Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: Tartans and the 17 Unruly Border Clans

House of Edgar: Weavers of Carruthers tartan

Many of our ‘family‘ who historically have remained in the south west of Scotland for generations, are proud of that term as a collective noun of who and what we are. They see term clan simply describing those in the north and west of the country. These views are extremely valid and accurate and cannot be discounted. However that view is changing or has changed as Scottish culture has gained internationally in popularity.

However it will not be for me as an individual to decide whether family or clan, but will be the right of a confirmed chief through the auspices of the Lord Lyon, although there are strong arguments for the latter.  The term Clan has historically not only been used to describe one geographical section of people’s, but as can be shown through historical legal documents, covered any family group in Scotland, wherther highland, lowland or border. The 1587 Act of the Scottish Parliament, our family tome the Records of the Carruthers Family by Carruthers and Reid, and local court records all use the term Clan in description of Carruthers, and it may be a difficult, but not insurmountable process to reverse as the term clan is entrenched in the international identity of Scottish family groups.


Falkirk Tartan

Normally the term Clan is closely associated and identified with a Clan or a family specific tartan, which in itself is a relatively new thing in Scotland. In a great many cases, this association only started in the 1800’s.

However, woven cloth with a checked pattern has been used for many, many centuries by other and in some cases, more ancient civilisations. Checked cloth was being used as far afield as China, Asia Minor and the Romans and probably, long before it hit our islands. The oldest known example of a ‘tartan’ cloth is that of the Falkirk Tartan. A fragment of it was found stuffed in the mouth of in an earthenware pot, which contained roman coins. It is called the Falkirk tartan because it was found near Falkirk, Stirlingshire in the central belt of Scotland. The cloth itself is a simple checked pattern of light and dark wool and is estimated to be over 2000 years old.

Tartan, its origins to the present day

topLogoThese days, all tartans are registered under the auspices of the Scottish Register of Tartans, in Edinburgh commonly abbreviated to STR. This is a governmental agency linked with both the National Records of Scotland with input from the Lyon Court. The STR combined and correlated all known tartans registered elsewhere with the lists of the Lyon Court and placed them under one roof. Tartans registered are owned by the registrants themselves, be it clan or individual and it is up to them who is permitted to use them. The registration is based on colours used, thread count and the pattern or sett of the tartan.

There is no doubt that these days tartan is synonymous with Scottish culture, and was worn, mainly in the highlands but in varying degrees, throughout the rest of Scotland as well. The tartan as we know it today, rather than simple checked patterns made by local weavers, is believed to have only come into existence in the 16th century and not until the late 17th or early 18th was any uniformity noted.

iu-11In the book by Martin Martin (Màrtainn MacGilleMhàrtainn in Sottish Gaelic ) A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, published in 1703, Martin wrote that Scottish tartans could be used to distinguish the inhabitants of different regions. He expressly wrote that the inhabitants of various islands and the mainland of the Highlands were not all dressed alike irrelevent of family ties, but that the setts and colours of the various tartans varied from isle to isle. As he does not mention the use of a special pattern by each family, it would appear and confirm that such a distinction is a modern one. As has been said many times before, the historic progression of Tartans started regionally, then militarily then and then by designation to a family or clan. The latter only really appearing in the 1800’s.

The oldest known military tartans come from a witness of the 1689 Battle of Killicrankie, who describes McDonnell’s men in their “triple stripes”. From 1725 the government force of the Highland Independent Companies introduced a standardised tartan chosen to avoid association with any particular clan. This was later formalised when they became the Black Watch regiment in 1739, which has stayed as their tartan until this day.

Courtesy of St Croix Weaving, Hudson, WI

Ben Johnson, writes; it is said that the weavers took great pain to give exact patterns of tartan by identifying each colour of every thread upon a piece of wood known as a maide dalbh, or pattern stick. An account from 1572 records how a housewife gave coloured wool to a weaver to make into cloth. In suing him before the magistrate she accused him of making the cloth to his ‘awin fasoun’, or own fashion, and not according to her instructions. She won her case and the naughty weaver was punished.

