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.
This has included wrongly advising, advertising or selling the Bruce tartan as Carruthers, which is incorrect on so many levels. A clan or family tartan is part of their individual visual identity and should be worn with a pride in their Name.
By wearing someone else’s tartan, such as Bruce or any other tartan, although entitled to do so, you are simply announcing to the world that you are a Bruce etc and not a Carruthers.
Below is a succinct quote from a very senior Scottish clan chief, which emphasises the importance of a tartan, its place in a clan or family’s heart and the role of the chief in choosing it.
“There is only one authority on the correct tartan or tartans of a clan: and that is the chief of that clan”.
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 Check
Interestingly, 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
Although late to the game, a Carruthers tartan was registered in our name in January 2017.
However, it was not until 2019 that Peter Carruthers of Holmains, Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers adopted the Carruthers Red as the official clan/family tartan (STR11700). The registration was changed legally on the Scottish Register of Tartans to reflect this and was supported by the Lord Lyon, who had confirmed him as chief that same year.
There are no other recognised Carruthers Clan/Family tartans listed on the Register, as any claims of such remain the prerogative of the chief.
There is one other Carruthers tartan, Carruthers Blue, but that is listed as a private tartan.
The official position from our Chief, Peter Carruthers of Holmains is that Carruthers Red is the only recognised Clan/Family tartan of Carruthers as per the Scottish Register of Tartans, Reg No. STR 11700
Does the Carruthers tartan actually mean anything?
Accepting clan and family tartans were only introduced in the early 1800’s, when a tartan is designed at least these days, it is meant to tell a story reflecting those who wear it. Although some stories may be lost in time or never considered, we know exactly what the Carruthers tartan represents and deliberately so.
The meaning of the combination of colours in our tartan is as follows:
- The green, purple and lilac represents the heathland of our ancestral lands in Annandale, Dumfriesshire.
- The red represents the blood spilt by Carruthers in defence of our family, our lands and our country, before, after and during the time of the Border Reivers.
- The subtle white stripe is in recognition of our family’s historic support for the Jacobite cause and the Royal House of Stuart.
All in all, something to be proud of and when combined with an understanding of what it means, worn with a historic pride in who and what you are.
The only Carruthers tartan which is officially recognised is the one you will see the Chief and his family wearing and all members of our clan are entitled to wear the same i.e. the Carruthers Red.
The Carruthers tartan is woven in Scotland by one of the oldest family run independent weavers left in Scotland; the House of Edgar in Perth established in 1783, only 38 years after the ’45 Jacobite Rebellion.
Carruthers tartan is made from 100% Scottish Wool in Scotland and although some items can be purchased from the Society here, kilts, trews etc can be purchased and shipped world-wide from the following suppliers:
Canada and the USA
103-1475 Fairview Road
So how old are clan and family tartans?
As a Society we are always interested in delving into any research and evidence that exists which may enhance the history of our own family. Sadly it is easier to make claims than it is to substatiate them. With this in mind we take all claims seriously and do not simply dismiss them out of hand and while some claims are easy to prove or disprove, sometimes deeper and time consuming research is necessary. Either way they are always checked out.
Accepting this and because of some serious misinformation out there which is slowly being rectified, Scottish Tartan is a fascinating subject. It seems that their is still the belief by some that an assigned tartan to a particular Scottish clan or family is a very old thing. However, contrary to popular belief, and based on current evidence, the concept of a clan or family tartan is an invented tradition, meaning a tradition that has the appearance of being old, but is actually quite recent in origin.
Initially tartans simply reflected districts or regions within Scotland, after which they became popular with the military. Colours were created using natural dyes made from local plants, roots and berries and thus reflected geographical regions rather than family or clans. It’s quite likely it looked more like a tweed as seen in the ‘Maud’ above, than the tartans we know today.
As stated previously, and this is very important, all tartans have a distinct ‘DNA’ in the form of its registered/copyrighted threadcount (which includes the colours) and sett (the pattern), as such it is easily identifiable and reproduced.
The colours may change slightly, depending on the palette of the weaver and slight colour variations of the same tartan are woven. This means that the weavers Lochcarron may produce a different colour tartan from the House of Edgar and the same again from DC Dalgliesh etc. It is these differences unless they are registered as such, that can carry the variable terms ancient, old, weathered, modern etc which are used simply for commercial reasons. Yet all remain the same tartan, using the same sett and threadcount that is registered to them.
So what stimulated clan and family tartan registration?
The main weavers of the time Wilson and Son of Bannockburn, who for commercial reasons, did begin to assign some tartans to names, but again this didn’t occur until the early and mid 19th century (1800’s).
