour to shewe the true Tertaynis of the principal Scottyshe famylies, be Schyr Richarde Urquharde Knychte. The original belongs to Mr Allan Hay, father to the Messrs Hay, now residing at Logie House, within a mile of this place. It is written in beautifully clear and distinct black letter, and belonged to Lesly, Bishop of Ross, the historian, whose autograph is on it in the shape of a curious memorandum. To give you some idea of the style of the manuscript I shall copy the following commencement of the preface, in which the time when it was written is sufficiently marked by internal evidence:—

Forasmeikle, &c. [The remainder of the quotation from the introduction is not written into the copy of Sir Thomas’s letter retained by him.]

After this follows a dissertation on the rules for making tartan, which is prefaced thus:—

First, for the manner of making and devising of tertennis, &c. [Here again the quotation stops short.]

From this last quotation we are made aware of a fact of which I confess myself to have been always very sceptical hitherto. I mean that tartans were some centuries ago in use universally over Scotland, and accordingly the author of the manuscript, after giving us first descriptions of thirty-eight different tartans belonging to the principal Highland families, and eleven of the “terteinis of lesser famylies or houses, the quhilk be comand frae the cheff houses and original clannes,” goes on with “Here begynnethe off the Laich Cuntre Pairtes and Border clannes,” of which families he gives us the description of twenty-nine tartans. Among these last you may believe the tartan of the illustrious family of Scott is not forgotten. The descriptions are all so very particular that it is quite impossible to mistake them, and as I wished to possess myself of a copy of the manuscript (which I wrote out myself), Mr Charles Stuart Hay, with very great politeness, agreed to illuminate it for me, with drawings of all the tartans, a work which occupied him unceasingly for above three weeks, by which labour he has made me a most beautiful book. There is no printed copy of the manuscript, but the Messrs Hay, Junior, are in possession of a manuscript copy which is very old, and I have heard of another manuscript copy of it which did exist somewhere in Strathglass, but which has been ineffectually sought for as yet. The original came into the family of Mr Allan Hay from the unfortunate Prince Charles Stuart. So far as I know it is now the oldest and best authority (perhaps I should say the only authority) on the subject of tartans; and in these times of rage for tartans, when the most uncouth spurious modern “coats of many colours” are every day invented, manufactured, christened after particular names and worn as genuine, a book of this kind containing authority so invaluable must become extremely popular. [46]At present a woful want of knowledge on the subject prevails. Some of the clans are at this moment ignorantly disputing for the right to the same tartans, which, in fact, belongs to none of them, but are merely modern inventions for clothing Regimental Highlanders. Hardly does one of the clans now wear its tartan with its legitimate sets, stripes, and spranges perfect in all their parts. The Messrs Hay have already instructed several of the chiefs of clans who have had webs of their true tartans made; and as one instance of this I may mention that Cluny Macpherson appeared at the late fancy ball at Edinburgh in his beautiful and genuine tartan as taken from the MS.: viz., “thre wyde stryppes of black upon a white fielde, and throuchout the mydward black ain yellowe, and upon the quite sett twa spranges of crimsoun of ten thredis;” which excited universal admiration. Macleod has got a sketch of his splendid tartan, “three black stryps upon ain yellow fylde,” &c. His and MacLauchlane’s, both families of Norwegian origin, being the only yellow fields. Comyn, who was quite ignorant of his tartan, has now worn more than ever at the Caledonian balls in London his “twa wyd strypis of greine upon ain scarlatt field,” &c.; and so of many more whom the Messrs Hay have enlightened as being their particular friends. A curious cor[r]oboration of the accuracy of the manuscript (if cor[r]oboration had been wanting) occurred in the case of Lovat. Talking of his tartan, he told the Messrs Hay that, although the tartan he then wore was that which was always worn by the Clan Fraser as their clan tartan, yet some old people of the name maintained that there should be a white sprainge through it. The Messrs Hay, on consulting the manuscript, found the tartan to be exactly as worn by Lovat, with the addition of the white sprainge, and described as follows:—“Frizzel hath fovr strippes upone ain scarlatt fyeld quhairoff the outerward be of greine, and the innerward of blewe, and upon the scarlatte sette ys ane sprainge of quhite of saxteine threids,” &c., &c. I need not mention any more but that of Scott, which is as follows:—“Scott hathe four stryppis upon ain fyeld,” &c., &c. But to illustrate this perfectly to you I have begged of my friend, Mr Charles Stuart Hay, to make for you the accompanying colored drawing, on the back of which you have the different colors accurately laid down of their proper relative breadths, and the whole of the proper size for weaving, so that you have only to send the sheet to Messrs Wilson, Carpet and Tartan manufacturers at Bannockburn, who will make you any quantity of the tartan, soft, hard, or delicately fine merino, as you may specify, and in every respect perfectly correct as to pattern, they having already executed many orders from similar drawings and directions by Mr Hay. So I hope to see both you and Miss Scott doing honour to the ancient garb of your antecessors (sic), though ladies, as you will afterwards see, being rather difficult to fix, were left very much to their “awin fauntasyes” in such matters. That I may complete the account of this curious manuscript I may add that after the tartans have been gone through we have a dissertation of “womenis quhite plaids clyppit Arryssadis, the quhilk are not orderit after their clannes, but after their awin conceits and as it liketh them.” Then we have a short treatise of “Hoses and Trewsis,” and then “Hereafter followethe of senyes of divers clannes,” &c., in the list of which I find “Scotte, Blaeberrye,” with which I hope Miss Scott will adorn her head at the next ball she honours with her presence,[47] and so make war fairly under her proper badge. The whole concludes, as most books of those times were wont to do, with a L’Envoy in the following lines:—

Dames and Lordyngis. [Here the quotation ends in Sir Thomas’s copy. It has been considered unnecessary to reprint the lines with which the Vestiarium concludes.]

What Sir Richard Urquhart the author was I have not yet made out, but presume that he was of the Cromarty family, though I confess I cannot find one of the name corresponding to the times in the celebrated Urquhart genealogy, which begins with Adam. I think I have now told you enough of this curious MS. to lead you to approve of the advice I have given to the brothers Messrs Hay, that they ought to publish it without one moment’s delay, illustrated with minute specimens of all the tartans described in it, with a scale attached to each, so as to make one aware of the proper size the cloth should be wrought. This, I am happy to say, I have prevailed on them to do, and the plan they think of is to print it at their own expense after they shall have got as many subscribers as will ensure their being no losers; and as engravings would not only be deadly as to cost, but totally inadequate to the purpose of giving specimens of the tartans, and, indeed, useless where the effect cannot be given without colouring them with the same trouble that is bestowed on a drawing, they have resolved to get a given number of yards of silk ribbon woven of each pattern of the breadth of ladies sash ribbons, whence pieces of perhaps four or six inches in length may be cut and neatly laid down with paste on drawing paper, which will make a cheap, novel, very beautiful, and most satisfactory illustration to the work, and render it in every respect a popular as it will be an elegant national work for the drawing-room table, which cannot fail to be much in request.[85] I mean to write to Mr Cadell and the Taits to get information for the gentlemen as to the expense of printing and publishing the work, and they have already written to Wilson at Bannockburn about the silk ribbons. If you should happen to see Mr Cadell, your noticing the work to him would be very obliging; and if you find my description of it sufficiently interesting to induce you to talk of it to your friends, and, above all, if you could notice it publicly at the Royal and Antiquarian Societies, and at the Highland Society, and Celtic Society, Border Club, &c., you would do more good in paving the way for its success than a thousand advertisements, and would confer a very great obligation on the Messrs Hay.[86]

Sir Walter’s reply is dated 7th June 1829. That portion of it relating to the present subject is here transcribed:—

I need not say I have the greatest interest in the MS. which you mention, in case it shall really prove an authentic document. There would not be the least [48]difficulty in getting the Bannatyne Club to take, perhaps, 100 copies, or obtaining support enough so as at the least to preclude the possibility of loss to the ingenious Messrs Hay Allans. But I think it indispensable that the original MS. should be sent for a month or so to the Register House, under the charge of the Deputy Register, Mr Thomson, that its antiquity be closely scrutinised by competent persons. The art of imitating ancient writing has got to a considerable perfection, and it has been the bane of Scottish literature and disgrace of her antiquities that we have manifested an eager propensity to believe without inquiry and propagate the errors which we adopt too hastily ourselves. The general proposition that the Lowlanders ever wore plaids is difficult to swallow. They were of twenty different races, and almost all distinctly different from the Scoto-Irish, who are the proper Scots, from which the Royal Family are descended. For instance, there is scarce a great family in the Lowlands of Scotland that is not to be traced to the Normans, the proudest as well as most civilised race in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Is it natural to think that, holdin[g] the Scots in the contempt in which they did, they would have adopted their dress?... I could shew, I think, that there is no period in Scottish history when the manners, language, or dress of the Highlanders were adopted in the low country. They brought them with them from Ireland, as you will see from the very curious prints in Derricke’s picture of Ireland, where you see the chief and followers of the wild Irish in the ordinary Highland dress tempore Queen Elizabeth. Besides this, where has slept this universal custom that nowhere, unless in this MS., is it even heard of? Lesley knew it not, though the work had been in his possession, and his attention must have been called to it when writing concerning the three races of Scots, Highlanders, Lowlanders, and bordermen, and treating of their dress in particular. Andrew Borde knows nothing of [it], nor the Frenchman who published the geographical work from which Pinkerton copied the prints of the Highlander and Lowlander, the former in a frieze plaid or mantle, while the Lowlander strides away in a cloak and trunk hose, like his neighbour the Fleming. I will not state other objections, though so many occur, that the authenticity of the MS. being proved, I would rather suppose the author had been some tartan weaver zealous for his craft, who wished to extend the use of tartan over the whole kingdom. I have been told, and believe till now, that the use of tartan was never general in Scotland (Lowlands) until the Union, when the detestation of that measure led it to be adopted as the national colour, and the ladies all affected tartan screens.

To this letter Sir Thomas sent a reply dated 20th July 1829:—

The Messrs Hay have shewn no backwardness to obey your wishes [i.e., to send the MS. for inspection]. I read to them that part of your letter intended for their ears (keeping, of course, strictly to myself all that was confidential) [Sir Thomas, no doubt, [49]refers to the second portion of Sir Walter’s letter relating to the descent of John Sobieski Stuart and his brother Charles Edward, which, as having no relation to the subject of this work, has not been reproduced], when they displayed every possible readiness to get the older copy of the MS. sent from London, where it is in their father’s possession, to Edinburgh, as you desire; and accordingly they took an early opportunity of writing to their father to beg he would send it without delay. Meanwhile they immediately put into my hands the old copy of the MS. in their possession,[87] with full powers to transmit it to you. In the event of their father having any doubt about parting with what he values as the apple of his eye, they suggested the alternative of the MS. being examined in London by Meyrick, or any of the people about the British Museum, or any one else, in short, in whose judgment in such matters you could have confidence. I may repeat again that there are two copies of the MS. in their family, viz., that which is believed to be the original, which is in possession of the father in London, and that which is presumed to be a copy (though a copy of above a century old). The latter is in my custody at this moment, ready to be sent you. But I very much regret that the father not only refuses the request made to him about sending down the London MS.,[88] but also expresses the strongest objection to its publication. I shall copy for you what he says by-and-bye, but before doing so I shall copy for you the description of the London or original MS., which description was sent down some time ago at my request in a letter from the father:—

My copy of the Vest[i]arium Scotiæ is written on vellum in the common black letter hand of the sixteenth century, with illuminated capitals at the heads of sections of the kind used in ordinary missals. There are thirty-four pages in the book, which is a small quarto, bound in white vellum, and stamped and gilt. I never heard of any other MS. copy of the work than that in our possession, but there was a printed copy made by order of the late prince, with an introduction describing the book and containing facsimiles of the capitals, and the Bishop of Ross’s date. By the former it appeared that the original had been in the Library of the Scots College at Douay, and from it was removed, with many other of the MSS. of that body, and presented to His Royal Highness some time afterwards. The printed copy was in possession of His Royal Highness the Cardinal of York a short time before his death, and is supposed to have fallen into the hands of the English Government, and along with what they obtained of the Stuart papers.

In addition to this information about the MS. (which I asked for that I might put it as a memorandum on my own copy), Mr Hay sent me a traced facsimile of the Bishop of Ross’s name and notandum, which I read, “Jo. Rossen, primo Maii 1571. I tuck my feaver and ageu at ix huris at nyt.” This I now enclose for your inspection, with a request that you will have the goodness to return it to me safely when you have had leisure to satisfy yourself perfectly with it, as I mean to paste it on to a blank leaf in my copy. It is not impossible that you may know of or hear of some signatures of John Leslie’s to be found in some of the public collections in Edinburgh. If so, it [50]would be curious to compare this facsimile with it. And now with regard to the father’s letter refusing to send the original MS. I copy it verbatim from the first half sheet of it, which his son has torn off and sent me:—

July 5th, 1829.My dearest Ian,—I have been reflecting upon all which you request concerning the MS., but you know that there are certain things about which I never consult either the feelings or the opinions of others, but act up to previous unalterable determinations; therefore I feel sorry that you did not consult me before you gave any acquiescence to the purpose of publishing the Garderope of Scotland, as you ought to have remembered the private memorandums written on the blank leaves, and that it was impossible, coupled with other circumstances, to subject them to common curiosity, which neither I nor you can think of for a moment to reclaim the whole history and use of tartan from oblivion. [As to the opinion of Sir Walter Scott, inasmuch as I never heard it respected among antiquaries as of the least value, it is quite indifferent to me.][89] I wish for no connection with the public either for me or mine, or anything in my possession; and if you had kept still more retired from observation the relics of which I gratified you and Charles by the keeping, it would have been a much better proof of your regard for them and respect to the memory of those to whom they belonged. Love to all, and believe me, my dearest Ian, your affectionate father,

J. T. Stuart Hay.

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder considered this refusal to be quixotic; but it was absolute. He addresses himself at great length to the task of proving the high character for veracity of the Messrs Hay, and he adds:—

I cannot for a moment believe that the brothers Allan Hay could be guilty of the fraud of attempting to foist a forged manuscript upon me. And, indeed, for what purpose should they attempt so base a thing? Not, certainly, from a thirst for publication, because they never entertained the idea of printing it until repeatedly urged to do so by myself and some other friends who happened to see it, not through any ostentation of theirs, but more as matter of accident than anything else, for they did not seem to set any great value on their old copy.