Initially the colours of all tartans were taken from natural plant dyes, roots, berries and trees local to a specific geographic area hence the regional colours and weave. With the evolution of chemical dyes, weavers were able to introduce more elaborate patterns including more vivid and varied colours. As clans grew and branched through birth, death or marriage, the newer clans evolved tartans of their own, some by simply adding an overstripe onto the basic pattern of the parent clan, some a new design.   As an aside, where our American cousins call tartan, plaid, in Scotland the plaid is the piece of tartan cloth hanging over a pipers left shoulder.

One of the earliest references to the use of tartans by Royals was by the treasurer to James III, who in 1471 purchased a length of cloth for the king and queen. James V wore tartan whilst hunting in the Highlands in 1538, and Charles II wore a ribbon of tartan on his coat at his marriage in 1662.

iu-16After the battle of Culloden, in an attempt to undermine the social structure of mainly, but not necessarily only the Highlanders, that tartan was banned. This was initiated by the Westminster parliament of the now unified kingdoms on the introduction of the Act of Proscription (1746) which inclided the ‘Dress Act” that made the wearing of tartan or kilt a penal offence. The Act also included the ‘Disarming Act’ that offered the same outcome for carrying a weapon.  The Act was enforced stringently to the point by the time if its repeal in 1782, tartan was hardly worn in Scotland. To this end many of the weavers has died, and with them their skills and patterns and it want until 1822 that a revival occurred and all things Scottish came into vogue. This was in some part stimulated by the writings of Sir Walter Scott who romanticised not only Scottish culture but that of the Border Reiver.

The popularity of Scotland and its culture, the initiation of which is wrongly attributed to them, was however greatly enhanced by the patronage of Queen Victoria and the Royal Consort, Prince Albert with their love of Scotland, This continued throughout her reign (1837-1901,) although by this time the wearing tartan had again achieved general popularity.

It was during this period and for simple commercial reasons to sell ‘Clan’ tartans and tartanware by those with a business eye, that septs were introduced. This was done in many cases to include our own, in order to bulk out a customer base for their ‘clan’ products. Of course this was not always the case as some smaller clans historically came under the protection of larger clans in their areas.  However, evidence suggests that most certainly in many cases, there was a commercial rational to the lists of septs being made.

The Vestiarium Scoticum

Vestiarium Scoticum

Accepting the input of Victoria and Albert, which cannot be ignored , it was the royal visit of George IV in 1822, which actually lit the touch paper to the resurgence of tartan popularity.  He requested all those attending royal functions while in Scotland,to wear their respective family tartans. This in itself caused some panic as many did not have them and never had them, leaving the existing weavers and tailors to ‘invent’ the tartans of a specific clan.

This brings us to one of the biggest frauds in the history of Tartan. As there are always those who try to cash in on unsuspecting with fraudulant claims, tartan is no exception. At this time a book called The Vestiarium Scoticum (full title, Vestiarium Scoticum: from the Manuscript formerly in the Library of the Scots College at Douay was produced. With an ‘Introduction and Notes’, by John Sobieski Stuart it was first published in 1842 by William Tait of Edinburgh in a limited edition. John Telfer Dunbar, in his seminal work History of Highland Dress, referred to it as “probably the most controversial costume book ever written“.

The book itself is purported to be a reproduction, with colour illustrations, of a 15th-century manuscript on the clan tartans of Scottish families. Shortly after its publication it was denounced as a forgery, and the “Stuart” brothers who brought it forth were also denounced as impostors for claiming to be the grandsons of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is generally accepted today that neither the brothers themselves nor the Vestiarium are what they were purported to be, but as Carruthers we are becoming well used to this these days.

Clan/Family Tartans


A clan or family may have variations of the themes or even totally different tartans dependent on their uses:

Clan tartans – for general use by the clans people. This is the tartan normally worn in the form of a kilt, acting as a piece of visual identity and uniformity, within the clan itself, in our case Red Carruthers.

Dress tartans – originally worn by the women of the clan, generally with a white background and lighter-coloured patterns. The mode of dress would include a curraichd of linen over their heads, which fastened under their chin. The tonnag was a small square of tartan worn over the shoulders, and the arasaid was a long self-coloured or tartan garment, which reached from the head to the ankles, pleated all round and fastened at the breast with a brooch and at the waist by a belt.

Mourning tartans – generally of black and white.

Hunting tartans – dark in colour and worn for sport, especially suitable when a clan possessed a brightly coloured tartan, making it unsuitable for hunting.

Personal Tartans – For use by an individual

Chiefs’ tartans – for the personal use of the chief and his immediate family.

