One point of reference is that prior to ‘Named’ tartans, eg linked to a clan or family, the plant badge was used to define them. These were taken from plants with a meaning to the family and usually from the area in which the lived. Some of these are very ancient, some less so.
Carruthers Plant badge is the yellow gorse/furze/whin (ulex europaeus). This was chosen as it is abundant in Annandale, and in fact throughout Scotland. But the flower reflects the gold in our Chief’s Arms, and the spiked leaves our motto – Ready and Faithful. The leaves also represent the ‘Prickers’ or Lang Spears used by our family as both Reivers and as some of the finest light cavalry in Europe at the time.
What is Tartan
Tartan is simplistically defined as:
- a woollen cloth woven in one of several patterns of coloured checks and intersecting lines, especially of a design associated with a particular Scottish clan or family.
2. used allusively in reference to Scotland or the Scots.
But it is described by the Scottish Tartan Authority far more accurately as:
A unique art form and conventionally, a textile design comprising woven bands or stripes of various colours and widths, the design sequence being the same in both directions of the fabric – with some exceptions – and normally producing a square pattern which is generally – but not necessarily – symmetrical about defined pivot points or stripes.
This arrangement creates a recognisable pattern or ‘sett’ which is repeated across the width (weft) and length (warp) of the material. Where bands of differing colours cross, intermediate hues are formed and the pattern can be modified by the addition of finer lines of the same or contrasting colours.
This definition is not to the exclusion of designs which – displaying the identifying characteristics of tartans – are destined for use in other than woven form.
Who owns a tartan:
All official tartans, be it Clan, Family, Personal, District or Company are listed with the Scottish Register of Tartans in Edinburgh. It is from these listings that all commercial weaves are taken, based on the threadcount and sett of that tartan. The threadcount could be considered as the Tartan DNA per se. Without the threadcount and sett, it is impossible for the tartan to be reproduced. Lose the ‘DNA’ and the tartan itself is lost.
The Origins of the Clan and Family Tartan
Current and very valid research suggests that on the main, it was not until the romantic portrayal of Scotland by Sir Walter Scott FRSE FSA Scot (1771-1832) in his works and the visit by King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 that ‘family/clan tartans appeared to be in vogue. Prior to the 1800’s, at the very least for Border Families or Clans, there is no evidence that tartans were ever used as visual identification by any Border family.
However, tartans were worn prior to that, and mainly by highlanders, but these according to the evidence available, were on the norm deemed to be either regional or district tartans and were not ‘assigned’ to a ‘Named Clan’.
After the disasterous Battle of Culloden in 1746, tartans were banned. This was because the kilt was widely viewed by the English, not only as a form of everyday dress by the troublesome Highlanders, but more importantly as a uniform in battle and thus a representation of continued Scottish dissent. This situation may well have led to the lack of evidence for the origins of family tartans, at least within the highland clans, but most certainly not within the Borders.
Going back to King George, his announcement and invitation to the Chiefs of various clans and families to attend his Grand Ball, which included a request that all attendees wear their clan or family tartan, sent ripples through Scottish society at the time. This caused havoc and a rush to comply and tartans belonging to a ‘Name’, were very much sought and born. All of a sudden new patterns with new threadcounts and setts appeared, and were claimed by some of the Clans and Families of the day.
As time went on, some others thought that they were lucky to find that their ‘Name’ was ancient as it was mentioned in a book of 75 historic tartan swatches / patterns, published by the Sobieski-Stuart’s. The book was called the Vestiarium Scoticum published by William Tait of Edinburgh in 1842. The book also included some Border families such as Hay and Johnston and Armstrong.
This well written piece, taken from kiltsrock.com, covers and reflects the current historical evidence on the subject and shows just how easy it is for lies to be perpetrated, but thankfully, so easily found out. We have added the ‘Lessons’ we as a Society have taken from this to the piece.
