Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: The Blue Blanket

It is always fascinating to learn about aspects of Scottish History, some of which is obscure or long forgotten. Part of that intriguing past is kept alive by the Trade Incorporations in the various towns and cities throughout Scotland.

In the National Records Office in Edinburgh, there are lists of the places where the incorporations, who represented their trades, were based. It is suggested that after the Protestant reformation in England in 1534, during the time of Henry VIII, these ‘guilds’ were abolished and like the Church, their monies and lands were absorbed by the state. In Scotland however, when the reformation occurred six years later in 1560, it was only the religious aspect that was removed from their ceremonies.

Currently, there are active guilds/incorporations of trade still in existence today. There are 13 up and down the country and these can be found from Aberdeen and Ayr, to Stirling and Lanark to Glasgow and Edinburgh, some larger than others. Membership of these organisations today however, is by invitation rather than trade related and they function as both charitable and civic corporations, thus maintaining the traditions of and in the town or city they serve. These vary from Wrights, Hammermen and Candlemakers through to what was once the Incorporations of Surgeons and is now the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh). The latter followed the customs of Europe where the chirurgeons (surgeons) were conjoined with  the barbers. Their charter from the Town Council of Edinburgh was dated approximately 8 years before the battle of Flodden (1513), being dated July 1505.

The Blue Blanket

‘After defeat at Flodden’ by Noel Paton 1821-1901. Randolph Murray returns to Edinburgh with the Blue Blanket, bearing the terrible news of defeat of the Scottish Army at Flodden

According to the Hammerman website, the Blue Blanket was the ancient banner of the trades of Edinburgh. On its appearance, not only were the artificers obliged to repair it, but all the artificers or craftsmen within Scotland were bound to follow and fight under it, once the Convener took charge of it. The Blue Blanket is therefore the name of the Edinburgh Tradesmen’s Banner.

Its early history is bound up in so much mythology that it is difficult to sift the actual facts from the fiction. Legend has it that it was given to the tradesmen and craftsmen of Edinburgh by James III in 1482, but there is no authentic document of the period that records the supposed event.

It is also said to have been carried as the battle flag of the Edinburgh Trades at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, when a large number of craftsmen died defending it and their king.

iu-2.gifThe tattered remains of the Banner are reputed to have been brought back to Edinburgh the next day by Randolph Murray, captain of the Guard, and handed over, with the dreadful tidings of the defeat of the Scottish army and the death of the king.

The first definite reference to the Blue Blanket in a historical document occurs in 1543, at the beginning of the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. In that year is was raised in the Council Chamber by the Deacons of the Incorporated Trades, who were protesting against encroachments on their privileges and deprivation of their ancient rights.

James VI mentions it in his idiosyncratic book, The Basilikon Doron. In the first edition, published in 1599, he wrote:

And the Craftes-men thinke wee should bee content with their worke, howe bad and deare so ever it bee; and (if they in anie thing bee controlled) up must the blewe-blanket goe.”

Subsequent editions alter the wording to read:

And the Craftes-men thinke we should be content with their worke, howe bad and deare so ever it be: and if they in any thing be controlled, up goeth the blew-blanket.”

Just as regimental colours are renewed from time to time when they become worn and tattered, so the Blue Blanket has been renewed several times. The version that survives at the present time appears to date from just after the restoration of Charles II to his throne in 1660, probably sometime in 1661.

It is in the form of a large swallow-tailed gonfalon hanging vertically from a horizontal pole and it is about ten feet high and more than six feet across. In its top left canton it bears a saltire, between the arms of which are a royal Crown and a Scottish Thistle. The main feature of the banner, however is the inscription, which is contained in two ribbons and which reads:


This saying has resonances with other Covenanting war-cries of the post-Restoration period and it may not have appeared in the earlier versions.

The Blue Blanket is too fragile to be removed from its case and it is no longer blue; over the centuries it has faded to a non-descript pale greyish brown.

According to an old tradition, this standard was also employed in the Holy Wars by a body of crusading citizens of Edinburgh, and was the first that was planted on the walls of Jerusalem, when that city was stormed by the Christian army under the famous Godfrey de Bouillon.

It is told in connection with this standard, that James III, having been kept a prisoner for nine months in the Castle of Edinburgh by his rebellious nobles, was freed by the citizens of Edinburgh, who raised the Blue Blanket, assaulted the Castle and took it by surprise. Out of gratitude for their seasonable loyalty, James, besides certain privileges, presented them with another banner – a blue silken pennon, with powers to display the same in defence of their King, country, and their own rights, when these were assailed. The original and more celebrated banner is, we are glad to be able to state, also still in existence, and was exhibited at the opening of St. Giles’ Church.

In 2012 a new version was made for ceremonial use and it has appeared in Edinburgh on several occasions. It is waved from the platform of the Mercat Cross every year at the Riding of the Marches and it is carried in solemn procession at the Kirking of the Deacons. In 2014 it was carried from the Church of the Greyfriars at the head of the procession which went to the spot where Mary Erskine lies buried, for the Incorporated Trades to pay respect to her memory as their principal benefactor.

