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Tartan Ferret

Royal Tartans

by Colin W Hutcheson

The vast majority of tartans are modern and do not pre-date the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Few of those connected with the Royal Household today date back further than the reign of Queen Victoria, but it is appropriate to record some historical information about those turbulent times.

The Royal House of Stewart or Stuart, the "High Stewards" of Scotland can be traced back to a Breton nobleman in 1097. Later, when the reign of James V ended in 1542, the direct male line of the Stewarts failed, but the succession continued through Mary Queen of Scots to James VI (VI of Scotland and I of England) who died in 1625. On the death of Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in 1788 and his brother Prince Henry Cardinal Duke of York (d. 1807), the male line ended. The House of Stewart continued down the female line to Queen Victoria and onward to our Royal Family today.

The Jacobite risings and the subsequent exile of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1746 after Culloden nearly caused the disappearance of Scottish tartans altogether but the continued use of them by the regiments, and the interest in them of the Hanoverian court at the end of the 18th Century, followed by the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, did much to preserve the wearing of Tartans and Highland Dress.

Tradition has it that those who have no tartan of their own can wear the Black Watch (The Universal or Government Tartan) or the Hunting Stewart, but not the Royal Stewart without the express authority of the Queen. However, commercialisation in recent times has rather blurred this. The one tartan which cannot be worn by anyone unless the Queen's permission has been granted is the Balmoral.

The Monarch and immediate family.

BALMORAL - This tartan was designed by Queen Victoria's husband. Prince Albert in 1853 and, while predominantly grey with overchecks of red and black the background contains a thread of black and white yarns twisted together to achieve the appearance of the rough hewn granite so familiar in Royal Deeside. It is worn by HM Queen herself as a skirt and several members of the Royal Family but only with the Queen's permission. The only other approved wearer of the Balmoral Tartan is the Queen's personal piper. (The Estate workers and Ghillies wear the Balmoral Tweed).

King & Queen at Braemar in 1938

STEWART HUNTING - worn by the Queen when "off duty" and during moments of relaxation. A most popular tartan with surprisingly little history as to when it was designed but also worn by HM King George VI and HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother when she was Queen.

STEWART OLD - Also worn by the Queen on holiday at Royal Deeside and also favoured by the late HM Queen Mother. A distinctive tartan it originally belonged to the Stewarts of the Western Highlands.

STEWART ROYAL - Probably the most well known tartan world wide today and the basis of many of the Stewart Tartans.

STEWART DRESS - The Dress version of Royal Stewart with the predominant red squares replaced by white. Worn by the female members of the Royal family often for evening occasions but also worn for Dress occasions by HRH Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Edward.

STEWART VICTORIA - Known to have been favoured by Queen Victoria who had an extra red line inserted to the Dress Stewart, and used it for curtains and furnishings at Balmoral.

KING GEORGE VI - A dark green version of Royal Stewart was woven for King George IV in 1819. A version named the Green Stewart with a lighter green ground was woven especially for King George VI.

The Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Charles, has been a staunch supporter of the Kilt and wears a number of tartans linked with titles he holds.

LORD OF THE ISLES HUNTING - HRH is often to be seen in this tartan when he visits Scotland and holds the title Lord of the Isles. Commercially it will appear in darker colours of green than those worn by the Prince.

ROTHESAY HUNTING - The Prince of Wales is also Duke of Rothesay and wears the Hunting version.

The Prince wears many of the Royal Tartans most notably the Balmoral. A non Royal tartan he has also worn is the Gordon Tartan in his capacity as Colonel in Chief of the Gordon Highlanders Regiment.

The Second son of the Monarch, the Duke of York holds the Scottish title, the Earl of Inverness, and, from Victorian times always followed a career in the Royal Navy. The title was first given to the sixth son of George III, HRH Prince Augustus Frederick who was also Duke of Sussex in 1801. In several of the following generations the second son held the title of Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney and were, the son of Edward VII (later George V), the son of George V (later George VI), and the son of HM Queen Elizabeth II (Prince Andrew).

INVERNESS - the Inverness Tartan has a red background and the Inverness Hunting, a preferred version by George V, has a navy ground.

The Royal Princesses

PRINCESS ELIZABETH - so named in the 1930's but is, in fact, the Inverness tartan.

PRINCESS MARGARET ROSE - designed for the late Princess Margaret in the 1930's.

PRINCESS BEATRICE - designed for Queen Victoria's youngest child.

PRINCESS MARY - based on Royal Stewart with a dark green ground in place of Red.

PRINCESS LOUISE - designed for Princess Louise. In 1881 the 91st regiment was linked with the 93rd as a territorial one and named as Princess Louise's Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. Princess Louise was one of Queen Victoria's daughters.

Other Royal Tartans

STRATHEARN - first made for the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father.

EARL of ST. ANDREWS - Worn by the present Earl, son of the Duke of Kent.

DUCHESS of KENT - designed in 1934 for the Duchess.

PRINCE REGENT - designed for George IV and originally called MacLaren.

VICTORIA BLUE - one of the many versions linked to Queen Victoria,

STEWART BLACK & WHITE - also known as "Mourning Stewart".

PRINCE CHARLES EDWARD - several tartans are linked with Prince Charles Edward but the best known is a version of Royal Stewart with the larger area of red reduced. Another is a design reconstructed from fragments of a plaid given to the Countess of Eglinton by Bonnie Prince Charlie after the battle of Culloden. There are numerous other tartans with which he is linked including Drummond of Perth, MacDonald of Kingsburgh and MacDonald of Keppoch.

Stewart -v- Stuart - The French spelling of Stewart was Stuart since the letter 'w' did not exist in the French alphabet. Even today there are les than 50 words in the language beginning with 'W' and most of those are imported ones such as wigwam, whisky, watt, waterproof etc.

The Balmoral Tartan

Royal Stewart Tartan

Stewart Victoria Tartan

Lord of the Isles Tartan

Inverness Hunting Tartan

Princess Mary Tartan

Prince Regent Tartan

Stewart Mourning Tartan

© Scottish Tartans Authority
Scottish Tartans Authority (Scottish limited company no. 162386), c/o J & H Mitchell, 51 Atholl Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5BU
Scottish Charity Number SCO24310

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