Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: Highland style tartan dress in Georgian Britain

As many of us are aware the evidence for the use of family/clan assigned tartan only dates back to the early 19th century. This explosion was caused by the grand ball that was held in 1822 by George IV and required all heads of families or clan chiefs to ease their family tartans. This caused panic amongst the guest list who had no tartan to their name. As CARRUTHERS was without a chief as the role had not been filled after the death of John Carruthers 12th,of Holmains and 8th Baron, we were not represented.

Prior to this, as Carruthers were an old and very well respected border name, we may well have been included on the invitations, along with other border families if our Chiefship had not been dormant.

If that would have been the case, Carruthers may not have had to wait until 2017 to register their own tartan, but would have joined the Scotts, Elliots and Grahams in and around the early to mid 1800’s who were rushing to meet the needs and dress requirements to attend the Grand Ball.

The ball itself was the catalyst, which Brough Scottish culture, history and heritage into the limelight which has progressed to the tartan industry and commercialism we have today. As septs are a highland concept, this of course included the introduction of naming smaller families as septs to larger border and lowland clans and families to enhance their commercial viability.

This of course does not mean that tartans were not used prior to the early 19th century as they were, but we are advised by historians that the tartans used were used specifically in the highlands and only as regional weaves. They were not common place in the lowland nor borders, where kilts nor in fact in the scheme of things, tartans were never really worn.

However the implementation of the Act of Proscription of 1747 which was designed to curtail the holding of arms as well as the highland way of life, although not specifically banning tartan as a cloth but rather highland dress, the ability and skill set to mix dyes and in fact weave the tartan itself was lost as its main use was forbidden.

Much has been written about this and a great resource of course is through the Scottish Tartan Authority where part of the Act is mentioned; 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 years.”

Interestingly, the STA suggest that the proscription against the highlanders and most certainly the attempts to disarm them began in 1717, after the first Jacobite rebellion but the full force of the law only appeared with the Act 30 years later.

It is interesting to note that the lowlands and borders dressed not in a dissimilar way to the English, rather than what they perceived as; the uncouth highlanders of the day.

However we digress.

The National Museums of Scotland have produced an excellent paper on the Highland style dress in Georgian Britain, which mirrors the collections that is held by them and can be seen in part in the costume exhibitions in the Edinburgh museum.

According to the project being run by NMS titled ‘Reclaiming Romance: Highland dress and the material culture of the Highland Revival, c.1750–c.1900’ and running from 2018-2029, the commercialisation of Scottishness was that successful that; Scotland is renowned for many things, but for people across the world today Highland dress, bagpiping and Highland landscapes are the images of Scotland that first spring to mind.

National Museums Scotland holds a significant collection of Highland dress and tartan clothing, ranging in date from the early 18th to the 20th century. The collection is particularly rich in material from the early 19th century, a time when tartan was emerging as a popular fashion fabric in Britain and when Highland dress was becoming known as the national costume of Scotland through its association with the Romantic movement.

They go onto say that; In the era of the European Romantic movement around the turn of the 19th century, the Scottish Highlands became the subject of international fascination. Ideas about Scotland, which took hold at this period remain with us to the present day, and continue to be expressed through traditional dress and material culture.

In their article relating to the influence and style of tartan during the Georgian period they confirm that ; Highland dress is among the most recognisable symbols of Scotland. With historical roots in the display culture of medieval Gaelic society, over the 18th and 19th centuries this living tradition was reinvented to suit the social, cultural, and political landscapes of Georgian Britain.

This situation was enhanced by the fashionable support and love of Scotland and its culture, which by then had become ‘in vogue’ by Queen Victoria and her Consort Prince Albert during the Victorian period. A situation that has continued to this very day where many Scots and in fact Scottish diaspora celebrate their own brand of Scottishness by wearing the kilt.


As each tartan has its own registered ‘DNA’ in the form of its threadcount and sett, and without it, it cannot be produced commercially or otherwise. Again for clarification, Carruthers does not, nor have we ever ‘owned’ a Bruce tartan, ancient or otherwise, nor can we claim one as our own.

Neither in fact was any Bruce tartan given to us by the family of Bruce in any shape or form, as any transaction of this nature would be a legal exchange and would need to be re-registered under Carruthers through the Scottish Register of Tartans in Edinburgh, which it has never been the case.

The first Carruthers tartans were only registered in 2017 with the Scottish Register of Tartans. These were of the same threadcopunt and sett as a red and blue design. The red was adopted by our chief after his confirmation by the Lord Lyon in 2019 and the blue kept as the private tartan of our convenor.


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