According to the great Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott, writing in 1829;
“the idea of distinguishing the clans by their tartans
is but a fashion of modern date.”
A Tartan Journey.
Many a Carruthers have sought the answer to the question regarding our tartan on becoming interested in his or her Scottish heritage. Firstly, anyone can wear whatever tartan they wish whether it is MacKenzie, Campbell, MacLeod, Scott or Bruce etc but cannot claim ownership of it, if it belongs to another clan.
Unfortunately, the internet has helped lead to many being fed the wrong answers from the wrong sources — namely, from merchants selling tartan goods, or other groups with their own commercial agendas. The larger the population the more they will sell.
Torquhil Campbell, Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell
Not even the Scottish Register of Tartans or the Lord Lyon King of Arms can claim such authority–they are purely archivists, advisors and filters of tartan history, which can be confusing at best.
Interestingly, the Chief of Clan Campbell recognises only four official Campbell tartans by registered name, none of which were assigned to the Name before the 1800’s i.e
- Campbell (Clan/Family): The Campbell Clan/Family tartan is thought to have been designed at the time of founding of the 43rd (later named) the Black Watch in 1739. It was adopted as the Campbell clan tartan in the early 19th century. This tartan is worn by the present Duke of Argyll, who has approved the sett. The present Black Watch tartan is the same sett but dyed in darker shades.Campbell of Breadalbane: First appeared as Wilson’s No.64 in 1819 and became ‘Breadalbane’ in the Cockburn Collection and then Campbell of Breadalbane in Smiths’ 1850 Authentic Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland. D.C. Stewart’s Sindex card says this pattern was supplied to the Smiths by the Marquis of Breadalbane but that it was a spurious trade tartan known as a ‘Fancy’. Also appears in the 1880 Clans Originaux. See also STR #2501 MacKay. Wilson’s of Bannockburn produced this pattern, the No. 64 or ‘Abercrombie’ in a variety of colours. See also Graham, MacCallum and Rollo tartans.Campbell of Cawdor: This sett is authorised by the present Clan Chief, MacCailien Mor. Campbell of Cawdor is one of Wilson’s variations based on the military sett. It was originally a numbered pattern, acquiring the regional name ‘Argyle’ in 1798 and ‘Argylle’ in 1819. It is not until W and A Smith work of 1850 (“The Authenticated tartan of the Clans and Families of Scotland) that the full title is given, ‘Campbell of Cawdor’ (Scottish Tartans Society). Also in the 1880 Clans Originaux.Campbell of Loudoun: This seems to be the accepted version of Campbell of Loudoun as shown in the 1906 W & A K Johnston books. It differs from the earlier sett in Clans Originaux where there are no black tramlines on the blue. Castle Loudoun, now a Disney-style theme park, is in Ayrshire, 5 miles east of Kilmarnock.
A true Border weave; The Shepherds CheckInterestingly, the first registered border tartan at least of the 17 was to Graham/Graeme in 1815, all others came after that. The most famous Border ‘tartan’ was called the Maud, also known as the Shepherds/Falkirk Check or Border tartan. It was a small check woven in black and white and was considered, as many were before the early 1800’s, as a regional weave.
Above is the old traditional Border ‘shepherd’s check’ made of white wool and black wool, and which was later introduced to the Highlands forming the basis of many of the estate checks. Also known as ‘The Falkirk Tartan’ because of the discovery of such a weave in the neck of a jar containing Roman coins buried about 260 A.D. The black and white check is woven today as a family tartan for the surname Shepherd.Note from http://www.regiments.org: ‘The ‘Northumberland’ tartan, also known as ‘Border’, ‘Border Riever’, and ‘Shepherd’s Check’ predates most Scottish tartans and has long been associated with shepherds of the Border region (on both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border ed.) who were encouraged to move north after the Highland clearances’.Scottish tartan historians state that there simply were no family assigned tartans registered, whether from the highlands, lowlands or borders until the early 19th century (1800’s). Prior to this, the colour and pattern of tartans were dictated to by the local weaver who made them and were called regional tartans, Argyll being a typical example. These progressed into being used by the military in order to distinguish their men from others on the field, and offer uniformity off it.
All tartans retain their own DNA as it were and without it they cannot be woven This is in the form of their threadcount (which includes the colours) and sett (the pattern). Since 2007, all known tartans have been gathered and recorded in the Scottish Register of Tartans. Without this information a tartan cannot be woven i.e. if ‘lost’, the tartan simply doesn’t exist.
Below are examples of tartans assigned to the Border names of the 17 ‘Clannis’ mentioned in the Unruly Clans Act, along with the year they were assigned to that clan or family and recorded as such. As you will see they range from the 1800’s through the 1900’s and into the 2000’s. This information is from the Scottish Register of Tartans and can be easily verified.
Official position on Carruthers tartan