The fuse was lit when Scottishness became ‘in vogue’ after the Grand Ball/Highland Ball of George IV during his trip to Edinburgh in 1922. Guests were requested to wear their clan/family tartans. All of a sudden, ‘clans and families’ were clamouring for something which hadn’t existed prior to this; that of a clan or family tartan to their name. Consequently, new designs were created by local tailors for Scottish families.
This event renewed interest in the tartan, uniting the highland, lowlanders and borderers in their search and led to tartan becoming a major part of the Scottish national identity and national dress. Thereafter efforts were made to keep records of clan tartans and patterns were registered with the Registers at Lyon Court. In 2007 all known tartans and their registrations came under the Scottish Register of Tartan, part of the National Records of Scotland. This 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.
Just after the grand ball for 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 their Vestiarium Scoticum of ‘named’ Scottish highland, lowland and border clan tartans in 1842. This is now deemed by many respected historians 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 and families, who until that date had never had tartans of their own. This made them the first ever Border families to have tartans assigned to them by anyone. Those listed are; Scott, Armstrong, Gordon, Graham, Maxwell, Cranston, Home, Johnston and Kerr. Carruthers were sadly not mentioned.
So back to the claims of a Carruthers tartan existing prior the Act of Proscription (1746–1782). For this we use the evidence that is available in the National Museum of Scotland, named as such after the merging of the Museum of Scotland and the Royal Museum of Scotland in 2006, the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Register of Tartans. Sadly there is no mention, listing or bill of sale that alludes to nor records a Carruthers tartan….ever, until 2017.
Ancient Carruthers Tartan
One of the claims, which continually rears its ugly head in relation to our own family, is that Carruthers retain ownership of an ancient tartan which was lost. It allegedly existed well before the Act of Proscription (1746–1782).
This Act was in response to the failed Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 and amongst other things stated: no man or boy, within that part of Great Britain called Scotland . . . . will wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb; and that no tartan, or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats, or for upper coats . . . .” For transgressing this new Act, which for the first time included Highland dress, the punishment was six months in prison or, if a second offender, “transportation to any of his Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas and there to remain for a space of seven year. If true, this would mean that a Carruthers tartan would have had to have existed well before any other known or registered clan or family tartan here in Scotland.
The tartan being claimed as Carruthers is in fact Bruce and again the current evidence available through the thread count and sett, suggests that it was assigned to and registered by that family in the early 1800’s. There is also a claim that Bruce may have given Carruthers this particular tartan, as they (Bruce) have more than enough.
For those with any real understanding of Scotland, its culture and in fact Scottish Clan Society they will realise that clans simply do not give ownership of a registered tartan to someone else. If they had, it would have been a legal transaction of copyright and reflected in the Scottish Register of Tartans and again found under the new owner’s name i.e. in this case, from Bruce to Carruthers, but that is simply not the case.
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 any clan/family tartan existed prior to the early 1800’s. It is also a fact that any clan or family tartan, as listed on the Scottish Register of Tartans which all are, remains the property of that family or clan. If it’s not on the Register under the Name, it is not assigned or it simply does not exist.
So to summarise; are the ownership of an ancient Carruthers Tartan claims valid, well these points need to be taken into consideration, all of which have been validated.
- Our family, like all the other Border Reivers never wore tartan per se.
- The threadcount and sett of the ‘ancient Carruthers tartan’ ie the ‘DNA’ of the tartan is Bruce.
- Again, there is no evidence of any assigned clan/family tartan whether highland, lowland or border existing before the early 1800’s.
- Carruthers, being classed as a sept of Bruce was made for commercial reasons and was not initiated by that family. But we are not alone, this happened to others un the same period.
- Being classed as a Sept of Bruce allowed us to wear the Bruce tartan, however we cannot claim ownership of it.
- Clans and families do not give up ownership their tartans, as it remains part of their proud history and identity.
- If it’s not on the Register it does not exist as a clan/family tartan and as such, would not be woven or available commercially.
- Bruce is sold as Carruthers purely for commercial reasons, but it cannot be claimed as being anything other than Bruce.
An excellent example of the sale of the Bruce tartan underr the guise of Carruthers is seen on the website of USAkilts.
There are 12 results for ‘Carruthers’ 13-16 oz wool and 4 results of ‘Carruthers’ 11 oz here.
If we click on the link in both cases they take you to the Bruce tartan page. This even shows the different colour variations by different weavers of the ‘same’ tartan with subtle differences, i.e. same sett and threadcount here and here. However and importantly because it would be fraud to claim otherwise, all are listed accurately as Bruce tartans.
Scottish Register of Tartans: Carruthers Tartans
Scottish Register of Tartans: Bruce Tartans
Scottish Register of Tartans
The Scottish Register of Tartans is a Scottish Government Agency under the auspices of the National Records of Scotland. All official family or clan tartans are registered there, if it is not under the ‘Name’ it simply does not exist, nor is it owned by them.
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