TARTANS

To begin with I must apologize for this page. It is a myth buster! Many people think that today's clan tartans go way back in history, and that each clan had a distinctive tartan for differentiation in battle. (Much the same way armies have uniforms).

 

Instead we find that early tartans were quite simple checks of few colors. Weavers used local materials from plants, roots, berries, and trees. Therefore, the pattern of the weave identified the choices and availabilities of a weaver. These simple tartans were worn by the people of  the district where they were made, and so became known as the area or the clan tartan.

An early tartan cloth remnant, discovered in Scotland, is the Falkirk Tartan dated around 250 AD.

Even with limited availabilities, it is said that the weavers took great pain to give exact patterns of tartan by identifying each colour of every thread upon a piece of wood known as a maide dalbh, or pattern stick. An account from 1572 records how a housewife gave coloured wool to a weaver to make into cloth. In suing him before the magistrate she accused him of making the cloth to his ‘awin fasoun’, or own fashion, and not according to her instructions. She won her case and the naughty weaver was punished.

So we see that, although the local weaver would have belonged to a clan, and may have continued to use similar checks over a period of time, the connection between tartans and clans was not yet regulated, nor rigidly affixed.

One of the earliest references to the use of tartans by royals was by John, Bishop of Glasgow, treasurer to King James III, who in 1471 purchased 'Tartane' cloth for the king and queen.

King James V wore tartan while hunting in the Highlands in 1538, and King Charles II wore a ribbon of tartan on his coat at his marriage in 1662.

It is known that through the 1500's and 1600's tartan was exported from the Highlands to the south at prices fixed in order to prevent overcharging; the prices being determined by the number of shades of colour in the cloth.

The Battle of Culloden, in 1745, was the last uprising of the Scots, and a decisive victory for England. The subsequent Dress Act, which came into force August 1, 1746, (under King George II) made wearing of highland dress, including any tartan, kilts, badges and so on, illegal in Scotland. This act was repealed on July 1, 1782 (under King George III).

In 1822, King George IV visited Edinburgh and suggested that people attending official functions should wear their respective tartans. By that time the most original patterns were long-ago lost, no one was alive to remember. So weavers and tailors needed to  invent clan tartans at that time. 

The notion of a 'clan tartan'  was largely advanced by Queen Victoria ( ruled 1837 to 1901). Victoria enjoyed spending time in Scotland and she decided to romanticize the highland history. With the invention of chemical dyes in the mid-1800's, many colours could be used that were just not available earlier. This opened the way to the creation of many additional tartans.

 

Present day tartans are registered at Lyon Court. People or organizations wishing to have their own tartan must apply there.

By the way: 'Plaid' means a flat, wide cloth, from the Scottish Gaelic "plaide" meaning 'blanket'. It has nothing to do with the pattern of the weave, and is not a synonym for tartan.

Cruickshank is a sept of a Stewart Clan. That Stewart clan is the Stewarts of Atholl. The tartan you see at the top of this page, and again on the left, is the one which has been assigned to the Stewarts of Atholl. In fact more than one tartan has been assigned to the Atholl Stewarts. The one above is called "Ancient"  Stewart of Atholl tartan.

This tartan is the Murray of Atholl tartan. I will be adding more tartans to this page, soon.