Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: The ‘famous’ Carruthers tartan pre 1746.

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Clansmen circa 1800’s, none of which are Carruthers (note the clan plant in their bonnets)

As a Society, we are always interested in delving into any research which might enhance the history of our family. Some of us are Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries based at the National Museum of Scotland, with links to the National Library of Scotland; some have access to old family archives; some are simply researchers in their own right – but we all enjoy the challenge!

With this in mind, we take claims relating to Carruthers pretty seriously and do not simply dismiss them out of hand. Some are easy to prove or disprove, some are resolved by advice from those highly respected in their field, but either way they are checked out and the evidence is sought.

Clan and Family Tartan

Tartan is a fascinating subject. Many believe that the concept of an assigned clan or family tartan to a particular name is very old, but contrary to popular belief, it is an invented tradition (it has the appearance of being old, but is actually very recent).

Initially, tartans reflected districts or regions within Scotland, or were used as by the military. Colours were created using natural dyes made from local plants, roots and berries and thus reflected geographical regions, rather than families or clans. It’s quite likely they probably looked more like tweed than the colourful tartans we know today. The ‘tone’ of the tartan (lighter or darker, or a slight difference of colour) is solely dependant on the weavers’ dyes, and these days they are synthetic, rather than natural. The colours, although the same thread-count and sett, may differ from one weaver to the next.

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‘Ancient’ Bruce

What cannot be changed is the thread-count and sett, without which the tartan cannot be woven. Lose that, and you lose the ability to weave the tartan.

The prefix or suffix in the name (e.g. ancient or modern) is purely a commercial thing based on the dyes used, and does not change the registration details of the tartan itself.  This can be seen by the ‘add-on’ to the tartan,  pre- or post- the name of the clan, i.e. as in ‘Ancient’ by the weavers Lochcarron (but the registered thread-count and sett remain the same as the clan/family tartan of Bruce).

Just as importantly, and the name gives a clue, it still is a Bruce tartan and not Carruthers.


 Claims of age

A claim which continually rears its head in relation to our family is that we retain ownership of an old tartan.  Some even say, so old that it predates the Act of Proscription of 1746–1782, which banned the wearing of tartans. According to some, ‘we’ as a family, allowed Bruce to use the Carruthers tartan hundreds of years ago – some say loaned, others say stolen, which is an interesting take on historical fact.  However, this situation sat in abeyance until, only in the last few years, some have ‘claimed ownership’ again.

Sadly, and we mean that, as history is the bedrock on which we lay our family traditions and facts, there is not one reputable tartan historian who would remotely suggest that there is any evidence that any clan/family tartan, never mind Carruthers, existed prior to the early 1800’s.

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Postcard 1: Original

Above is an old Scottish postcard used to show some of the tartans assigned to clans and families in the 1800’s. Below is the same format, except that Clan Home has been replaced by a ‘Carruthers’ tartan, which as Carruthers, we can all recognise as being the Bruce tartan. The other failing is # 10 (correctly placed on the map over the lands of Home on the east of the Scottish Borders) but these are not the lands of Bruce, nor in fact Carruthers.

Therefore, one has to ask, why was this done?

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Postcard 2: Photoshopped

Brief History of where clan and family tartan comes from

One of the dominant weavers of the time was Wilson and Son of Bannockburn, who for commercial reasons began to assign some tartans to names, but this didn’t occur until the early and mid 19th century.

The fuse was lit when ‘Scottishness’ became ‘in vogue’ after the Grand Ball/Highland Ball of George IV, during his trip to Edinburgh in 1822. The trip is covered in great detail by Robert Mudie, but no Carruthers are mentioned as having been involved in either the pageantry or by invitation. Guests were requested to wear their clan and family tartans and all of a sudden, those same clans and families were clamouring for something which hadn’t existed prior to this; that of a clan tartan assigned to their name. Consequently, local weavers Wilsons rose to meet the demand. Some existing regional tartans were renamed, some new ones were designed, but they started to appear only after the 1820’s.

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George IV on his visit to Edinburgh in 1822, by David Wilkie

The Highland Ball renewed interest in tartan, uniting the highlanders, lowlanders and borderers in their mutual search for their own tartans. This progressively led to tartan becoming a major part of the Scottish national identity, a situation which ran throughout the country and its peoples and to a level never seen before.

Thereafter, in an attempt to keep some order, efforts were made to keep records of clan tartans and patterns. They were registered within the Registers at the Lyon Court. Although the Lyon is still involved, in 2007 all tartans and their registrations came under the Scottish Register of Tartan, which is part of the National Records of Scotland. These records included any and all registrations from the Scottish Tartan Authority, which still functions in a historical and advisory capacity; the Scottish Tartans World Register; and the Scottish Tartan Society, the latter two of which are now defunct.