But although you may be very ready to acquit the Allan Hays of being the impostors, yet it must be admitted that the MS. may nevertheless be a forgery. But if the Allan Hays be acquitted and their story be believed, we then establish that, if there be forgery at all, it must be a forgery of some antiquity. Now, in trying this alternative I confess I think it much more difficult to believe that any one could have undertaken so tedious and fruitless a labour in times when MSS. were much less cared about than they are now, than to believe that the MS. in question really is what it pretends to be. And I do think that the internal evidence of the manuscript itself is very strongly in its favour, and that it is extremely unlikely that any one could have constructed a cheat with so many genuine characters about it. With all this, I must also own that the mere circumstance that Sir Walter Scott doubts is enough to shake the firmest opinion.


To Sir Thomas Dick Lauder’s letter of 20th July Sir Walter Scott replied on 19th November, and that portion of his reply which relates to the Vestiarium is in the following terms:—

As for the Vestiarium, without pretending to know how it may have been got up, it is not, as Audrey says, a true thing, and, allowing the ingenuity of your arguments, one is obliged to allow so many extremely improbable circumstances and mere possibilities, that if any single one of them is not so weighty as to break down the whole system, their combined influence certainly will do so.

I cannot believe there is any copy of such a work among the Cardinal Duke of York’s papers. I am one of the commissioners for examining these papers, which are to a certain extent already catalogued. I will, however, keep a look out for the work of Master Urquhart, which I think his name is. To suppose Lowlanders to be Highlanders we must suppose that they spoke the Gaelick, and held the system of clanship. Without this there could be no occasion for wearing clan tartans. Now, every law or regulation concerning clanship is limited to the Highlands and to the Borders, who seem to have it as a tie of communion calculated to bind a tribe strongly together. But we are now required to believe that there was none of that distinction of dress at all, and if not of dress, why should there have been any difference of language or laws? A nation’s dress is much more easily changed than its manners and language; but here the dress alone remains, the manners and language that associated with it are totally gone. The idea of distinguishing the clans by their tartans is but a fashion of modern date in the Highlands themselves; much less could it be supposed to be carried to such an extent in the Lowlands as the manuscript pretends. Tartan itself is unquestionably a Lowland word, and the stuff “tiretain” fetched from Flanders, and I suspect the Highlander wore a frieze mantle like the Irish chief, without what we now call the bracken.

To this letter Sir Thomas replied on 29th November 1829. By that time the terrible calamity, of which he gives so vivid a picture in the Moray Floods, had happened to Relugas, and he appears to have had little heart to write about anything else. But he makes an allusion to the Vestiarium; and a very striking one it is. With all deference to the very distinct expressions of opinion by his distinguished correspondent, he observes:—

I confess I am still a believer. What do you think of the facsimile of old Leslie’s handwriting? By-the-bye, I will thank you to send it me in Mr Hay’s parcel,[90] to save me from sending to London for another. I have examined the old copy of the manuscript in my possession,[91] and find the water-mark of the paper to be ante-Union, the supporters to the arms being two unicorns.


Here closes this remarkable correspondence, and we hear no more of the Vestiarium until its publication by Tait in 1842, with the name of John Sobieski Stuart on the title-page as editor. So remarkable a work could not fail to attract attention. The most striking criticism on the book, so far as ability and bitterness went, and the only one to which any reply was vouchsafed, is that contained in the Quarterly Review for June 1847.[92] This criticism the brothers Stuart believed to have been written by the late Mr Dennistoun, but it was in reality the work of the late Professor George Skene, of Glasgow University, brother of the late Dr. William Forbes Skene, from materials furnished chiefly by the late Dr. Mackintosh Mackay. One half of the criticism consists of an unsparing attack on the alleged claims of the brothers to Royal descent, and the other of an attack upon the authenticity of the Vestiarium. Professor Skene first proposed to discuss the printed text for indications of its genuineness, or the reverse. Had he done so, the result could hardly have failed to be interesting, the language of the work offering a fair field for criticism. He not only did not do so, but fell into a series of very extraordinary errors regarding facts. He wrote:—

We cannot find that the actual MS., “which belonged to the Douay College,” and “contains the signature of the Bishop of Ross,” has ever been exhibited to any learned society in the north, or even to any individual scholar or antiquary unconnected with the present publication; but about twenty years ago, a description of the MS., with a transcript of part, at least, if not the whole of it, was sent to the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, with a request that they would patronise its publication; and by their secretary the specimen was placed in the hands of Sir Walter Scott, who kindly undertook to examine it, and give the society the benefit of his opinion as to its authenticity. The secretary, accompanied by our informant, a reverend friend deeply versed in Highland lore, waited upon him shortly afterwards to ascertain the result of the scrutiny. Sir Walter assured them that the style and dialect of the specimen shewn him were utterly false, a most feeble and clumsy imitation of the genuine writing of the period, and indignantly declared his conviction that the manuscript itself must be an absolute fabrication.[93]

To this attack the editor of the Vestiarium made the following reply:—

The reviewer proceeds to proclaim an opinion asserted to have been delivered by Sir Walter Scott, that the MS. was a clumsy imitation of the genuine writing of its professed period, “and unentitled to any credit.” The reviewer, however, has concealed that Sir Walter Scott never saw the original MS., and that he died some years before the publication of the printed edition—consequently that he never had any opportunity of forming a judgment even from a careful and formal copy. According to the acknowledgment of [53]the reviewer himself, the asserted opinion of Sir Walter was founded upon a “description of the MS., with a transcript of a part, if not the whole.” How far any critic could presume to form a judgment upon any “transcript,” especially an imperfect “part,” of a work, we leave to the experience of those accustomed to the criticism of old writings. But the reviewer has farther concealed the nature of the “transcript” said to have been exhibited to Sir Walter Scott. After the originals of the Vestiarium were in the possession of its editor, there never was made more than one “transcript,” that alluded to by the reviewer as “a transcript obtained by a gentleman in the north.” This copy, or, as admitted by the reviewer, “a part,” was transmitted by the transcriber to some of his friends in Edinburgh, at which time we believe, as asserted by the reviewer, it was casually shewn to Sir Walter Scott. The reviewer, however, has concealed the nature of this transcript, upon which Sir Walter’s asserted opinion is so maliciously quoted. Far from being, as might have been expected, a critical facsimile, or even matter-of-fact copy from the original, it was a sort of “Hood’s Comic Almanack” of tartans, neatly written, not in “clerks’,” “scriveners’,” or any other MS. text of the sixteenth century, but in ordinary Roman letter, consequently, exhibiting no “imitation” of the “genuine writing” of the period, said to have been contra-distinguished in Sir Walter’s observation, and still farther at variance with the original, or any object of serious criticism, by being illustrated in vermilion, with bizarre caricatures in the form of burlesque head and tail pieces, generally graphic puns and hieroglyphics for the name of each family whose title they adorned. Of their description, consequently, of the serious character of the MS. of which Sir Walter Scott’s criticism is so gravely reported, a conclusion may be formed by a few examples, such as, for “Dundas” the sketch of a small “Dun,” and on its summit an “ass.” For Brodie (pronounced in Scots Broadie), a large, i.e., a “Broad” “eye.” And for Montgomery the view of a mount, enlivened by several dancing figures, intended to associate the idea of “go-merry,” and the like. Such is the manuscript said to have been exhibited to and condemned by Sir Walter Scott as “of no authority whatever.” Its removal from authority, however, was farther extended by the fact that it was not even a transcript of the oldest MS. on which the reviewer sits in judgment, but of an inferior, tattered, and inaccurate copy, no older than the year 1721, and which was the only one “in the north” when the amiable and distinguished friend[94] of the possessor, designated by the reviewer after that borealian locality, made the transcript, with which he amused some idle winter days, with the conceits which, it was then predicted, would extend to the original a connection of misconception and ridicule.

According to this expectation, all those who became acquainted with the tract only through the medium of the copy supposed that the illustrations, as well as the text, were equally facsimiles of the original MS.; and if Sir Walter Scott had no explanation to the contrary, he, of course, entertained the same conclusion, and thus must have supposed the tract a greater enormity of absurdity than has even been assumed by the reviewer.[95]

Professor Skene, writing of what happened “about twenty years ago” [54]concerning an affair in which he took no part, may well have fallen into casual error, but his “reverend friend deeply versed in Highland lore” ought to have had some memory. The correspondence between Sir Thomas Dick Lauder and Sir Walter Scott clearly shows that John Ross’s MS. was first brought under Sir Walter’s notice in June 1829, a period fairly enough corresponding in 1847 to “twenty years ago.” But the only “description,” or “transcript,” of the part or whole he ever saw was that contained in Sir Thomas’s letter of 1st June 1829, and how far the materials there given enabled Sir Walter to form a judgment of the style, dialect, or writing of the original may be gathered from the fact that he made no attempt to do so. There are Sir Walter’s own letters of 7th June and 19th November 1829 on the subject, in which his unfavourable opinion of the authenticity of the Vestiarium is based, not upon the appearance or language of the manuscript, which he had no opportunity of examining, but upon its ascription of tartans to the Lowlanders, to the lack of express notices on the subject by early writers, and to the use of the tartans as distinguishing the clans. Sir Walter wrote with the knowledge of his period, and how far his views are borne out by later investigation may be gathered by a study of the contents of the preceding pages.

Professor Skene’s statements—first, that a description of the manuscript, with a transcript of part, if not the whole of it, was sent to the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, with a request that they would patronise its publication; second, that the specimen was placed by their secretary in the hands of Sir Walter Scott, who undertook to express an opinion upon it; and, third, that the secretary and “our informant” afterwards waited upon Sir Walter to ascertain what his opinion was—are unverified. All that has yet been discovered, indeed, goes to show that nothing of the kind ever took place, and that the “facts” stated in the Quarterly Review had their origin only in the imagination of the learned professor’s “reverend friend.” The minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for that period are yet in existence. They are kept with a careful, even a tedious minuteness; and is it possible to suppose that the series of events detailed in the Quarterly Review of June 1847 as having taken place “about twenty years ago,” involving questions of such importance to antiquaries, especially to Scottish antiquaries, could have been entirely omitted from them? Yet they are. No mention whatever of the circumstances stated by Professor Skene to have occurred “about twenty years ago” appears.

John Sobieski Stuart’s position in the affair is quite plain. We find from[55] the correspondence that all Sir Walter really saw was the description and extracts contained in Sir Thomas’s letter of 1st June 1829; but the editor of the Vestiarium, aware of the fact that Sir Thomas had a transcript of the work, which he had expressly offered to show Sir Walter, and confronted with the absolute statement by Professor Skene, on the authority of his “reverend friend,” that Sir Walter had seen a transcript, arrived naturally at the conclusion that the transcript Sir Walter was asserted to have seen was the only one in existence, that made by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, and directed his reply accordingly. Had he been aware of the real facts of the case, his reply to Professor Skene might have been even more crushing than it was.

Professor Skene made an attack in another quarter. He questioned the authenticity of the work on the ground that there were several and serious errors in the genealogies of the clans whose tartans are described, and he specified particularly M’Nab, Farquharson, Clan Gun, Cluny Macpherson, and Mackintosh, the occurrence of errors in regard to whose genealogies, he urged, demonstrated that the Vestiarium was a forgery. To reply to these criticisms John Sobieski Stuart seriously set himself, and with remarkable ability and success.[96]

Finally, Professor Skene fell foul of the Bishop of Ross’s signature.