-The Sobieski Stuarts-
Of all the erroneous beliefs, fallacies, screw-ups, and misconceptions regarding tartan, most can be attributed to two talented con-men: The Sobieski Stuarts.
They were Polish brothers, whose mother’s name was Sobieski. The older was known as John Hay Allan, then a.k.a. John Sobieski Stolberg Stuart, and later as the Count d’Albanie. His younger brother was known as Charles Hay Allan, Charles Stuart Hay Allan, and Charles Edward Stuart. After the death of the elder brother, he took his title of Count d’Albanie.
*(Lesson 1: beware of false titles and Coats of Arms, ed.)
The Stuart brothers were educated on the European continent, fought for Napoleon, and later came to Britain. They claimed that about 1811 they were informed their grandfather was Charles Edward Stuart – the Bonnie Prince Charlie of 1745. Their physical likeness to the Stuart family gave some credence to their claim.
*(Lesson 2: family legend without proof is simply…. family legend, ed.)
In reality, they were nothing more than a pair of hustlers who were sufficiently convincing to be able to fool a number of Scottish gentry. In particular, the Lord Lovat set them up in his hunting lodge on a wooded island in the Beauly River while they conducted their so-called research into Highland history.
*(Lesson 3: Con Artists are everywhere, ed.)
In 1842 their handsome volume was published in Edinburgh entitled Vestiarium Scoticum. The book claimed to display all the historically correct clan tartans and the source was supposedly a medieval manuscript owned by the Stuart Brothers. With their charm, they convinced many that they possessed an ancient manuscript of tartans, though no one, not even Sir Walter Scott ever laid eyes upon it.
*(Lesson 4: Always ask for evidence to any claims, ed.).
The volume was as phony as the two brothers and the majority of the tartans included were entirely of their own invention. But the deception seemed to be complete for it didn’t stop the named clans from adopting and wearing the tartans assigned them. Their book’s success led to a rash of similar publications which made similarly dubious associations between specific tartans & families. While many questioned their claim, others were taken in by the charade. This sham was responsible for many modern clan tartans.
*(Lesson 5: Don’t believe everything you read – do your own research, ed.).
The Vestiarium Scoticum was followed in 1845 by The Costume of the Clans, by both brothers, described by Telfar Dunbar in his History of Highland Dress as a really splendid book which followed a great deal of research, and their opinions generated a work of great value.
*(Lesson 6: Remember the Emperor’s New Clothes, ed.)
As can be expected from professionals like the ‘Stuart’ brothers, their Costume of the Clans too was based on ghost turds. They enjoyed referring to mysterious sources that were nowhere to be found, like a manuscript containing poems by Ossian and other Celtic literature “that was acquired by late knight Watson in Douai, but is now unavailable”. Another source was a Latin manuscript from the 14th century found in a Spanish monastery which mysteriously disappeared. And of course their own Vestiarium Scoticum, which they were always pleased to cite.
*(Lesson 7: if you cannot guarantee its validity, don’t buy, ed.)
Many believed the tartans were fabricated by the Stuart brothers to please important woollen mills and receive kickbacks.
*(Lesson 8: Money before integrity is never a good thing, ed.)
The elder brother, John, died in 1872; the younger brother, Charles, died in 1880. John left a widow but no children. Charles left a widow, with one son and three daughters. The son, Charles Edward, married a daughter of the seventeenth Earl of Erroll (and granddaughter of the Elector Wilhelm of Hanover), but died without issue. Only one of Charles’ daughters, Louisa, married, to the Austrian Eduard von Platt, by whom she had a son, Alfred Edward Charles von Platt.
Authentic Clan Family Tartan
In all fairness, like some individuals out there even today, there are those who feel that the brothers were simply puppets in a larger game being run by those with a strong financial agenda in the selling of their own wares and making money.
This would also tie in with the lists of ‘Clan Septs’. As it is historically accurate to suggest that these same people came up with the Sept lists, to simply enhance the commercial attraction of a larger Clan or Family.