Further, just after the Ball of George IV, two entrepreneurial individuals known as the ‘Sobieski Stuarts’ (John Hay Allen and Charles Stuart Hay Allen, also known under the alias’ John Sobieski Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart) published in 1842, their Vestiarium Scoticum of ‘named’ Scottish highland, lowland and border clan tartans. This publication is now deemed by many as being totally fraudulent.

However, some of their designs were adopted by the families and clans they were assigned to. These included some Border clans who until that date had never had tartans of their own. These were to be the first ever Border families to have tartans assigned to them, by anyone. The Border families listed in the Vestiarium are Scott, Armstrong, Graham, Maxwell, Home, Johnston and Kerr. Carruthers were not mentioned nor were assigned, and did not ‘own’ a tartan up until and including that date.

The claims

The claims being made of a Carruthers tartan existing prior to the Act of Proscription (1746–1782) do not stack up with the available facts.

In order to say this with some conviction, we draw on the evidence available in the National Museum of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland, and the Scottish Register of Tartans. Sadly, there are no mentions, listings, bills of sale or any other evidence that alludes to, states or supports that a Carruthers tartan existed ever, prior to 2017.


So, where does the 17th century Carruthers tartan idea come from?

Since the mid 1800’s, Carruthers were classed as a sept of Bruce, so we were interested to note that the tartan being claimed as Carruthers is, in fact, a Bruce tartan.

All tartans are registered against a name. They are not ‘given away’ because they are no longer used, since their existence remains part of that clan’s or family’s history. Other than that, in all cases tartans registered specifically to a clan/family, are owned by the chief on behalf of the clan, and would not simply be given up that easily, to appease outsiders, septs or otherwise.

As can be seen by the list of registered Bruce tartans above, 14 in total, the tartan being claimed as Carruthers has only three main contenders. The list of all Bruce tartans comes directly from the Scottish Register of Tartans under Crown Copyright and is split into two to fit into a screen shot. However, its accuracy is very easily checked through their website.

The three tartans chosen are based on the registration of the thread-count and sett sold by the suppliers, which again can be checked. When researched, we find that they are Bruce and not Carruthers.

They are:Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 07.47.07As can be seen, it is suggested that the above tartan comes from a cloth specimen of a weaver’s chart dated 1571, which has since disappeared. There is no claim by the then Lord Bruce, the current Earl of Elgin and Chief of Bruce, that it was a Bruce assigned tartan, nor is there any current evidence to support that. However, this tartan is registered through the Chief of Bruce, as a Clan/Family tartan of Bruce.

Below is the Bruce tartan listed in the Verstiarium Scoticum, again as Bruce and adopted and registered by the then Lord Bruce (Earl of Elgin), as a clan/family tartan. In both cases these tartans can vary in colour,  depending on the weaver. The lighter/brighter red and in some cases, almost orange colour of the ‘Ancient’ Bruce mentioned and shown above, still retains the thread-count and sett of the clan/family tartan of Bruce. That does not change with the colour variations.

Interestingly, it is stated in the Wilson and Son documents (1797) that the ‘Bruce’ tartan is mentioned, but not as a designated family or clan tartan – if it were, it would still belong to Bruce, and definitely not to Carruthers. If this is the tartan the claims are being made about, it still does not take the date of the tartan prior to the Act of Proscription (1746–1782), nor does it make it a ‘Carruthers’ tartan, but rather the opposite.Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 07.51.16The only other tartan that may fit the profile is the Bruce County tartan for the Canadian county of the same name, see below, but again it is certainly not registered nor owned by Carruthers.

All three of these tartans will retain their own thread-count and sett, and they would have to be popular enough to be listed and produced commercially.

Whether a kilt-maker or tartan supplier chooses to call a registered Bruce tartan ‘Carruthers’ to make a sale, it does not make it so.  It all comes back to the ‘DNA’ of the tartan, that magic thread-count and sett, and the evidence that exists around it.Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 07.56.48 2.jpeg

As we can see once again, this was designed by the then Lord Bruce in 1964 as a district tartan; that Canadian district would retain its registration, as it does.


Below is an old Scottish postcard (which came as a pair with the one mentioned above). Both show the tartan and the area from which the family of that tartan came from. The first below (Postcard 3), has been changed to try to support the changes in Postcard 2 above. The original sits below that (Postcard 4) and still retains the original tartans, correctly placed.