It matters little to the public who was the perpetrator of the present forgery. It may have been “the late Mr Robert Walker,”[97] who is so ready with an entry from “the Bishop’s Diary” in its support—a “Diary” which, like Mr Sobieski Stuart’s MS. itself, formed “part of the Douay papers.”[98] It may have been the defunct porter of Auld Reekie, John Ross, from whom one of the copies is said to have been procured. And apropos of this latter possibility we would recommend Mr Sobieski Stuart to again look at his original MS., and consider whether what he has taken for the signature of the well-known bishop, John of Ross, be not in fact a quaint attempt of his friend the sword-player to write his own name in an old hand, after practising upon the fever and ague notice which accompanies it.[99]

To this taunt John Sobieski Stuart made no reply. Possibly it was beyond his power to give any example of the bishop’s signature beyond the one in his possession. And yet the propriety of comparing an authoritative example of Leslie’s handwriting with that appearing in the Vestiarium [56]obviously suggests itself, and did not escape Sir Thomas Dick Lauder’s observation. He wrote on 20th July 1829,[100] enclosing Sir Walter Scott a traced facsimile of the signature for his satisfaction, and adding “it is not impossible you may know of or hear of some signatures of John Leslie’s to be found in some of the public collections in Edinburgh. If so, it would be curious to compare this facsimile with it.” Of this request no notice appears to have been taken by Sir Walter, and Sir Thomas again returns to the charge on 29th November,[101] when he asked Sir Walter for his opinion of the authenticity of the signature, and requesting him to return the facsimile. But the day of Sir Walter’s own trouble had come, and he contented himself with returning the facsimile to Sir Thomas without any attempt at verification. One obvious explanation of Sir Walter’s proceeding is that the public records were not then so accessible as they are now, and a search must have proved both tedious and expensive.

Of Leslie’s signature as Bishop of Ross (Jo. Rossen.) not many examples are available, but the Editor’s attention has been drawn to one in the Lord Treasurer’s Accounts. It is submitted that the reader may be able to form an opinion as to whether the facsimile in the Vestiarium is more likely to represent the signature of the Bishop of Ross or the scrawl of an Edinburgh street porter of 1819.

D. W. S.

Signatures [102] [103] [104]


[1] The Heimskringla, or Chronicle of the Kings of Norway. Translated from Icelandic of Snorro Sturleson, with a preliminary dissertation, by Samuel Laing, Esq. London: Longmans, 1844. Magnus Barefoot’s Saga (written by Snorro Sturleson 1178-1241), Vol. III., p. 139.

[2] Laing translates the word “kyrtlu” as “kirtles;” Gregory and Skene translate it “tunics.”

[3] Registrum Episcopatus Aberdonensis, Vol. II., p. 8. Spalding Club.
[4] Scotichronicon, Gregory’s translation. Transactions of the Iona Club, p. 27.
[5] Borthwick’s Remarks on British Antiquities. Edinburgh, 1776, p. 139.
[6] Pinkerton’s History of Scotland from the Accession of the House of Stuart. London, 1797, Vol. I., p. 493.
[7] Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, Vol. I., Part I., p. 114, note.
[8] Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, edited by Thomas Dickson, Curator of the Historical Department of H.M. General Register House, Vol. I., 1473-1498, Preface, p. clxxxv, and note; and Glossary, p. 441.
[9] Scottish Collection of Gaelic MSS. in Advocates’ Library, No. XVI., A.A., line 2. For the correct reading as well as translation of this interesting manuscript the Editor is indebted to Professor Mackinnon. In the “Report of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland appointed to inquire into the nature and authenticity of the Poems of Ossian” (Edinburgh, 1805), it is, on the authority of Mr Astle, stated to be a writing of the ninth or tenth century (Report, p. 305). In the opinion of Professor Mackinnon the manuscript cannot be assigned to an earlier period than about 1400.
[10] Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, 1429, Record Issue, Vol. II., p. 18.
[11] Constable’s edition of Major, published for the Scottish History Society. Edinburgh, 1892, pp. 48, 49.
[12] Ibid., p. 333.
[13] Ibid., p. 359.
[14] Lord High Treasurer’s Accounts, 1537-38, fol. 63, MS., H.M. General Register House.
[15] See letter printed in full in Bannatyne Miscellany, Vol. I., and also in Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis. The Editor is indebted for a correct transcription of the above portion to Mr Augustus W. Franks, C.B., British Museum.
[16] Histoire de la Guerre d’Escosse pendant les Campagnes, 1548 et 1549. Par Jean de Beaugué. Maitland Club. The translation is that of Donald Gregory. See Transactions of the Iona Club, p. 31.
[17] Register of the Privy Council, Vol. I., p. 136.
[18] The Chronicles of Scotland, by Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, Edition 1814, Vol. I., Introduction, p. xxiii.
[19] The Historie of Scotland, wrytten first in Latin by the most Reverend and Worthy Jhone Leslie, Bishop of Rosse, and translated in Scottish by Father James Dalrymple Religious in the Scottis Cloister of Regensburg the zeere of God 1596. Edited for the Scottish Text Society by the Rev. Father E. G. Cody, O.S.B., 1885, pp. 90-94. This quaint Scots version is given in preference to the ordinary one from the Latin, as it conveys an extremely vivid picture of the ancient dress written by a contemporary.
[20] Ibid., p. 377.
[21] Aikman’s translation of Buchanan’s History of Scotland, Vol. I., pp. 40, 41. Buchanan’s description was incorporated in Certeine Matters concerning the Realme of Scotland, composed together as they were Anno Domini 1597, by John Monipennie, who also included it in the Summarie of the Scots Chronicles, 1612.
[22] The Booke of the Universall Kirk of Scotland, Vol. I., pp. 331, 335. Bannatyne Club.
[23] Extracts from the Council Register of the Burgh of Aberdeen, 1570-1625, as printed by the Spalding Club, Vol. II., pp. 27, 373.
[24] The Image of Irelande, 1581. Reprinted by A. & C. Black, Edinburgh, 1883, p. 50.
[25] Ibid. p. 105.
[26] La Navigation du Roy d’Escosse Iaques Cinquiesme du nom, referred to in the Transactions of the Iona Club, pp. 36, 37.
[27] The Great Seal Register, 1580-1593, edited by John Maitland Thomson, M.A., Advocate, No. 1491.
[28] Vestiarium Scoticum. William Tait, Edinburgh, 1842, Introduction, p. 59; and A Reply to the Quarterly Review upon the Vestiarium Scoticum. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh, 1848, p. 23.
[29] Register of Signatouris in the Office of Comptrollerie, Vol. XII., 1587-1589, fol. 82.
[30] Charge of the Temporalitie of Kirklandis: North Side of the Forth. MS. in H.M. General Register House, fol. 94.
[31] Register of Signatouris in the Office of Comptrollerie, Vol. XXXIV., 1617, fol. 120.
[32] Ibid., Vol. XLVII., 1630, fol. 208.
[33] The Pourtrait of True Loyalty exposed in the Family of Gordon without interruption to this present year 1691, with a relation of the Siege of the Castle of Edinburgh in the year 1689. MS. in Advocates’ Library. It is partially quoted in De Rebus Albanicis.
[34] Iona Club Transactions, pp. 37, 38.
[35] Origines Parochiales Scotiæ, Vol. II., i. 156.
[36] The Montgomery Manuscripts, containing Accounts of the Colonization of the Ardes in the County of Down in the Reigns of Elizabeth and James. Printed from the Original Manuscripts and Transcripts of MSS., composed by William Montgomery, Esq., second son of Sir James Montgomery, between the years 1698 and 1704. Belfast, 1830, pp. 53, 54.
[37] Camden’s Britannia (Gough’s Edition, 1789), Vol. III., p. 389.
[38] The Pennyless Pilgrimage, or the Moneylesse Perumbulation of John Taylor, alias the Kings Majesties Water-Poet: How he travelled on Foot from London to Edenborough in Scotland, not carrying any money to or fro, neither Begging, Borrowing or asking Meate, Drinke, or Lodging. Hume Brown’s Edition. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1892, pp. 120, 121.
[39] History of Scots Affairs from 1637 to 1641, by James Gordon, Parson of Rothiemay. Spalding Club, Vol. III., Appendix to Preface, pp. xliii., xliv.
[40] Defoe’s Works: Memoirs of a Cavalier, Vol. II., pp. 112, 113. Bohn, London, 1854. As to the genuine authorship of this work, see Lee’s Bibliography in his edition of Defoe’s Works.
[41] Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, 1661, Vol. VII., p. 186.
[42] Brome’s Travels, Second Edition, London, 1707, pp. 179, 180.
[43] Tours in Scotland, 1677 and 1681, by Thomas Kirk and Ralph Thoresby, edited by P. Hume Brown. Edinburgh, David Douglas, 1892, pp. 28, 29.
[44] See the letter quoted in Blackwood’s Magazine, April 1817, p. 69. The present extract has been compared with the original in the Advocates’ Library. In the Transactions of the Iona Club “not one of ten of them hath breaches” is made to read “not one of them hath breaches,” and this very serious error has been duly copied by subsequent writers on the Highland dress.
[45] A Collection of Several Poems and Verses composed upon various occasions, by Mr William Cleland, Lieutenant-Colonel to my Lord Angus’s Regiment. Printed in the year 1697, pp. 11-13.
[46] Lyon Register in H.M. General Register House, Edinburgh. Matriculation dated about 1672.
[47] Alexander Nisbet’s Heraldic Plates, originally intended for his System of Heraldry. Waterston and Sons, Edinburgh, 1892.
[48] Nisbet MS., Advocates’ Library, pp. 33-35.
[49] Introduction to Nisbet’s Heraldic Plates, p. xlvi.
[50] The Grameid: an Historic Poem descriptive of the Campaign of Viscount Dundee in 1689, by James Philip of Almerieclose. 1691. Translated by the Rev. Alexander D. Murdoch, F.S.A. Scot., for the Scottish History Society, 1888.
[51] Some Account of the Battle of Killiecrankie and what Followed thereupon. The MS. is cited in The Costume of the Clans, p. 104.
[52] An Account of the Isle of Man, ... with a Voyage to I-Columb-Kill, by William Sacheverell, Esq., late Governor of the Isle of Man. 8vo. Manx Society, 1859, p. 99. The first edition was published in 1702.
[53] A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, by M. Martin, Gent. The first edition of this work appeared in 1703, and a second, “very much corrected,” in 1716. It is from this second edition, pp. 206-210, that the extract is taken.
[54] A Collection of Original Papers about the Scots Plot. London, 1704, pp. 3, 4.
[55] Court Books of the Regality of Grant, 1703-1710. MSS. in H.M. General Register House.
[56] By the courtesy of the families in possession of the portraits referred to in the text, the author, for the purposes of the present work, has had repeated opportunities of making careful examinations of those referred to.
[57] The Present State of Scotland, Second Edition, 1711.
[58] A Journey through Scotland, by the author of The Journey through England (John Macky). London, 1723, p. 194.
[59] System of Heraldry, Edition 1804, Vol. I., p. 415. The original edition of this work was published in 1722, but was most probably written fifteen or twenty years before that date.
[60] MS., Lyon Office. See facsimile of a portion of the page containing the Cluny reference in the Introduction to the Nisbet Plates, p. xlii.
[61] The original is at Fingask. It has been engraved as the frontispiece to The Threiplands of Fingask.
[62] Captain Burt’s Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland, 1818, Vol. I., pp. 84-5; Vol. II., pp. 7, 84-86, 87-91. Jamieson’s Edition.
[63] Burt’s Letters, Vol. II., pp. 102-105. Jamieson’s Edition.
[64] Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, from the MSS. of John Ramsay, Esq. of Ochtertyre, edited by Alex. Allardice. Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1888. Vol. I., p. 540; Vol. II., pp. 87, 88.
[65] Caledonian Mercury, 14th January 1740.
[66] Ibid., 19th February 1740.
[67] Caledonian Mercury, 4th October 1745.
[68] A mistake of the writer for “Ness.”
[69] A Journal of the Expedition of Prince Charles Edward in 1745, by a Highland Officer. Lockhart Papers, Vol. II., p. 505.
[70] Stewart’s Sketches, Vol. I., p. 112, Edition 1822.
[71] General Orders to the Army in Scotland, 22nd December 1748.
[72] Stewart’s Sketches, Vol. I., p. 113.
[73] Orders to 20th Foot [now the Lancashire Fusiliers], dated Bamff 1752.
[74] Edinburgh Evening Courant, February 21, 23, 26, 28, 1760.
[75] Ibid., July 9, 14, 1760.
[76] Stewart’s Sketches, Vol. I., p. 114.
[77] Travels in the Western Hebrides from 1782 to 1790, by the Rev. John Lane Buchanan, Missionary Minister to the Isles from the Church of Scotland. London, 1793, pp. 84-90.
[78] Camden’s Britannia (Gough’s Edition, 1789), Vol. III., p. 390.
[79] Vestiarium Scoticum. From the Manuscript formerly in the Library of the Scots College at Douay, with an Introduction and Notes by John Sobieski Stuart. Edinburgh, William Tait, 1842.
[80] Preface to Vestiarium Scoticum, pp. i.-vii.
[81] Advertisement annexed to A Reply to the Quarterly Review upon the Vestiarium Scoticum. Edinburgh, Blackwood, 1848.
[82] A Reply to the Quarterly Review, p. 6.
[83] See notes on p. 47.
[84] A Reply to the Quarterly Review, p. 7.
[85] It may be proper to point out here that the Editor discussed the idea of issuing a work on rare tartans, to be illustrated by examples of the actual fabrics, with his publisher several years ago, and it was not until the illustrations for the present work were considerably advanced that he became aware of the existence of Miss Dick Lauder’s copy of the Vestiarium, which she has so handsomely placed at his disposal, and which contains the statement in the text.
[86] Copy of original letter in possession of Miss Dick Lauder. Copies of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder’s letters to Sir Walter Scott, along with the originals of the latter’s replies, are bound up with the copy of the Vestiarium made by Sir Thomas in 1828-9, referred to on page 45. The volume, now in possession of Miss Dick Lauder, daughter of Sir Thomas, also contains the cleverly executed water-colours by Charles Edward Stuart referred to in the above letter and the quaint illustrations by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder subsequently referred to.
[87] This, it will be remembered, was the copy which belonged to John Ross, the old sword-player.
[88] i.e., the Douay MS.
[89] The words within brackets do not occur in Sir Thomas’s letter to Sir Walter. They appear, however, in the original letter written by the father of the Messrs Hay, and preserved by Sir Thomas in the volume now in Miss Dick Lauder’s possession.
[90] Sir Walter did so, and it is reproduced on page 56.
[91] This, it will be remembered, was the copy got from John Ross with the date 1721.
[92] Quarterly Review, No. CLXI., June 1847, Art. II., p. 57, “The Heirs of the Stuarts.”
[93] Ibid., pp. 63, 64.
[94] Sir Thomas Dick Lauder.
[95] A Reply to the Quarterly Review upon the Vestiarium Scoticum. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh, 1848, pp. 4-7.
[96] See Reply, pp. 8-16.
[97] An evident misprint for “Watson” in the Quarterly Review article.
[98] Professor Skene’s reference here is to a statement in the preface to the Vestiarium, to the effect that the Bishop of Ross noted his acquisition of Sir Richard Urquhart’s work in his Diary (which he quotes in full) remaining among a portion of the Douay papers, in the possession of the “late Mr Robert Watson, well known in the history of the Stuart papers.” For an account of Watson’s remarkable career see an article by Andrew Lang in the Illustrated London News of 12th March 1892.
[99] Quarterly Review article, p. 67.
[100] Ante, p. 49.
[101] Ante, p. 51.
[102] Facsimile of John Leslie’s signature as Bishop of Ross in the Lord Treasurer’s Accounts, 1564-6, H.M. General Register House, Edinburgh. The date of the audit, to which the bishop’s signature is affixed, is 27th June 1566.
[103] Facsimile of the signature contained in the Vestiarium Scoticum referred to on preceding page.
[104] An example from Nichols’ Autographs, obtained from the bishop’s letter to Lord Burleigh, dated Paris, 28th February 1579, preserved in the British Museum.
[105] Why the simple red and black check receives the title of Rob Roy is something of a mystery. In Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland (Smith: Mauchline, 1850) it is asserted, and the statement is repeated in The Tartans of the Clans of Scotland (W. & A. K. Johnston: Edinburgh, 1886) without attempt at verification, that three genuine portraits of Rob Roy represent him as wearing it; but these and other so-called Rob Roy portraits—be their value what it may—afford no sanction whatever for the design. The Editor is not aware on what authority the portraits are classed as Rob Roy. He has seen seven paintings, including the three above referred to, in which the figure is identical, all known as Rob Roy, and in each a separate pattern appears, none of them showing the simple red and black check. The tartan is accepted by sound authorities as the old Macgregor clan pattern. There are fine examples of it in a collection of tartans made by the Highland Society of London in 1816-17, labelled and sealed “The MacGregor Tartan for undress ordinary clothing. The Seal of Arms of Sir John MacGregor Murray of MacGregor, Baronet. [Signed] John M. Murray.”