Regarding the tartans listed in the Vestiarium Scoticum, there is also the argument that some of the tartans listed by the brothers may have been copies of patterns already in existence in other swatch books, eg Wilsons of Bannockburn.
In Wilson’s pattern books (c.1840), tartans were placed against names, not necessarily clans. It seems that in the Day Book (1771-1780), held in the National Library of Scotland, and based on the research by the Scottish Tartan Authority, the names used to assigned patterns are not those ‘clan’ names used today. This would suggest that they were not based on ‘ancient’ weaves, but were simply assigned by Wilsons to the name of the individual who requested the weave itself. This again leads us to believe that this may not have had anything to do with a pattern being ‘designated’ as specific to a clan or family, highland or lowland, prior to the 1800’s – and if at all.
It is true, that they did weave specific tartans. These were military and usually the designation was taken from the name of the commanding officer of the newly-formed Highland regiments. It is also suggested that through their own in-house filing system of patterns by surname or place, that they may have simply added to the flood of new ‘Clan’ tartans which appeared and were excitedly ‘owned and adopted’ by those ‘Clans and Families’ in the 1800’s.
The Scottish Tartan Authority website www.tartansauthority.com, eloquently writes:
‘By 1815-16, the Highland chiefs were depositing in the ‘Highland Society of London’ archives, pieces of their ‘authentic’ clan tartans. Then, as now, there was much confusion and I wonder whether the clan chiefs did not want to be outdone by the commanding officers (of the regiments ed).
In 1819, Wilsons developed their Pattern Book. By the time King George IV came to Edinburgh In 1822, everyone was wanting a clan tartan. One merchant wrote: “Please send me a piece of Rose tartan, and if there isn’t one, please send me a different pattern and call it Rose.” In other words the clan tartan system just developed.’
When is fraud seen as fraud
Although many of the tartans in the book are seen as being designed by Charles, the younger ‘Sobieski-Stuart’ brother and ‘assigned’ to names, the question remains; ‘Does that mean that they were all viewed as fraudulent and because of that, ignored’?
History shows that not all were and some are still being used today by the clans and families linked with the patterns listed against their names in the book itself.
The Border family of Armstrong for one, continue to wear the listed tartan in the Vestiarium Scoticum and this registration is reflected in their official listings categorised as Clan/Family by the Scottish Register of Tartans in Edinburgh. This is also the case for Johnston, another of Border neighbours.
Fraudulent or Authentic?
So where does that leave the rest of us, especially as Border ‘Clans’? These days most respectable tartan historians accept that the current array of ‘Name’ tartans worn and associated with an individual clan or family, both highland and lowland, will take their origins from the starting point of the 1800’s, with some being more recent. Prior to this, any true assignation would have been regional or military.
Accepting again that there is no evidence that any Borderers actually had a Clan/Family tartan until at the earliest 1810, does this mean that those who have tartans listed in the Vestiarium Scoticum, are deemed invalid or fraudulent?
Does it also mean that newer tartans, registered since then have more or less validity?
The answer is simple:
Accepting that the tartans in the pattern books of Wilsons and within the Vestiarium Scoticum are questionable with respect their assignment to a family, if a tartan has; a) the acceptance of the legally recognised Clan Chief; b) Titled Head of the Family or House and/or; c) is accepted under a ‘Name’ recorded in the Scottish Register of Tartan, then the tartan attains or has attained its own respectability, international acceptability and need we say it… its own authenticity. Carruthers tartan falls into the categories of ‘a‘ and ‘c‘.
Therefore, other than claims of owning something that you really don’t own or attempting to change history to make money, both of which remain fraudulent, the officially recognised and registered tartan/s of your clan or family should always be worn with great pride.
They are a visual signature of your belonging to your Clan and reflect a celebration of your own individual Scottish birth or ancestry. Enjoy!!