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Postcard 3: photoshopped

Again, the Bruce tartan is used to replace Home, a family of the East March of the Scottish border who, for some reason, seem to have upset someone.  Alternatively and more likely,  it was simply the easiest option to photoshop Postcard 3 and replace the Home tartan with ‘Carruthers’, or Bruce as it is rightfully known.

As can be seen in the original postcard below, the tartans are placed over the designated lands of that clan, e.g. Home sits in the eastern border of Scotland and therefore Bruce would be totally misplaced.

Is it therefore the implication that the tartan, used in the previous post card 2, as ‘Carruthers’ at # 10, is placed there to show some level of authenticity.  If it is, sadly this is not the case. It shows the Bruce tartan placed nowhere near the ancient lands of Bruce in Annandale nor their current lands in West Fife, where their clan seat is Broomhall House, Charlestown.

If however, it was an attempt to compliment the ‘Carruthers’ tartan listing in postcard 2, where Bruce was renamed Carruthers to fit an agenda, and replaced Home, it is still outside of the ancient lands of our family, which are in southern Annandale in Dumfriesshire. Covering our lands sits the tartan for Galloway, in both postcards 3 & 4.

All in all, this is not the most convincing piece of evidence. This attempt simply underlines, rather than proving to the contrary, that tartan is in fact Bruce – and does nothing to evidence that it is Carruthers.

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Postcard 4: the Original

There is no indication nor evidence in any library, register or museum, that Carruthers had a tartan prior to the 1820’s, never mind the 1700’s.  There is, however, evidence that the first registration of a Carruthers tartan was in 2017.


To summarise:

  • No Carruthers tartan existed before 2017.
  • No Carruthers has any right of ownership of a Bruce tartan.
  • No reputable tartan historian, Bruce historian or Carruthers historian has supported these claims, or ever would.
  • Neither Bruce nor in fact any clan or family would be willing to ‘give a tartan up because its no longer being used’, as it remains part of their cultural and visual history. (Ed – yip, we know!)
  • The current registration would require changing within the Register. This has not happened, nor is there any likelihood that it would ever happen.
  • Unless woven privately, any clan or family tartan sold commercially by USA Kilts, Houston Kiltmakers, MacPhails, Lochcarron, Dalgliesh, the House of Edgar or any other, will be registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans against the Name of that a Clan/Family.
  • The ownership and registration of a Clan/Family tartan lies with the Chief and clan (if a chief exists) and is not open for discussion.
  • If no chief exists, such as Armstrong, the register can still reflect a Clan/Family tartan based on the age of its registration, which would still be on the register. If it’s not there under the ‘Name’, it is not a recognised Clan/Family tartan and would therefore not be commercially viable to weave. Bruce, of course, is.
  • Choosing to call a tartan by another name e.g. Bruce as Carruthers to gain a sale, does not make it a legal transference of ownership, and any honest supplier would tell you that.
  • All tartans retain a ‘DNA’ in their thread-count and sett. Carruthers is Carruthers, Bruce is Bruce, that’s not going away anytime soon.
  • There are no Carruthers tartans other than that which are registered below – and there never have been.
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Both Carruthers Tartans

As can be clearly seen above, the two tartans listed are the only ones registered as Carruthers, one Clan/Family and one private. The list, unlike Bruce is small, simply because historically, as a border clan no others exist.

Below is the Carruthers clan/family tartan, owned and registered to the Chief and the clan, with restrictions.

The evidence speaks for itself. We can therefore safely assume that sadly, we did not have a tartan prior to the Act of Proscription (1746–1782) as is being claimed – not, in fact, until 2017. We cannot claim a Bruce tartan as our own, in an attempt to add age to the process or to change the historical facts.

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The fact remains that anyone can wear whatever tartan they choose, unless it is a personal tartan (to include that of Bruce). However, an individual or group simply cannot claim ownership of someone else’s property, nor try to build a false history around it, in order to support that claim.

Wherever such claims are being made, it is fraudulent.


As an example, and to show that it is the registration that matters, here are samples of the 17 tartans of the Border clans. These are mentioned in the 1587 Act. Included are the Chiefs (if they have one) and the registration date of the tartans as accepted by the Scottish Register of Tartans.

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Although some may continually try, we simply cannot change history and for the Scots and their descendants, we cannot stand by and allow it to happen.  The accuracy of that history and therefore the truth must remain precious to us all, because it mirrors who and what we are, and who and what our ancestors were, which allowed us to get to where we are today.

Pride in our Name, pride in our history, pride in our culture, is pride in ourselves.


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