1. The Scottish Gaël; or, Celtic Manners as preserved among the Highlanders: Being an Historical and Descriptive Account of the Inhabitants, Antiquities, and National Peculiarities of Scotland; more particularly of the Northern or Gaëlic Parts of the Country, where the singular habits of the Aboriginal Celts are most tenaciously retained. By James Logan, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 65 Cornhill. 1831. 2 vols. 8vo. Large paper in royal 8vo.

This work contains in an appendix a list of fifty-four tartans, which Logan states were as many as he could procure and authenticate. Along with the name of each tartan is a table stating the colours and relative proportions of the stripes in eighths of an inch. This plan of measurement, it appears, was the joint idea of Logan and Captain Mackenzie of Gruinard. It is really a modification of that of the old Highland weavers of winding on a stick the correct number of threads of each colour in the proper order. One coloured plate (an illustration of the tartan of the Earl of Inverness) is given, with the object of explaining the system of measurement and colouring set forth in the work. Each volume contains a coloured frontispiece representing Highlanders in tartan dress.

A reprint (omitting the plate of the tartan) was issued in 1876, edited, with memoir and notes, by the Rev. Alexander Stewart, of Ballachulish and Ardgour, “Nether Lochaber.” Inverness: Hugh Mackenzie, Bank Lane. Edinburgh: Maclachlan and Stewart, South Bridge.

2. Vestiarium Scoticum. From the Manuscript formerly in the Library of the Scots College at Douay. With an Introduction and Notes by John Sobieski Stuart. Edinburgh: William Tait, 107 Princes Street. 1842. Imperial 4to.

The Vestiarium, referred to at some length in the Introduction, was, if we set aside the single plate issued by Logan in 1831, the first work published containing illustrations of tartans. According to Lowndes, whose information on the point was derived from the late Dr. David Laing, only fifty copies were printed, and it is curious that none of the great Edinburgh libraries is in possession of a complete copy. It contains (a) a preface giving an account of the three MS. copies of the work known to the editor; (b) a roll of the clans from the original MS. of 1571, accompanied by the ordinary Parliamentary rolls of 1587 and 1594, and the one compiled by Lord President Forbes in 1745;[58] (c) an introduction treating very fully of the use of tartan in early times; (d) the text of the MS., wherein are minutely described (1) twenty-five tartans of the “chieff Hieland clannes;” (2) eleven tartans of the “lesser famylies or housis, the quhilk be cum frae ye chieff housis and oryginale clannes;” (3) thirty tartans belonging to the “low country pairtes and bordovr clannes;” (4) nine tartans of the “bordovr clannes;” (5) a list of clans and their badges of distinction.

The illustrations of the book consist of one plate containing reproductions of styles of dress from early seals and illuminated manuscripts, and seventy-five coloured plates representing tartans. The latter are executed by the “machine painting” process introduced by the Messrs Smith, of Mauchline, for their tartan woodwork, and for beauty of execution and exactness of detail have not been excelled by any method of colour printing subsequently invented. The wide use made of the tartan illustrations in this work by subsequent writers is duly noted under the respective works.

3. The Clans of the Scottish Highlands: Illustrated by appropriate Figures displaying the Dress, Arms, Armorial Insignia, and Social Occupations, from Original Sketches by R. R. M’Ian, Esq., with accompanying Descriptive and Historical Memoranda of Character, Mode of Life, &c., &c., by James Logan, Esq., F.S.A. Sc., Cor. Mem. Soc. Ant., Normandy, &c., author of The Scottish Gaël, Introduction to the “Sar Obair nam bard Gaëllach,” &c. London: Ackermann & Co. 1845-47. 2 vols.

Originally issued in parts, commencing in the year 1843, and terminating in 1849, in two sizes, imperial quarto and imperial folio. The quarto edition was reprinted by Willis, Sotheran, & Co. in 1857. It contains seventy-two coloured plates of figures illustrating various forms, ancient and modern, of the Highland dress, drawn by M’Ian. Two coloured frontispieces represent the heraldic shields and badges of the clans. There is a separate pagination for each of the parts, making the work of reference troublesome. Logan travelled over a great part of the Highlands and Islands collecting the interesting details relating to the clans here presented. Of the illustrations, the greater number is based on authenticated details of dress, but many are imaginative, as no records exist covering the period to which they are assigned. The tartans depicted are partly those in Logan’s Scottish Gaël, while others are unacknowledged reproductions from the designs in the Vestiarium Scoticum.

4. The Costume of the Clans, with Observations upon the Literature, Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce of the Highlands and Western Isles during the Middle Ages; and on the Influence of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries upon their present condition. By John Sobieski Stolberg and Charles Edward Stuart. John Menzies, Princes Street, Edinburgh; D. Bogue, Fleet Street, London; M. Amoyat, Paris; Leopold Michelsen, Leipzig; Gottlieb Haase Söhne, Prague. 1845. Folio. Reprinted 1892, with a Biographical Introduction. Edinburgh: John Grant.

When projected this magnificent and sumptuous work was intended to extend to two volumes, of which only the first appeared, the cost of production having proved excessive,[59] and entailed a heavy loss upon the authors. It contains thirty-five plates. Of these, six, which are uncoloured, consist of representations of Highland dress, obtained principally from sculptured stones. The coloured plates contain representations of thirty-seven figures, obtained from the following sources: Paintings, 29; engravings, 5; drawing, 1; illuminated MS., 1; medal die, 1. The work was also issued uncoloured in two states—viz., with India proofs, and with plain prints. Copies of the original coloured issue are very rare, no copy being preserved in any of the great Edinburgh libraries. I have compared the colouring of the reprint, and also the original of the plain prints, with twenty of the figures depicted in the paintings from which they are taken, scattered in various family collections throughout Scotland. The remaining nine paintings I have hitherto been unable to trace. In every instance that has come under my observation the colouring of the plates turns out to be not only incorrect, but as a rule hopelessly misleading. What makes this all the more extraordinary is that the plain outline drawings representing the original work of the authors are extremely accurate in rendering the most minute details, except the features, which are usually very indifferently copied. Of the remaining eight figures noted above as in colour, seven are represented in tartan, on what authority as to sett I have been unable to ascertain. The letterpress contains a treatise on the Highland dress, which, considering the period at which it was written, and the difficulty of access to the widely scattered materials of which it is composed, is a perfect marvel of industry and ability. It has been the productive quarry of all successive writers on the Highland dress.

5. Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland: Painted by Machinery, with Map of the Highlands, showing the Territories of the Clans. Introductory Essay on The Scottish Gaël, by a Member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. William and Andrew Smith, Scotch Snuff-Box Makers by appointment to his late Majesty, and by command to Her Majesty the Queen. Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland. 4to.

First issued in parts with the title on the wrapper, Original Tartans of the Highland Clans and Lowland Families of Scotland, the preface being dated 1st March 1850. Between the issue of the prospectus and its accompanying plates and the completion of the publication of the work several changes were made in the illustrations. For example, Plate I. of the Stuart tartan was first represented as in the Vestiarium, but was afterwards changed to the present more familiar design. For information regarding the tartans the Messrs Smith relied chiefly on the manufacturers, with whom the work remains the standard of reference. It contains, however, inaccuracies in identification and arrangement, some of which are referred to in the letterpress accompanying the tartans in the present volume. The plates, of which there are sixty-nine, are executed by the publishers’ process of “machine painting” to which reference has already been made under the Vestiarium.

A miniature edition (without date, a want the publishers are now unable to supply) of the plates in the above was issued. The only letterpress it contains is the title-page, table of contents, and the names of the tartans.


6. The Clans of the Highlands of Scotland: Being an Account of their Annals, Separately and Collectively, with Delineations of their Tartans, and Family Arms. Edited by Thomas Smibert, Esq. Edinburgh: Published by James Hogg. Glasgow: David Robertson. London: R. Groombridge & Sons. 1850. 8vo.

In this work, which deals entirely with the histories of the clans, there are included fifty-five coloured lithographic plates of tartans. No individual account of these is given, but in his notice the author states: “With respect to the Sets of the Clan-Tartans here given, the work of Mr Logan has been held, after due consideration, to be preferable as a general guide. The Vestiarium Scoticum of Mr Stuart is certainly a publication of value in various respects, having plainly been prepared with much elaboration and care, and accordingly it would be unwise to reject its indications wholly, because of the doubts entertained as to its claims to antiquity and authenticity. The parties responsible for the present work, however, have had recourse to the best original sources of information, and trust by that means to maintain accuracy, without blindly following any previous authority.” The best comment on these observations is to be found in the fact that while the bulk of the illustrations are copied from Logan, and many others are early and genuine examples of tartans never before that time illustrated, a number were adopted from the Vestiarium.

7. A History of the Highlands and of the Highland Clans: With an extensive selection from the hitherto inedited Stuart Papers. By James Browne, LL.D., Advocate. A new edition, with sixty-six illustrative engravings and numerous woodcuts. London, Edinburgh, and Dublin: A. Fullarton & Co. 1850. 4 vols. 8vo.

Contains twenty-two plates of tartans executed in colour lithography, being reproductions, indifferently executed, of designs first published in the Vestiarium Scoticum. No notes or explanations of any kind accompany the plates.

8. Highlanders of Scotland: Portraits illustrative of the Principal Clans and Followings, and the Retainers of the Royal Household at Balmoral, in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. By Kenneth Macleay, Esq., R.S.A. With Copious Notices from Authentic Sources. In Coloured Lithographs by Vincent Brooks. London: Mr Mitchell, Publisher to Her Majesty, 33 Old Bond Street, W. Edinburgh: Blackwood & Sons. 1870. 2 vols. imperial folio.

The illustrations consist of coloured lithographic reproductions of drawings made by command of Her Majesty the Queen. Biographical notes accompany each plate. The figures are represented in various styles of the modern Highland dress.

There are also two quarto uncoloured editions of the work—one reduced from the original lithographs, illustrated with lithographic prints; the other, photographed from the original drawings, is illustrated by silver prints.

9. Clans and Tartans. Andrew Elliot, 17 Princes Street, Edinburgh. 4to.

Published 28th September 1872. A series of tartans from the work of Messrs Smith, and executed by their “machine painting” process. No notes accompany the plates.