These classifications may also include such prefix as Ancient or Modern,  which basically depicts the colours used by the weavers and their representation of the either the traditional dyes or their modern counterparts.

With regards border clans or families, kilts were never worn and tartan was therefore never a family form of identity. Even today a few Reiver chiefs will chose to wear no tartan while others fully embrace it at social events.

iu-12.jpegThe 17 Border Reiver Clans

Of the 17 Reiver clans mentioned in the 1587 Act of the Suppression of Unruly Clans, most these days have a registered tartan assigned to them, very few use the tartan of another larger clan of which they have been ‘septed’ in. Reaserch has shown the Border, Highland and Island clans listed were to place a shot accross the bow as it were. In order that the Chiefs would bring those under their care, into line. In the Borders, this pertained mainly to the Debatable Lands in nthe West March.

Listed below are the 17 named clans and their tartans. Any Armigerous clan (without Chief) who is currently going through the process of the Lyon Court  for official confirmation of their Chief, is mentioned as such.

Middle MarchArmstrong, Elliott, Nixon and Crozier

West MarchScott, Beattie(son), Little, Thomson, Glendenning, Irvine, Bell, Carruthers, Graham, Johnston/e, Jardine, Moffat and Latimer.

The Clans


Clan: Armstrong
hief: Armigerous
Arms: (of Mangerton) Argent, three pallets Azure.
Crest: An arm from the shoulder, armed proper.
Motto: Invictus Maneo (I remain unvanquished)
District: Liddesdale
Historic Seat: Mangerton
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Armstrong


Clan: Beattie(sons)
Clan Chief: Armigerous
Arms: Argent, a chevron gules between three mullets azure pierced of the field,
in chief a crescent moon of the third
Crest: a batwing proper
Motto: Lumen Coleste Sequamur (Let us Follow the Light of Heaven)
Sept of: McBain?
District: Langholm
Tartan: Beatty

Bell ‘of the Borders’

Clan: Bell
Clan Chief: Armigerous (Derbhfine organised for the summer of 2019)
Arms: (of Provesthaugh) Azure a fess between three bells Or
Crest: A hand holding a dagger, paleways Proper.
Motto: I beir the bell,
Signum Pacis Amor (Love is the token of peace).
District: Middlebie, Annandale
Sept of:  N/A
Tartan: Bell


Clan: Carruthers
Clan Chief: Simon Peter Carruthers of Holmains
Arms: (of Holmains) Gules, two chevrons engrailed between three fleur d-lis, Or
Crest: A seraphim volent Proper. (face of a cherub/angel surreounded by six wings)
Motto: Promptus et Fidelis (ready and faithful)
District: Middlebie, Annandale
Historic Seat:  Moswald, Holmains, Kirkwood
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Red Carruthers


Clan: Crosiers/Croziers
Clan Chief: Armigerous
Arms: Azure, a cross between four fleur d-lis, Or
(Use Armstrong: An arm from the shoulder, armed proper.)
Crest: A stags head cabbosed Proper
Motto: Crucem Enim Clavem
District: Liddesdale
Sept of: Armstrong
Tartan: Crozier


Clan: Elliot
Chief: Margaret Elliot of Redheugh
Arms: Gules on a bend Or a baton Azure
Crest: A hand couped at the wrist in armour holding a cutlass in bend Proper
Motto: Fortiter et Recte (Boldly and rightly)
District: Teviotdale
Historic Seat: Redheugh Tower
Sept of: N/A
Tartan:  Elliot


Clan: Glendinning
Chief: Armigerous (currently following the official route through the Lord Lyon)
Arms: (of that Ilk) Quarterly, Argent and Sable, a cross parted per cross indented counterchanged of the 2nd and 1st.
Crest: A maunch Or, upon the point of a sword
Motto: Have Faith in Christ
District: Westkirk, Dumfriesshire
Historic Seat: N/A
Sept of: Douglas
Tartan: Douglas

Document4 2

Clan: Graham
Clan Chief: The Most Noble James Graham. Duke of Montrose
Arms: Quarterly, 1st and 3rd Or on a chief Sable three escallops Or
Crest: A falcon Proper, beaked and armed Or, killing a stork Argent, Armed Gules
Motto: Ne Oublie (Do not forget)
Sept of: None
District: Dryfesdale
Historic Seat: Mugdock Castle
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Graham