Edinburgh: Riding of the Marches

According to Calendar Customs; The Riding of the Marches in Edinburgh is a modern revival of a boundary-marking custom dating back to at least the sixteenth century and is a typical Scottish Lowlands Common Riding event. The ride also commemorates the fallen of the Battle of Flodden and part of the route passes by the Flodden Wall , built to keep the English out of the city after the defeat of King James IV in 1513.

It is intended that the Riding will be annual and it is currently evolving having been reinstated in 2009. The cavalcade of around 250 horses and riders is led by the Edinburgh Captain and Edinburgh Lass amidst bands, banners, standards and flags and the procession marching up the Royal Mile is a memorable sight – by around 3.30 the riders will be in the Holyrood Park area ready to enter the city centre. Look out for the Blue Blanket, a replica of the ancient banner used to summon the Scots to war. A civic reception meets at about 4pm at the Mercat Cross to welcome the riders home, including representatives of the Incorporated Trades of Edinburgh with their flags. While the crowd awaits the arrival of the riders, there are bands, pipers and the City Guard re-enactment group to keep everyone entertained. The ceremony incorporates a minutes’ silence in memory of the fallen, while the banners are lowered by the Principals atop the Mercat Cross.

Edinburgh Incorporations: The Trades of Edinburgh

The order of precedence among the incorporations is determined not by their relative antiquity but by the Act of Sett of the Burgh of Edinburgh, which was agreed by King James VI in a decreet arbitral in 1583. Part of the reason for this is that by that time several of the trades, most of which were a century or more in age, no longer possessed their original seals of cause and did not know the year in which they had been founded.

The Trades of Edinburgh:
1. The Incorporation and Royal College of Surgeons
2. The Incorporation of Goldsmiths
3. The Incorporation of Skinners
4. The Incorporation of Furriers
5. The Incorporation of Hammermen
6. The Incorporation of Wrights
7. The Incorporation of Masons
8. The Incorporation of Tailors
9. The Incorporation of Baxters
10. The Incorporation of Fleshers
11. The Incorporation of Cordiners
12. The Incorporation of Weavers
13. The Incorporation of Waulkers
14. The Incorporation of Bonnetmakers & Dyers
15. The Incorporation of Candlemakers
The Society of Barbers

The Hammermen

hammerman_trans1.gifThe history of the Incorporation of Hammermen is difficult to determine accurately. The Incorporation appears to have been regularly meeting on or before 1477, the year in which one of its freemen masters, John Dalrymple, endowed its altar of St. Eloi in St. Giles’ Church, placing it on the north side of the north-west pillar of the Crossing.

As far as we can now tell, the Hammermen did not receive a seal of cause until 2nd May 1483 (Beltane) but meantime we know the name of one of its Deacons, Robert Galbraith, deacon of Hammermen, is mentioned in a writ dated 14th February 1480/1. He was probably elected at Beltane 1480, exactly three years before the earliest known seal of cause.

The earliest manuscript volume possessed by the Hammermen is a book containing the Kirkmaster’s Accounts covering the years 1494 to 1585. It is the oldest volume of any incorporated trade in Scotland, as far as the Convenery of Trades is aware. It is of the first importance for the study of pre-Reformation Edinburgh.

The Incorporation embraced all those who worked on metal with a hammer. They included blacksmiths, farriers, saddlers, lorimers, armourers, cutlers, sword-slippers, girdle-makers, locksmiths, tinsmiths, whiteiron-men, brass-founders, coppersmiths and pewterers. Altogether there were about 20 different disciplines. Later, clock and watchmakers were added to the Incorporation. The goldsmiths and silversmiths were originally members until about 1490-92, when they formed their own separate incorporation.


Riding of the Marches, 2019 (Spence Photography)

Until 1858 the Hammermen owned the Magdalen Chapel in the Cowgate, which was also their Convening Hall. By their agreement, the Convenery of Trades also met in the Magdalen Chapel from 1596 until 1858. The sumptuously restored Deacon’s Chair (1708), which is still in the Magdalen Chapel to this day, bears witness to the Incorporation’s importance and standing in the burgh in the early 18th century.

At the present day the Incorporation of Hammermen is one of the largest, most thriving and active incorporations in Edinburgh. It awards an annual prize for engineering and is also active in the support of the young and in other charitable works. We are also pleased to announce that as a former engineer and Convenor of the Society, our Dr George Carruthers has been admitted into membership of this prestigious and ancient incorporation.

IMG_6668-318x450.jpgThe Hammermen are also involved in the Edinburgh Riding of the Marches which takes pride of place as the Jewel in the Crown of Common Ridings. Riders from all across the world attend the event every year to enjoy exhilarating gallops, spectacular scenery and the epic finale of the historic Royal Mile. The annual rider application process sells out in minutes, producing 280 riders all keen to experience the challenge of the 26 mile ride and take the opportunity to ride into the heart of the City to be greeted by the thousands of spectators. 

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey Final to use



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