10. A History of the Scottish Highlands, Highland Clans, and Highland Regiments: With an Account of the Gaelic Language, Literature, and Music. By the Rev. Thomas Maclauchlan, LL.D., F.S.A. Scot.; and an Essay on Highland Scenery by the late Professor John Wilson. Edited by John S. Keltie, F.S.A. Scot. Illustrated with a series of Portraits, Views, Maps, &c., engraved on steel, Clan Tartans, and upwards of two hundred woodcuts, including Armorial Bearings. A. Fullarton & Co., Edinburgh and London. 1875. 2 vols. 8vo.

A reissue on a larger scale of Dr. Browne’s work (No. 7). The thirty-one examples of tartans here given are, unlike those contained in No. 7, reproductions of those in Messrs Smith’s work, and the plates are executed by their process. Beyond including the plates no notice of the tartans is taken. The work has been frequently reissued.

11. Sketches of the Clans of Scotland: With Coloured Plates of Tartans. By Clansmen, J. M. P.,-F. W. S. Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Stewart. 1884. 8vo.

The twenty-two plates of tartans contained in this book are lithographic reproductions, poorly executed, of tartans illustrated in the Vestiarium Scoticum. A short introduction and some notes on the clans accompany the plates.

12. The Tartans of the Clans of Scotland; also an Introductory Account of Celtic Scotland, Clanship, Chiefs, their Dress, Arms, &c., and with Historical Notes of each Clan. By James Grant, author of The Romance of War, Old and New Edinburgh, &c. Emblazoned arms of the chiefs, and a map of the districts occupied by the various clans are added. W. & A. K. Johnston, Edinburgh and London. 1886. Imperial 4to.

The seventy-one tartans illustrated in this beautiful book will, with one exception, be found to have been included in the works previously referred to. There is, as in the case of the Messrs Smith’s book, a number of errors in identification and arrangement. The illustrations are the finest examples of lithographic printing as applied to tartan designs which have hitherto appeared, and they show clearly where the method succeeds and where it fails.

13. The Scottish Clans and their Tartans: With Notes. W. & A. K. Johnston, Edinburgh and London. [1891.] 16mo.

There has never hitherto been brought together in such a compact form so many examples of tartans, the work containing ninety-six plates executed by the same process as in the publishers’ larger work (No. 12). It is necessary, however, to point out that some of them are designs invented within a few years, and of no authority as clan tartans. A second edition, with additional notes, was issued in 1892.




AUSTIN and Keith NO. 12
CAMPBELL of Breadalbane 4
DRUMMOND of Perth 6
DRUMMOND of Strathallan 7
FRASER of Lovat 9
GLENORCHY and Mac Intyre 19
KEITH and Austin 12
MAC DONALD: from “The Lyon in Mourning” 16
MAC DONALD of Keppoch 17
MAC DONALD: Lord of the Isles 1
MAC DONALD: Lord of the Isles: Hunting 2
MAC IAN (Mackeane) 22
MAC INTYRE and Glenorchy 19
MAC KEANE (Mac Ian) 22
MAC LAINE of Lochbuie 21
MAC LEAN: Hunting 23
MAC RAE: Hunting 27
MENZIES: Hunting 28
OGILVY: Hunting 31
STEWART of Appin 34
STEWART of Atholl 35
STEWART of Galloway 36
STUART of Bute 37
FROM A PORTRAIT of the Countess of Lennox 39
FROM THE CLOAK of Prince Charles Edward at Fingask 40
FROM A PLAID worn by Prince Charles Edward at Holyrood 41
FROM A COAT worn at Culloden 43
FROM A PLAID found at Culloden 44



The authority for the accompanying example is a portrait of Sir Alexander (afterwards first Lord) Macdonald of the Isles, in the collection of Lord Macdonald of the Isles, at Armadale Castle in Skye. Of that painting, executed by an unknown artist about 1750, the vignette on the title-page of the present work is a reproduction. The tartan is represented only in the coat of the youth holding the golf-club, the trews being in red and white check; and a close inspection reveals an important addition to what has long been accepted as the Lord of the Isles pattern—to wit, that of the black lines intersecting the red squares. The omission of these black lines from the modern sett is obviously accidental, for the tartan as now worn is based on the authority of the picture, which was believed to have been accurately copied. The origin of the error cannot be ascertained; but, probably, a mistake in the reproduction of the design when tartans became the wear after the repeal of the prohibitory statute has remained undetected till now. On the canvas, at least, the intersections are clearly depicted; and, moreover, the tartan thus conforms to the rule of breaking large squares generally observed in old clan patterns. The Costume of the Clans, by John Sobieski Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart, contains a presentment of the painting which, though professedly coloured from the original, is nevertheless extremely inaccurate. It may be added that the tartan, which is that usually worn by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, who bears the title of the Lord of the Isles, has never hitherto been faithfully delineated in any previous work nor properly reproduced in any textile fabric of modern manufacture.




Like the preceding example, the present is based on a painting in Armadale Castle—a life-size representation of the first Lord Macdonald of the Isles, dating from about 1765. On the evidence of style the work is ascribed to Allan Ramsay the younger, who about this period painted many portraits in tartan costumes, in which, fortunately for our purpose, he displays as a rule the patterns boldly and brilliantly. Through the kindness of Lord and Lady Macdonald of the Isles the Editor had last year an excellent opportunity of obtaining reproductions of the tartans delineated in their family portraits. The painting in this case was photographed to a large scale, and afterwards coloured from the original by an experienced artist (a similar plan being adopted in the case of Plate I.) From these the silks were woven, carefully compared with the paintings, and so absolute accuracy of reproduction secured. Traditionally known as the Lord of the Isles hunting tartan, the pattern here given appears in the coat, vest, and kilt of the figure portrayed. The statute against the wearing of the Highland dress, including tartans, passed in 1747, was operative when the picture was painted. It may be, however, that as the Macdonalds of Sleat were adherents of the Government, in name at least, special indulgence was extended to them. During the greater part of the present century the design was not rendered in textile fabric, but recently Lord Macdonald of the Isles had it woven for his use. With characteristic inaccuracy of colouring, The Costume of the Clans represents the tartan with a predominance of red, though the original contains no trace of that colour.




It is not known when this design was originally adopted; but, though the pattern cannot be traced in early paintings, it nevertheless possesses internal evidence of some antiquity, since many of the oldest tartans are variations of the red and black check, popularly styled the Rob Roy,[105] with the addition of narrower lines of various hues, as in the present instance. The beginning of the century witnessed its use, as it is included in several collections of the hard tartans produced at the time; and since then it has always figured in the pattern-books and the lists both of connoisseurs and of manufacturers. Certainly, it has been regarded as the true Brodie by makers as far back as business records or traditions extend. Of late a green tartan has been sold as undress or hunting Brodie, but it seems unsupported by any remote authority. The pattern illustrated as the Huntly district tartan (Plate X.) was also known as Brodie seventy years ago; it was so called because many Brodies who belonged to the districts occupied by the Gordons, Forbeses, and others wore it in early times as the district tartan, and more recently in some instances adopted it as their family pattern.




The specimen here presented is a careful reproduction of the tartan of Campbell of Breadalbane, as worn by the Fencibles of that district from their embodiment in 1793 to their disbandment in 1802. The authority is a portion of the regimental uniform of Major Campbell, one of the officers, whose descendants now treasure it as a precious relic. Wherever the tartan occurs in early collections, dating from before 1790 down to 1840, the pattern agrees with the accompanying illustration. The later date, however, witnessed the inception of a delusion that has prevailed even to the present day; for a tartan similar in some respects, which appears in certain early collections under the simple designation of “fancy,” began about that time to usurp the title of Breadalbane Campbell, and is now received as the correct design. But the existence of this regimental dress now a century old, the uninterrupted record of the pattern to 1840, and the proved genesis of the spurious variety, afford the amplest justification for including the earlier pattern in the present work. It is the only Campbell tartan included in the collection made by the Highland Society of London in 1816-17. It is doubtful if any of the so-called Campbell tartans as worn at the present time were in use earlier than the middle of last century, while several are of more recent introduction. The early Campbell portraits at Langton and Loudoun show designs entirely unlike any Campbell tartans now in use, being chiefly red.




The evidence of the early date of this design rests entirely upon specimens in collections of old hard tartans. Diligent research reveals no portrait in Highland costume of a member of the clan, whose leading representatives, moreover, are without any account of the origin either of this pattern or of another bearing the same name and differing from it mainly in the omission of the white stripe. From the collation of many authorities and the inspection of many samples, however, the conclusion has been reached that of the two the design here represented is the earlier. It is preserved in a collection of examples of tartans made by the Highland Society of London in 1822; in that of Messrs Ogilvie & Co., Edinburgh, dealers in tartan about the same period; in that of The Mackintosh at Moy Hall, and in many others.




Tradition associates this tartan with the amiable, ill-fated James Drummond, Duke of Perth, who was conspicuous in the ’45, and who died on board a French frigate while attempting to escape in the succeeding year. The early collections nearly all contain this pattern, which is variously styled Drummond of Perth, Drummond, and Perth. Portraits of the Duke in tartan garb are in the possession of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon at Gordon Castle, and of Lord Ancaster at Drummond Castle, but in neither case is the painting sufficiently distinct for the confirmation of details. The Murray-Threipland family preserve at Fingask Castle a cloak said to have been left there by Prince Charles Edward; and its design, reproduced in Plate XL., is the Drummond of Perth, with the exception of a narrow line. It is probable either that the garment belonged to the Duke, or that it was made for the Prince from some of his tartan. The pattern now commonly worn by the Drummonds is likewise claimed by the Grants, the sett of the latter varying only by the shade of a blue line; but there is no proof of the early adoption of either by the families concerned. The introduction of the two setts last referred to was long posterior to the use of the example illustrated, and they seem variations of the Drummond given by John Sobieski Stuart in Vestiarium Scoticum. In the table to Logan’s Scottish Gaël the Drummond scheme agrees with the present plate; but the manufacturers, no doubt to avoid a multiplicity of patterns of the same name, have, probably unwittingly, dropped the older of the two designs.




There is every reason to esteem this tartan of early date. Possessing many characteristics of old design, it figures as Strathallan Drummond in most of the trustworthy collections, including those of The Mackintosh of Mackintosh, the Campbells of Craignish, and Messrs Romanes & Paterson, Edinburgh. An example of undoubted antiquity is held by the Editor. In 1812 David, sixth Earl of Airlie, head of the house of Ogilvy, married Clementina, only child of Gavin Drummond, Esq., the third son of James Drummond of Keltie by Clementina, sister and co-heiress of Alexander Graham of Duntrune, who was heir male of John, Viscount of Dundee. On this event the tartan here represented, up to that time known as Strathallan, appears to have been adopted by the Earl and some other branches of the family, and in the course of time the design came to be styled the Ogilvy, which is now its customary designation; the ground has sometimes been made blue instead of green. The appropriation is somewhat extraordinary, because the Ogilvys possess a fine tartan of their own (Plate XXX.), which can be traced at least as far back as last century. Mr and Mrs Nisbet-Hamilton-Ogilvy have an interesting portrait (ascribed to Allan Ramsay) of David, Lord Ogilvy, afterwards sixth Earl of Airlie (attainted), who raised a body of cavalry for Prince Charles Edward and fought at Culloden. The coat displays a simple check in red and blue, and the plaid an effective tartan scheme in these colours. Indeed, the picture is supposed to represent the uniform of Ogilvy’s Horse of 1745-46.




The accompanying reproduction is taken from a specimen in a collection formed about 1790, where the pattern is first recorded. Different Fraser families appear originally to have had each their special designs, but for a long time every important section (save that of Lovat, whose tartan forms the next plate) has recognised this as the Breacan Friosalach. Collections following one another at brief intervals from 1790 to 1850, comprising those of the Highland Society of London, the Campbells of Craignish, the late Dr. W. F. Skene, and The Mackintosh of Mackintosh, present it unvaryingly as the clan tartan. Paintings, both early and important, of branch representatives disclose variations which seem to indicate that certain families were wont to have the details slightly altered for their own uses. The pattern usually offered as Fraser, while bearing some resemblance to that illustrated in Plate IX. as Fraser of Lovat, is most likely an old tartan of Clan Grant (see the Grant, Plate X.), and its association with the Clan Fraser is based on its occurrence in the Vestiarium Scoticum. Some account of the Fraser and other family portraits showing Highland costume was contributed by the Editor to The Scottish Antiquary, Vol. VIII. See also the notes on the Fraser of Lovat tartan.




Confirmation of the supposition that various branches of Clan Fraser wore tartans similar in scheme but different in detail is furnished by the family portraits. In a fine presentment of Major James Fraser of Castle Leather (whereof a replica hangs in Inverness Town Hall), painted about 1723, a red pattern is shown in the plaid, while the rest of the dress is a simple check in red, green, and blue. Portraits of the Hon. Sybella Fraser of Lovat and the Hon. Mrs Archibald Fraser of Lovat, executed after the middle of last century, in the collection of Sir William Augustus Fraser of Ledclune, have different red setts in the plaids. Miss Fraser of Abertarff possesses an interesting likeness of her father, dated 1808, that supplies yet another arrangement in red. The present illustration depicts the earliest authenticated Lovat pattern, which is accepted, moreover, by the leading collectors. In 1849 Lord Lovat wrote of the tartan generally styled Fraser (though, as already mentioned, it is most probably Grant—Plate X.), that he had ascertained it to be that of his clan prior to 1745. It is difficult to accept the statement, since no trace of the design appears in the Fraser paintings either at or before that period. On the other hand, the pattern was undoubtedly in use then by a prominent member of Clan Grant, of whom it is said that he continued to wear the Highland dress for almost a century, as stated in the notes on the Grant tartan.