Clan: Irving/Irvine
Clan Chief: David Charles Irvine of Drum
Arms: Agent, three small sheaves of holly, two and one, Vert, each consisting of as many leaves slipped and banded Gules
Crest: A sheaf of holly consisting of nine leaves Vert slipped banded Gules.
Motto: Sub Sole Sub Umbra Virens (flourishing both in sunshine and in shade)
District: Langholm and Aberdeensire
Historical Seat: Bonshaw Tower, Drum Castle
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Irvine


Clan: Johnstone
Clan Chief: Lord Patrick Johnstone of Annandale
Arms: Argent, a saltire Sable, on a chief Gules, three cushions Or
Crest: A winged spur Or
Motto: Nanquam Non Paratus (Never unprepared)
District: Annandale
Historical Seat: Lochwood Tower
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Johnstone


Clan: Jardine
Chief: Sir William Murray Jardine of Applegirth
Arms: Argent, a Saltire Gules, on a Chief of the last three mullets of the 1st pierced of the 2nd
Crest: A spur rowel of six points proper
Motto: Cave Adsum (Beware I am present)
District: Applegirth, Annandale
Historic Seat: Spedlings Tower, Jardine Hall
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Jardine


Clan: Latimer
Clan Chief: Armigerous
Arms: Argent a saltire Sable
Crest: A stag Proper, couchant before a holly bush Proper
Motto: Reviresco (I grow strong again)
District: Nithsdale
Historic seat: Caerlaverock Castle
Sept of: Latimer
Tartan: Maxwell

Little ‘of Morton Rigg’

Clan: Little
Clan Chief: Armigerous
Arms: (of Meikledale) Sable a saltire Argent
Crest: A demi lion Sable powdered with saltires Argent, armed Gules, in dexter paw a cutlass Proper and in sinister a saltire Argent
Motto: Concedo nulli ( I yeild to no one my trust) or Fidei coticula crux (The cross is the touchstone of faith)
District: Annandale, Dumfrieshire
Historic Seat: Meikledale House
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Little


Clan: Moffat
Chief: Jean Moffat of that Ilk,
Arms: Sable, a saltire and Chief Argent
Crest: A crest coronet and issuing therefrom a cross crosslet fitchée Sable surmounted of a saltire Argent
Motto: Spero Meliora (I hope for better things)
District: Moffat, Dumfriesshire
Historic Seat: Moffat
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Moffat


Clan: Nixon
hief: Armigerous
Arms: (of Mangerton) Argent, three pallets Azure.
Crest: An arm from the shoulder, armed proper.
Motto: Invictus Maneo (I remain unvanquished)
District: Liddesdale
Historic Seat: Mangerton
Sept of: Armstrong
Tartan: Armstrong


Clan:  Scott
Chief: Richard Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott, The Duke of Buccleuch
Arms: Or, on a bend Azure, a six pointed star between two crescents of the First
Crest: A stag trippant Proper, attired and unguled Or
Motto: Amo (I love)
District: West Teviotdale, Ewesdale, Eskdale, and Liddesdale
Historic Seat: Dalkieth Palace/Bowhill House
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Scott


Clan: Thom(p)son
Chief: Armigerous
Arms: Argent, a stag’s head cabossed Gules between the antlers of ten Tyne’s a cross crosslet fitchee Sable all within a double orle nowed of either Celtic knots azure.
Crest: A thistle Proper
Motto: Deny us not. District: Eskdale, Liddesdales
Historic Seat: N/A
Sept of: N/A
Tartan: Thompson/Thomson

As we can see, although border clans/families never wore kilts, popular culture from the 1800’s has swept into our own history base and is accepted as a proud form of identity the world over. Not surprisingly, Clan/family tartan has become the identifiable norm for all Scots and their descendants.

“Bringing you the facts”

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey

3 thoughts on “Clan Carruthers: Tartans and the 17 Unruly Border Clans”

  1. Thank you for the great information. I am an attorney in the United States and would like to learn more about my family heritage and help, if possible.

    1. Hi Sean

      Thank you for your kind remarks. I have forwarded your email to our American Commissioner. I’m sure she’ll be in touch.

      Again thank you


    2. Sean, once we have a Chief in place, the final hearing being on Tuesday and after deliberation, we will need a clan council in the US. Would you be happy to be involved.

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