Reproduced from a portrait of Robert Grant of Lurg (1678-1777), in the collection at Troup House. This example, as mentioned in the note to Plate VIII., is identical with that now commonly styled the Fraser. It was accepted by some only of the Fraser families in 1842, because it was illustrated under their name in the Vestiarium Scoticum. Of the Laird of Lurg there is another likeness, in the possession of Lady Seafield at Castle Grant, which represents him in the Black Watch tartan. The explanation offered is that he was an officer in the Clan Grant Company of the Black Watch; that since his clan supported the Government the prohibition against the national dress would not be enforced in his case; and that it is but reasonable to suppose he wore the tartan of his clan when not in military uniform. In connection with the Grants occurs one of the earliest descriptions of a distinctive clan design. It is dated 1704. It has been partially, though inaccurately, quoted in Sir William Fraser’s Chiefs of Grant (Edinburgh, 1883), and on account of its interest it is given in the Introduction to this work. The illustration is not in absolute harmony with the description, and appears, indeed, to be a modification of it. Attention may again be directed to the resemblance between the Grant and the Fraser tartans. The wide dissimilarity in the tartans depicted in the Grant family portraits preserved at Castle Grant and elsewhere is referred to in the Introduction.




The present example is designated Huntly and Brodie in certain early collections, and, like those of Dunblane, Strathearn, and Atholl, it appears to belong to a district rather than to a family. Tradition shows it to have been in use during a considerable portion of last century by such families as Gordon, Brodie, and Forbes, or at least by members of these touched with Jacobitism, who appear to have assumed this tartan in common, just as many families of different name adopted a uniform wear in various localities. On the raising of the Gordon Highlanders in 1794 a yellow stripe was introduced into the Black Watch pattern for their regimental use; and since then the Gordons have discontinued the use of the Huntly except on full-dress occasions. In a beautiful painting of Miss Rebecca Forbes, daughter of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, married in 1802 to Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, fifteenth of Glengarry, there is a dress of this tartan which is known to have been used by her family in Aberdeenshire. From information supplied by the late Dr. William Forbes Skene to Mr Elphinstone Dalrymple, it is ascertained that the present Forbes tartan was designed for the Pitsligo family in 1822 by another Miss Forbes of Pitsligo. It was done by merely adding a white line to the Forty-second; the Gordon was similarly obtained by the addition of a yellow one, and this is now the sole difference between the wear of the two principal families, Forbes and Gordon, who formerly wore the Huntly.




Despite the uncertainty concerning the origin of this design, it is included in every complete early collection, like that of the Highland Society of London, of the late Dr. Skene, of Messrs Ogilvie & Co., and of Messrs Romanes & Paterson. The last-mentioned firm has supplied it from the early years of the present century to various families of Keiths and Austins, including the house of Keith-Falconer, Earls of Kintore. The Austins appear first on record as allies and supporters of the Keiths. The name was variously spelt, though in ancient records it was generally begun with Ou or Ow. Of curious interest as showing an early connection between the families is the occurrence in 1587 of the name of Alexander Ousteane, burgess of Edinburgh, as one of the cautioners for George Keith, Earl Marshall, in an action raised against him by Margaret Erskine, Lady Pitcarie. In the same year Alexander Oisteane, no doubt the same person, was a Parliamentary representative of the Burgh of Edinburgh. In 1589, Walter Oustene, a tenant in Lochquhan (a possession of the Keith family), was one of the subscribers to a Bond of Caution imposed on a number of the landed men in the shires of Aberdeen and Kincardine, binding them to keep the peace in the struggles with the Catholic party headed by Huntly.




The tartan seems to have been first worn by Kennedy families in the Lochaber district. Tradition avers that some centuries back Ulric Kennedy, a scion of the Ayrshire Kennedys who came originally from Ireland, settled in Lochaber, and that all bearing the name in this locality are descended from him. In the Highlands they are known as Mac Ulrics or Clan Ulric, and are said to have once mustered considerable force. The design has been accepted by the Kennedys in Carrick, many of whom adopted it last century as an emblem of their Jacobite sympathies. Several early examples of the pattern are in existence, and one of these is here reproduced in the exact tints of the original. As will be seen in the plate, the single red stripe is scarlet and the two fine red lines are crimson; but manufacturers, to save themselves trouble, have been accustomed to vitiate the design by failing to mark this distinction. It is noteworthy that the tartan bears little resemblance to any other Lochaber design of ancient date, and that the Kennedys, while generally allied with the Camerons, have ever maintained their own colours. They regard as their chief the Marquis of Ailsa, who is head of the Kennedys of Ayrshire.




The pattern here given is included in the collection formed by the Highland Society of London, and it occurs in numerous others, including that at Moy Hall, while it has borne this name for many years. Great confusion has somehow arisen concerning the tartan of the family. James Logan’s table in The Scottish Gaël furnishes a design totally unlike the one afterwards illustrated in his joint work with Mac Ian, The Clans of the Scottish Highlands. Messrs Smith, in their usually trustworthy Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland, present the Logan designated as the Skene, with the comment: “It appears in Mr Logan’s book, but we must confess it is a pattern about the antiquity of which we entertain some doubts.” In point of fact, Logan gives no Skene tartan in The Scottish Gaël, while the pattern of Clan Donchadh of Mar or Skene supplied in the Logan-Mac Ian collaboration is entirely different. That it is not Skene tartan is attested by the fact that an example which belonged to the late Dr. W. F. Skene (now in the possession of the Editor) is described as “Logan” in his own handwriting. Its early and general use under that name clearly justifies its inclusion in this collection.




Well-nigh forgotten and rarely encountered, save in the old pattern-book or in the tartan collector’s museum, this design is early, though its origin cannot be fixed with any certainty. It has been supplanted by a comparatively modern pattern, known commonly as the Malcolm but occasionally as the Mac Callum, which is the ancient form of the name. The new scheme has existed some forty or fifty years at least, as the Editor has received from a lady in Skye a specimen in a portion of a silk dress her family has owned for about that period without knowing the name of the tartan. In the collection of the Highland Society of London (1822), in that at Moy Hall, and in every other important repository of the kind, the Mac Callum as here illustrated is ranked, and the Malcolm is wanting. It its believed that the family, having lost trace of the old sett fifty or sixty years ago, had the modern design prepared from the recollection of old people in Argyllshire; but, as has frequently happened in similar circumstances, the recovery of the original design shows that considerable deviation had been made.




One of the most romantic stories associated with tartans is attached to the fragment now reproduced. In the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, is a collection of MSS. in ten black-edged volumes bearing the title of The Lyon in Mourning, the reference being to the misfortunes of the House of Stuart. Fastened to the inner sides of the boards are many relics of the pathetic experiences of Prince Charles during the interval between his defeat at Culloden and his escape to France. The documents were written and the mementoes gathered by Bishop Robert Forbes, an enthusiastic Jacobite. Under a scrap of tartan with a bit of red lining he has noted:—

The above are pieces of the outside and inside of that identical waistcoat which Macdonald of Kingsburgh gave to the Prince when he laid aside the woman’s clothes. The said waistcoat being too fine for a servant the Prince exchanged it with Malcolm Macleod. Malcolm, after parting with the Prince, and finding himself in danger of being seized, did hide the waistcoat in a cleft of a rock, where, upon his returning home in the beginning of September 1747, he found it all rotten to bits, except only as much as would serve to cover little more than one’s loof, and two buttons, all of which he was pleased to send to me. The waistcoat had lain more than a full year in the cleft of the rock, for Malcolm Macleod was made prisoner sometime in July 1746.

In the MSS. a copy of Macleod’s letter is given, and it runs thus:—

Reverend Dr. Sir,

You’l received from the bearer all that was to the for of the weast Coat that the P. gave to me, because no Body cou’d get it where I put it till I came home my self likwise tow of the Buttons that wor in it. I cou’d get that from Kingsborrow you desired me ——. However he has it. I have more to tell you when I see ——. Writ to me by the Bearer mind me most kindly to Lady Bruce & all aquantance Especiall Lady Balmirina & her sister.

I’m your very humble servant,

Rasay, October 13, 1747.

The MSS., sold by the bishop’s widow to Sir Henry Steuart of Allanton, were acquired by Robert Chambers, who presented them to the Library. An account of the MSS. appears in Chambers’s Jacobite Memoirs. Edinburgh, 1834.




The Macdonalds boast more tartans than any other clan, in consequence of many branches having adopted setts differing from the clan pattern. The Macdonalds of Keppoch, or Siol Mac Mhic Raonuill, did so. This sept was not numerically strong as compared with others, for in 1745 its fighting men were estimated at three hundred. The illustration represents a portion of the plaid the Keppoch of ’45 gave Prince Charles Edward, long preserved at Moy Hall, but many years back divided among various families. Of this chief it is recorded that, when the Macdonalds refused to charge the Hanoverian army at Culloden, and stood irresolute, slashing the turf with their claymores, he exclaimed, “My God! Have the children of my tribe deserted me?” and dashed forward on the enemy, to be immediately shot down. Recently the pattern has fallen into desuetude, many entitled to wear it preferring the quieter colours of the pattern now commonly known as Clan Macdonald. Several variations of the Keppoch scheme exist, and old specimens differing from the illustration are held by some to be authentic setts; but this has always been admitted by leading authorities to be the Keppoch, since the plaid presented to the Prince was presumably in the chief’s pattern.




The extensive variations in the tartans styled Mackintosh are attributable to the fact that Clan Chattan embraced many septs, more or less nearly allied, who changed the pattern at will. But the chief’s and the clan designs are now accepted as authoritative examples of the early scheme. To the example here illustrated peculiar interest attaches, since it is the sett worn by Prince Charles Edward in the Mackintosh country. The Rev. A. Thomson Grant, of the Rectory, Leven, from whom the specimen was obtained, writes: “The piece of tartan I sent you was given me in September 1860 by Mrs Christina Mackintosh or Grant, widow of the Rev. James Grant, minister of Cromdale. I was at the time on a visit to Coulnakyle House, some miles above Grantown, where Mrs Grant and her family then resided. Mrs Grant produced a piece of tartan, which she confidently assured me was a piece of the kilt worn by Prince Charlie while in the Mackintosh country. The kilt, she added, was religiously divided among the then members of the chief’s family and near relations, and the piece she possessed had come down to her by regular descent from her ancestors of that time. When I was bidding good-bye, Mrs Grant halved the piece of tartan, and gave me that which is now in your possession.” The illustration reproduces the colours and the dimensions in the original, which, though a small, is yet a fine specimen of old hard tartan.




Wherever authentic records of tartans are preserved this design appears, generally as Mac Intyre and Glenorchy, though occasionally as Glenorchy alone. It seems to have partaken of the nature of a district tartan, for the locality whence the title is taken was only partly occupied by the Mac Intyres, who appear never to have attained the strength of a clan. No Mac Intyre arms are matriculated in the Lyon Register. They are found, however, in Burke’s General Armoury, and the individual contributing them evidently regarded his family as a sept of the Mac Donalds. The pattern in the illustration occurs in the collection of the Highland Society of London (1822), and in reproductions made in Edinburgh about 1820 from examples of ancient designs procured in the Highlands near that time. In a collection formed in 1790 there is a scheme differing very slightly from the present illustration. Of the antiquity of the name Mac Intyre in Lorn evidence is furnished by the traditions of a family who “possessed the farm of Glenoe, in Nether Lorn, from about the year 1300 down to 1810. They were originally foresters of Stewart, Lord Lorn, and were continued in their possession and employment after the succession of the Glenorchy and Breadalbane families to this estate, by a marriage with a co-heiress of the last Lord Lorn of the Stewart family in the year 1435” (Stewart’s Highlanders, third edition, Vol. I. p. 82). General Stewart, writing in 1822, observes: “In like manner the Athole, Glenorchy, and other colours of different districts were easily distinguishable.” Doubtless this statement refers to the example here given, because it is shown in all collections of importance gathered at that date, when what is now commonly known as the Mac Intyre appears to have been non-existent.




The accompanying tartan is one of two ancient designs bearing the same name. It figures in all the collections formed in the early years of the century, and an excellent example (the precise date of which, however, is unknown) has been procured from Messrs Romanes & Paterson. The other design, to be found in a collection made in 1790, is shown in an ancient piece of hard tartan with a simple check in red and green about five-eighths of an inch square in the Editor’s possession. In the Vestiarium Scoticum the Mac Lachlan is depicted as a brilliant combination of yellow and black, being the sett in use by the present Mac Lachlan of Mac Lachlan. The clan generally use a red and dark blue design, which cannot be traced further back than 1850 to the Smiths’ and Smibert’s works. The existence of the tartan illustrated appears to have been generally overlooked by the clan, a fact greatly to be regretted, as it is one of the finest of the old clan setts. That the illustration represents an early and authentic clan pattern of the Mac Lachlan cannot be doubted, for it is the only example occurring under that name in the collections of the Highland Society, the Campbells of Craignish, The Mackintosh of Mackintosh, and many others. Several members of a minor sept of the Mac Lachlans, followers of the Stewarts of Appin, were slain in the campaign of 1745-46 while fighting in the Appin Regiment. (See note under Stewart of Appin.)




One of the few tartans concerning whose antiquity no doubt appears ever to have been suggested, the Mac Laine of Lochbuie ranks in every extensive collection of old patterns, though till recently it was not represented in any published work. Particularly fine examples are preserved in the Willis collection and in that of The Mackintosh. The design is generally woven in an open sett, which produces an admirable effect. It is unique among old patterns, by reason of the quantity of pale blue in its composition, that colour being usually reserved for narrow lines. The date of its introduction is unknown, but its use in the Western Isles last century is authenticated, and tradition points to its early origin. Despite the fact that the clan followed the Marquis of Montrose and joined the rising of ’15, it took no share in the ’45; and it may consequently be presumed that the members, like others in similar cases, continued to wear their tartan and dress after these had been formally proscribed. The present Mac Laine of Lochbuie wears also the hunting Mac Laine of Lochbuie, which, as he himself points out, is of modern invention.




The Vestiarium Scoticum, already acknowledged as the earliest and the most elaborate illustrated publication on tartan designs, was edited by the late John Sobieski Stuart from a MS. stated to belong to the sixteenth century. The MS. was printed and published in 1842, with plates executed from drawings by Charles Edward Stuart, the editor’s brother. Of course the drawings are but a development of the descriptions in the MS. It need scarcely be added that the volume is now rare and costly. The MS. was transcribed and illuminated in 1829 by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, for whom Charles Edward Stuart prepared a series of drawings which included several tartans not illustrated in the published work. One of these is here reproduced, and Sir Richard Urquhart, Knycht, the reputed author of the MS., thus describes it: “Mackeane hethe four stryppes of Blak upon ain scarlett feilde, and upon the scarlett sett ain spraig (sprainge) of yellowe of saxteen threidis, havand thereto ain bordure of Blak of twa threidis.” The Mac Ians, whose name is variously spelt in the early clan rolls and elsewhere as M’Kane, Mac Coin, Mac Eoin, Clanayioun, &c., were a branch of the Clan Macdonald. That the use of the design was not confined to this branch is evidenced by a contemporary portrait of Alastair Ruadh of Glengarry (who was prominent in the ’45), in which he is depicted in this tartan. The painting is in the possession of John Alastair Erskine Cuninghame, Esq. of Balgownie, Perthshire, the last lineal descendant and heir-general of Alastair Ronaldson Macdonell of Glengarry.




The traditions, songs, and records of the Mac Leans contain references of a much earlier date to this tartan than do any authenticated collection of, or published work on, particular designs. In a charter of 1587-8 granting Hector Mac Lean, heir of Duart, certain lands in Islay, the feu-duty is made payable in the form of sixty ells of cloth of white, black, and green colours. On the suppression of the religious houses the impost is again mentioned in connection with the assets of the churches. This very curious feu-duty exigible in tartan is dealt with, and the references contained in the charters printed in full, in the Introduction. The old Gaelic song, “Moladh rann do Shir Eachainn Mac Gillian Trath Dhubhairt,” has the following verse:—

Bu mhian leam am breacan tlàth,
Breacan uain’ ’us dubh ’us geal:
Datha sar Mhich-Ghillian am flath—
Sud an laoch a fhuair mo ghaol.

Dear to me the tartan plaid,
The plaid of green and black and white:
The colours of the brave Mac Lean—
The hero of my love.

The pattern is universally acknowledged by the clan.




Diversity of opinion prevails concerning the tartan of the Mac Leods; and, unfortunately, nothing was done to settle the dispute when the Clan Mac Leod Society recently discussed the claims of rival patterns. The inspection of important collections from 1785, the date of the repeal of the statute against tartans, till the present day, proves that the design here given invariably occurs under the family designation. Certain Mac Leods claim and wear the Mackenzie tartan as their own, though the appearance of both, under their respective names, in old collections proves this to be an impropriety. The mistake doubtless arose from the fact that when the 73rd Regiment was raised in 1777 it was commanded by a son of the Earl of Cromarty, whose courtesy title was Lord Mac Leod, though his family name was Mackenzie, and whose tartan was the dress of the corps. Of comparatively recent date, the assumption has yet taken considerable hold, in consequence of its adoption in several works relating to clan patterns. The Mac Leods of Raasay wore a design in brilliant yellow whose authority is the Vestiarium Scoticum. An examination of the portraits and relics at Dunvegan Castle in Skye, the seat of Mac Leod of Mac Leod, has been made in search of records of the tartan of the clan. It has revealed the singular circumstance that in the only early portrait in tartan dress, that of the chief painted by Allan Ramsay in 1768, red is the predominant colour of the tartan plaid, while coat and trews are in “Rob Roy” check. Logan has stated, from recollection, that the plaid is in the Fraser pattern; but here he is in error. It is to be hoped further investigation will elucidate the history of the tartan in the painting referred to.




To establish the antiquity of this pattern of the Mac Neill it is but necessary to mention that it occurs in many old collections, including those of Craignish, Moy Hall, the Highland Society of London, and Messrs Romanes and Paterson. Several branches of the clan have other designs, but none is found in the ancient repositories either so early or so often as that now illustrated. A hitherto unnoticed reference to what is possibly the distinctive tartan of the Mac Neills appears in The Grameid: an Historic Poem descriptive of the Campaign of Viscount Dundee in 1689, by James Philip of Almerieclose, 1691, translated by the Rev. Alexander D. Murdoch, F.S.A. Scot., for the Scottish History Society, 1888. It reads: “The illustrious son of warlike Mac Neill comes from the winding shore of Barra’s isle, around whom, as their chief, a great company of the youth of his name presses on the right hand and on the left. Carrying his battle-axe, he advances on foot, panting as he goes, leading his tall clansmen, himself the tallest, and his shoulders covered with a Tyrian mantle. He displays as many colours woven into his plaid as the rainbow in the clouds shows in the sunlight.” Whether or not the tartan here presented was that worn by the chief in Dundee’s campaign cannot be determined, but, at least, it is the sole pattern associated with the name having any trace of red. The writer of the poem was a close observer, and many of his descriptions of dress and arms are highly valuable; while the allusion to “the winding shore of Barra’s isle” evinces an intimate knowledge of the peculiarly indented character of that island.




The Macpherson tartans present unwonted difficulty in consequence of the multiplicity of setts, each having claims of its own. These are (1) the Chief’s, (2) the Cluny, or full dress, (3) the Hunting, and (4) the Clan tartans. The first, though one of the oldest designs, has often been wrongly presented. Of the second, which was illustrated in the Vestiarium Scoticum, the Cluny Macpherson of 1850 wrote to Messrs Smith, then compiling a book of tartans, that:-

The design was known as the Breacan Glas’ long before John [Sobieski] Stuart was heard of in this country, although I rather think the addition of the yellow stripe was introduced by him, or rather taken from his MS., but, at all events, the tartan is an old Macpherson.

The Vestiarium had only been published eight years before (1842), though strenuous efforts had been made to issue it in 1829. It is evident from an unpublished correspondence between Sir Walter Scott and Sir Thomas Dick Lauder that the chief of Cluny received his first drawing of the tartan from the brothers Stuart—a fact obviously unknown to his successor of 1850. Sir Thomas, writing to Sir Walter on 1st June 1829, observes:—

The Messrs Hay [the name at first borne by the brothers] have already instructed several of the chiefs of clans who have had webs of the true tartans made, and, as an instance of this, I may mention that Cluny Macpherson appeared at the late fancy ball at Edinburgh in his beautiful and genuine tartan as taken from the MS. ... which excited universal admiration. Mac Leod has got a sketch of his splendid tartan.

There is no evidence of this second pattern having been in actual use prior to 1829, the only authority of earlier date being the MS. above referred to. The third design is identical with that illustrated here, except that the ground is grey instead of white. In use for many years, the fourth appears in some of the early collections. The only Macpherson (other than that peculiar to the chief) found in the earliest collections is that here given, and there is every reason to believe it the pattern worn by the clan from the repeal of the prohibitory statute to the middle of the present century, when the white ground was exchanged for grey. It is not known why the alteration was made.




The present illustration reproduces the pattern of a piece of old hard tartan from a kilt believed to have been worn by a member of Clan Mac Rae at the battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. The fragment, now in the author’s possession, bears internal evidence of great age, the style of manufacture attesting its connection with the period to which it has been assigned. A tartan somewhat akin to this, and having the same name, is supposed to have been founded on an imperfect acquaintance with the pattern here given. The design is poorly represented in the Clans of Scotland, by Mac Ian and Logan. It has been styled Hunting to distinguish it from a red Mac Rae, which agrees exactly with the Prince’s Own (Plate XLII.) The Editor was unable to account for the connection between the two latter till he discovered a plaid preserved in a carefully authenticated collection in Inverness-shire, with the description: “Mac Rae tartan plaid worn by Prince Charles Edward in 1745.” The plaid being a complicated sett, a large specimen is required to show the complete design, and, either through inadequate patterns or insistent copying, the portion containing the yellow lines has been omitted from all representations of the tartan hitherto published. Captain John Mac Rae of Kames Castle has furnished the following note regarding a sett of tartan which has been worn in his family:—“When my great-great-grandfather, John Mac Ra of Conchra, Lochalsh, was on his way to Sheriffmuir from Kintail, some of his followers being without stockings, the occupants of a shieling in which some of them lodged spent the night in cutting out stockings for them from a web of cloth which they had in the place. A piece of this web was in the possession of my grand-aunt, Miss Flora Mac Ra of Ardintoul, from which she knitted the accompanying hose when a girl at the end of last century. Unfortunately, the original piece of cloth has been lost.” The tartan may be described as consisting of squares of sapphire-blue and white, a line of yellow passing through the former and one of red through the latter.




From early times the war-cry and motto of the Menzies clan has been “Geal ’us dearg a suas,” “Up with the red and white,” and this has been held to refer to the tartan; but, as other hues are found in old specimens, it is at least probable that both phrase and design may be traced to the heraldic shield of the chief, which is argent, a chief gules, the colours of the tartan as commonly known. In the hunting pattern here reproduced the only change is the substitution of green for red in the ground, and red for white in the stripes. The pattern of Menzies tartan, signed and sealed by the chief of that day, in the collection formed by the Highland Society of London in 1816-17, is an arrangement of red, green, blue, and white, and an example of last century date in the Editor’s collection is identical in sett. The use of the red and white Menzies tartan as a design for hose was common throughout the Highlands, as the ancient portraits of various families prove, and this use of the sett is probably of earlier date than its special adoption as the Clan Menzies wear.




The frequent use of tartans by non-Highland families during a long period—certainly throughout the eighteenth century—has been noted elsewhere. It is not suggested that these wore the dress to the same extent as the inhabitants of the Western Highlands and Islands, but, nevertheless, the use of tartans was popular in the South of Scotland at the time of the Union of the Kingdoms, and for long afterwards. About this period, probably, the design here illustrated came to be adopted by the Montgomeries of Ayrshire. A fine example in old hard tartan, from Dr. Skene’s collection, has been employed as a guide in the reproduction of the sett. An examination of the historical relics in the possession of the Earl of Eglinton, the head of the Montgomerie family, at Eglinton Castle has furnished ample evidence of the early use of the tartan as here illustrated. In 1757 the Honourable Archibald Montgomerie, son of the Earl of Eglinton, received letters of service to raise a regiment in the North. It was known as Montgomerie’s Highlanders. The uniform, as appears from the Eglinton portraits examined by the author, consisted of the Highland dress, but the tartan worn was the Government or Black Watch sett, and not the Montgomerie pattern.

An interesting record of the encouragement by this family of the manufacture of tartans in Ireland about the year 1600 will be found in the Introduction.




As has been indicated in the notes on Drummond of Strathallan, that pattern has been generally worn by the Ogilvys since the families became connected through marriage in 1812. The present illustration shows what was known as the Ogilvy (see Drummond of Strathallan, Plate VII.) before that date, though it has gradually sunk into abeyance. Of its origin nothing is known. It was revived as late as 1850 in The Clans of Scotland, by Thomas Smibert, but it was then imperfectly represented. The collection of Mr and Mrs Nisbet-Hamilton-Ogilvy at Biel contains, as has been said, a fine portrait of David, the Lord Ogilvy of the ’45, who commanded Ogilvy’s Horse. It is a half-length figure, and, while the coat is in simple red and blue check, the plaid is more elaborate in design. Clearly limned is an effective arrangement of red and blue, which are the only colours either in coat or plaid. Mrs Nisbet-Hamilton-Ogilvy suggests that this tartan may have been a special variety provided by Lord Ogilvy for his regiment. Careful investigation of old collections, however, reveals no earlier pattern attributed to the family than the one here given.




Generally styled the hunting Ogilvy, though sometimes merely the Ogilvy, this example is found in all early collections. That of the Highland Society of London (1822) contains an especially fine example. In the Moy Hall collection the specimen is labelled Ogilvy of Inverquharitie—its only appearance under that name. Nothing authentic has been ascertained as to its first introduction, but traditions of its long use are plentiful among the families entitled to wear it. An ancient legend of the Ogilvys concerning their tartan has been deemed to apply to this pattern, and to prove its antiquity. It is averred that the fairies, displeased at the appropriation of so much of their favourite colour (green) in the design, cast their influence against the clan in one of its feuds, and brought about its overthrow. Hence, according to the legend, the adoption of the pattern shown in the preceding illustration. The tale has likewise been attributed to the tartan commonly known as the Ogilvy, but restored to its proper designation in this volume as Strathallan Drummond, where the same hue is also predominant. But as that design was not adopted by the Ogilvys till 1812—long after the date of the legend—this application is obviously recent.




Careful and extended examination of the various authorities establishes that the example here represented illustrates the earliest tartan worn by members of the Clan Donnachie having red as the dominant colour. The qualifying clause as to colour is introduced because, since the plates for this work were prepared, the author has been indebted to Mr Charles Robertson of Kindeace for a specimen of the recognised sett worn by his family and other Robertsons in the North, wherein the colours are mainly green and blue, with red and white lines. Familiar enough to connoisseurs, this design was not generally esteemed ancient; but Kindeace mentions that his family and others have long regarded it as their oldest clan pattern, and he adds: “The late Strowan told me the red was made in Atholl, and presented to his father, who never used it. In those days it had a white line, which is never seen now.” And this confirms the view that the illustration given is the earliest form of the red tartan. That it is an early clan pattern there can be no doubt, for it is duly recorded as such in the Craignish and Moy Hall collections, and in others formed from ninety to one hundred years ago by manufacturers and dealers in high repute.




The use of this design as Stewart tartan for a period extending back to 1745, at least, is vouched by the records of manufacturers and collectors alike. Specimens gathered about 1790, now in the author’s possession, include an undated example, whose manufacture indicates great age. It is titled Clan Stewart, and in many collections the design appears as Old Stewart, so that it was obviously recognised as the clan pattern. Probably it was employed, for the most part, as a hunting tartan, by way of relief from the brilliancy of other designs of the same name. The strong resemblance between this scheme and that of the Atholl district tartan (popularly styled the Atholl-Murray), suggests that at one time they were identical. It is known that the pattern was much worn by the Stewarts of the Western Highlands, and as these, with the Stewarts of Atholl, formed the clan, there is, at any rate, a presumption in favour of a community of tartan at an early date. A remarkable example of the old belted plaid, of a design differing from the above in certain particulars but having the same dominant features, has been shown to the Editor by Mrs Stuart of Dalness. It is reported to be two centuries old, and to represent the original sett of the tartan.




For the source of the present illustration reference must be made to the notes on the Stewart of Atholl tartan (Plate XXXIV.) The pattern is identical with the Royal Stewart as now worn, except that the present sett has four narrow green lines running through the large red squares. In the Grameid (pp. 142-3) it is stated, in connection with Dundee’s gathering at Lochaber in 1689, that “brave Stewart of Appin, ... with the whole body of his clansmen, leaves the shores bordering Leven, ... carrying blue banners charged with yellow figures, ... and wearing on their lofty heads fur bonnets.” The passage, unlike portions dealing with other clans, contains no mention of the tartan colours. During the ’45 the Appin Regiment bore itself gallantly for the Prince. The roll of the killed and wounded in the campaign supplies interesting evidence of the variety of minor septs often included in the larger clans. It is compiled from memoranda made by Charles Stewart, nephew of Fasnacloich, Captain in the Highland Army, and sometime Quartermaster-General and Secretary to Prince Charles Edward. The list is as follows:—


Camerons, 0 0
Carmichaels, 6 2
Hendersons, 1 1
Macarthurs, 1 0
Maccananichs, 5 1
Maccolls, 18 15
Maccombichs, 5 3
Maccorcadills, 1 0
Macdonalds, 0 1
Macilduies, 1 0
Macinishes, 4 2
Macintyres, 5 5
Mackenzies, 2 3
Maclachlans, 2 0
Maclarens, 13 14
Macleas, 4 1
Macrankens, 1 0
Macuchkaders, 0 1
Stewarts, 22 25
91 74




Five tartans described in the MS. whence the Vestiarium Scoticum was derived are omitted from that work. The illuminated transcript of the document by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder and the drawings of designs by Charles Edward Stuart, brother of the editor of the Vestiarium, were kindly placed at the disposal of the Editor by Miss Dick Lauder. In the Introduction will be found a lengthened reference to this work, while some notes regarding it also appear in the list of works hitherto published on the subject of tartans. It is believed that the reproduction of these patterns will prove of interest; and, accordingly, they are illustrated in Plates XXII. and XXXIV. to XXXVII. of the present volume. The Vestiarium is enough of a bibliographical rarity to be known to comparatively few, while the original MS. is meanwhile quite unavailable. The scheme here represented bears considerable resemblance to certain early setts of Royal Stewart, but no record yet discovered indicates the period of its general use in Atholl. There is reason to believe, however, that it constituted the basis of the red tartan of Clan Donnachie or the Robertsons. The well-nigh universal adoption of the Atholl district pattern (commonly styled the Atholl-Murray) by the various septs in this part of Perthshire precluded the extensive wear of any other. Hence this design has remained almost unknown to the present generation.




Like the preceding design, this is one of the five tartans omitted from the published Vestiarium Scoticum; and it differs from the Stewart of Appin merely in the number and the tint of the lines intersecting the red squares. In the same respects it differs also from the Royal Stewart, the evolution of which is somewhat remarkable. When the Royal Company of Archers adopted the Royal Stewart as their uniform early last century, the tartan presented an aspect not easily reconciled with its present setting—as the relics of the old dress show—but the change has been very gradual. The wedding coat of Charles II., preserved in the collection of the Duke of St Albans at Bestwood, is said to be adorned with ribbons of Royal Stewart. This example the author has not yet had an opportunity of verifying. The Stewart of Galloway is a family tartan, restricted in use to the house whose name it bears, and its more immediate connections. It was in considerable favour in the early years of the present century among families allied to the Galloway Stewarts; but of its earlier use available records afford no trace, though there is reason to regard its wear soon after the Union of the Kingdoms as highly probable.




Of the early use of the various setts of the Stewarts little can be gleaned, unfortunately, even from painstaking investigation at the most likely sources. The pattern now submitted of the Stuart of Bute is a reproduction of another of the drawings omitted from the published Vestiarium Scoticum. It is clear from the correspondence between Sir Walter Scott and Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, already mentioned, that Charles Edward Stuart executed all the water-colours about 1829 (although the work edited by his brother was not published till thirteen years later) for the transcript of the MS. whereon the book is founded. The records of this, as of the previous design, point to its use having been confined almost entirely to the family from whom it derives its title, though others, more or less closely related, have likewise claimed an interest in the wear. Whether or not the pattern was employed by the Stuarts of Bute prior to the production of the MS. by the father of the Stuart brothers has not been ascertained.




For this design there are records extending over a hundred years; and it is credibly asserted that the tartan is of much greater antiquity. Be this as it may, the pattern is placed under its proper name in many collections formed early in the century. Somewhat inexplicable is the fact that the tartan usually styled Mac Lean of Duart was greatly worn by certain Wallaces down to about twenty years ago. It is, indeed, frequently designated in old books of tartan relics as Mac Lean and Wallace. Yet no record of either family furnishes any explanation of this singular conjunction. The accumulation of evidence as to early use by the Wallaces of the example here illustrated has now led to its adoption by all bearing that name. It is a family tartan, for the Wallaces were in no sense a clan; but its antiquity, and its authenticity, entitle it to a place in this work.




The accompanying illustration reproduces a tartan depicted in a sixteenth century painting which existed in Paris between forty and fifty years ago, and was known as a portrait of the Countess of Lennox, mother of Lord Darnley. Two copies of the work are extant. One owned by the family of the late Mr Charles Elphinstone Dalrymple has been kindly lent for the purposes of this volume. The other is in the collection of Mr Henry Burnley Heath, Italian Consul General, London. Mr Heath writes that he searched in vain for the original in Paris some years back; and subsequent inquiries have also failed to trace it. It is suggested by him that the painting may be a portrait of Queen Mary in the tartan of the Lennox district, to which Darnley belonged. Mr Elphinstone Dalrymple, an authority on portraiture careful as eminent, believed in the authenticity and age of the work; but, unfortunately, his papers contain few notes concerning it or its history. It is to be hoped the whereabouts of this interesting portrait may still be ascertained, especially as it is deemed the earliest coloured representation of tartan dress.

XXXIX. From a Portrait of the Countess of Lennox



Of the many valuable relics of the ’45 treasured by the Murray-Threipland family at Fingask, few possess greater interest than the cloak of Prince Charles Edward, whence the present representation is taken. It escaped the vandalism of the soldiery engaged in suppressing the rising, and it has since been jealously guarded, so that it is an unusually well-preserved example of the tartan manufactured in the early and middle portions of last century. In the notes on the Drummond of Perth, attention is directed to the fact that, save for one fine line, that design is the same as this one. The reason of the similarity is hard to find, but, as no heed has hitherto been paid to the matter, information tending to elucidate the mystery may yet be forthcoming.

XL. From Prince Charles Edward’s Cloak



The fragments employed in the preparation of this illustration are portions of a plaid worn by Prince Charles Edward during his brief sojourn in Edinburgh in 1745. On his departure he presented the garment to Susanna, Countess of Eglinton, a belle of the day, at whose house in the Canongate he was a frequent visitor. Divided by her among her seven daughters, a portion was given by one of them—Lady Frances Montgomerie—to her grand-niece, the late Mrs Erskine of Torrie, who bequeathed it to the Rev. Henry Bruce, Dunimarle. Mr Bruce mentions that Mrs Erskine, who assured him of the genuineness of the relic, spoke of Lady Frances as having often conversed with the Prince. Well-nigh a century back the tartan was cut up for slippers by the daughters of Sir William Erskine of Torrie. It was thus greatly mutilated, but enough remained intact to permit the rendering of the design here given. Sir Arthur Halkett, Bart., in whose collection are some small pieces of the plaid, lent these to ensure the reproduction of the precise tints of the original.

XLI. From a Plaid worn by Prince Charles Edward,



Various circumstances tend to enhance the interest of this design, which is especially associated by Jacobite enthusiasts with the memory of Prince Charles Edward, and which was named during the campaign of 1745-46 from his personal use of it. Authenticated by specimens of contemporary and immediately subsequent dates—invariably bearing the legend of royal adoption—the tartan may be ranked amongst the earliest clan patterns extant in fabric. It is undoubtedly an old pattern of the Mac Raes; and it was certainly worn by the Prince in their territory. But whether it was previously used by members of the clan, or whether it was adopted by them as a compliment to the wearer, cannot be determined. Tradition indicates, however, that the Prince was wont to don the local colours of the various clans in his sojournments in their respective districts. It is now generally known as Mac Rae; but in all representations hitherto published the omission of the yellow lines has produced confusion as to the true sett.

XLII. “The Prince’s Own,” as worn in 1745-46



Sufficient interest adheres to certain examples of tartan designs in use a century and a half ago to warrant their inclusion in the present work, even though these are associated with no clan or family. The present illustration is a reproduction of the sett and the colouring in a highly interesting and carefully preserved riding or military coat in the collection of Mr Gourlay Steell, R.S.A., who kindly lent it for the purposes of this volume. It has been publicly exhibited several times both in Scotland and in France. In the Naval and Military Exhibition, Edinburgh, 1889, where it was last shown, it was described as “Highland Tartan Coat, worn by one of Prince Charles Edward’s attendants at Culloden.” It belonged at one time to the late James Drummond, R.S.A., and previously to the late W. B. Johnston, R.S.A. Despite an uncommon and daring colour scheme, the general result is pleasing and effective. The greater part of the tartan is much faded; but as in certain portions the tints are brilliantly displayed a faithful copy has been obtained. Fabric and fashion alike testify to the antiquity of the garment.

XLIII.From a Coat worn at Culloden



Similar in history to the preceding illustration is the design now represented; but the fabric contains evidence of earlier manufacture than the date of Culloden. Indeed, with the exception of two plaids at Dunimarle, certified as having been at Sheriffmuir in 1715, the writer knows of no example so large in size, and possessing so much internal evidence of great age. It may, with every probability, be assigned to the first years of last century, if not considerably earlier. Nor is this incompatible with its appearance at Culloden, since the long periods such things have been, and still are, preserved in the Highlands have passed into proverb. The plaid, kindly lent by Mr Gourlay Steell, R.S.A., for reproduction, shows an intricate and unusual sett; and the single check, as here displayed, represents half of the plaid, and is merely repeated in the other half. When shown in exhibitions it has been catalogued “Highland Plaid, found on the field of Culloden the day after the battle.”

XLIV. From a Plaid found on Culloden Battlefield



The object of including this beautiful modern yet rare design in a collection of Old and Rare Tartans is that collectors may possess a pattern greatly desired by them. Hitherto, on account of the conditions imposed on Messrs Romanes & Paterson, Edinburgh, the manufacturers of tartans to the Royal Family, it has been impossible, even for the connoisseur, to procure an example of it. For the purposes of the present work, however, Her Majesty the Queen has not only granted permission for its publication here, but has also graciously afforded information concerning its inception in the early years of the reign, when the sett was designed by the Prince Consort. It has continued to occupy a conspicuous position in the dress and appointments of the Royal Family and its retainers, when these partake of a Highland character. On the occasion of a Royal marriage, Her Majesty’s gifts to the bride invariably include articles of costume of this tartan.



Transcriber’s Notes

Page 1a—changed copiep to copied

Page 22—changed servil to servill

Page 48—changed liker to like