Here we offer you an
historical timeline from 1200BC to just prior to the 1745
Some of the gathered quotes (especially the earlier ones) have
been taken on trust,
so if you know better than us - please do let us know! Similarly,
if you've come
across stronger quotes than those we feature, please do submit
with full details of the source.
fabric found on mummified bodies of Caucasians in Urumchi, China.
Tartan scraps found in Celtic saltmines at Halstat in Austria.
100BC "The way
they (the Celts) dress is astonishing: they wear brightly coloured
and embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks
fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in
summer. These cloaks are striped or checkered in design, with the
separate checks close together and in various colours."
Diodorus Siculus, Greek Historian.
50BC " . . .
woven of divers colours." Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC - 27
30BC ( Circa)
"Their cloaks are bright and shining" Virgil's Aeneid, Book
" . . . flaming coloured dresses." Titus Livius (59 BC - AD
230AD Falkirk 'tartan' found in jar of Roman
coins. See article
Whilst this has been hailed as the earliest example of tartan
inScotland, as a simple dog-tooth pattern with two tones of yellow
andbrown, it hardly qualfies as such.
Gap of almost 1,000 years
coloribus vestes" T(h)urgot, Prior of Durham & Bishop of
St. Andrews (died 31st August 1115)
caligarum braccatarum de tiretatana" translated as "one pair of
tartan trews" (Among the expenses of John, Lord of the
Isles.). This could of course have been 'tartan the fabric'
and not 'tartan the pattern.'
Royalty certainly did not despise tartan. John, Bishop of Glasgow,
treasurer to James III, wrote: 'Ane elne and ane halve of blue
Tartane to lyne his gowne of cloth of gold... Four elne and ane
halve of Tartane for a sparwort aboun his credill... Halve ane elne
of doble Tartane to lyne ridin collars to her lade the Quene.' An
ell was 37 inches." (R.M.D. Grange, A Short History of the
thousand ellis gaed till his frog Of Heiland pladdis and mair..."
1538: "Item iii
elnis of Heland tartane to be hoiss to the Kingis Grace, price of
the elne iiijs iijd (i.e. 4/4d) summa xiiis." (Lord High
Treasurer's accounts - reign of James V).
"...touching the claim of one tartan plaid clamed by Andrew Bruce
from Janet Leslie..." (Burgh Court Book of Elgin).
Slaitter was decerned to deliver one tartan plaid to William Adam."
(Burgh Court Book of Elgin).
: "The clergy wear only round birettas and shall always take off
their caps in churches, especially in choirs and in time of divine
service and not dress, as for example, in top-boots and
double-breasted or oddly-cut coats, or of forbidden colours, as
yellow, green and such kinds of parti-colour." (Provincial
Council of Prelates and Clergy: Edinburgh)
Cuthbert fails to pay to John Coupland "ane tartane blew and greyne
in compleit payment." (Grange).
is sued for payment for "an tartan blak and quhet..."
think... unseemly... all using of plaids in the Kirk by readers and
ministers." (General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,
recorded at the Tolbooth of Edinburgh).
clothing was made for use (being chiefly suited for war) and not
for ornament. All, both nobles and common people, wore mantles of
one sort (except that the nobles preferred those of several
colours). These were long and flowing, but capable of being neatly
gathered up at pleasure into folds. I am inclined to believe that
they were the same as those to which the ancients gave the name of
brachae." (Bishop Lesley).
delight in variegated garments, especially stripes, and their
favourite colours are purple and blue. Their ancestors wore plaids
of many colours, and numbers still retain this custom but the
majority now in their dress prefer a dark brown, imitating nearly
the leaves of the heather, that when lying upon the heath in the
day, they may not be discovered by the appearance of their
clothes..." (James Aikman's translation from the original Latin
by George Buchanan).
1594: A body of
auxiliaries from Scotland helped Red Hugh O'Donnell, Lord of
Tirconall, in Ulster against Queen Elizabeth. These warriors were
described by Peregrine O'Clery as wearing " a mottled garment with
numerous colours hanging in folds to the calf of the leg, with a
girdle round the loins over the garment." (Grange).
: "They [Hebrideans] were recognised among the Irish soldiers by
the distinction of their arms and clothing, their habits and
language, for their exterior dress was mottled cloaks of many
colours." (Lughaidh O'Clery).
: "Their uppermost garment is a loose cloak of several ells,
striped and party-coloured, which they gird breadth-wise with a
leather belt, so as it scarce covers the knees." (Robert Gordon
Campbell of Auchinryre has to pay yearly £10 Scots, one gallon
aquavite [whisky], one very good coloured cloak and one common
'fyne hewed brahane [tartan plaid]'..." (Grange).
inferior sort of citizen's wives, and the women of the country, did
wear cloaks made of coarse stuff, of two or three colours, in
checker work, vulgarly called Ploddan." (Fynes Moryson:
Itinerary of an English Traveller).
Dalgleis, burgess of Inverness, is ordered to pay Ferquhar
MackAllister of 'Dunzcan croy, ane gray plaid, a tartan, of fiv
elnis doubil'. (Grange).
weavers of Inverness were fined for " taiking mair nor sex pennies
for the elne blew and greine tartan weaving and fourtie pennies for
ane quheit plaid weaving, four pennies for the elne of gray and
blaik weaving." (Grange).
Lady Montgomery, wife of Sir Hugh Montgomery, "set up and
encouraged linen and woollen manufactory (in Ulster), which soon
brought down the prices of the breakens and narrow cloths of both
from Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, then Tutor of Sutherland, to
Murray of Pulrossie "requesting him to furl his pennon when the
Earl of Sutherland's banner was displayed and to remove the red and
white lines from the plaides of his men so as to bring their dress
into harmony with that of the other septs." (Innes of
"Their habite is shoes with but one sole apiece; stockings
(which they call short hose) made of a warm stuffe of divers
colours, which they call Tartan; as for breeches, many of them, nor
their forefathers, never wore any, but a jerkin of the same stuffe
that their hose is of, their garters being bands and wreaths of hay
or straw, with a plaid about their shoulders, which is a mantle of
divers colours, much finer and lighter stuffe than their
hose..." (John Taylor, the "water poet", on a visit to
uppermost Garment is a loose Cloke of several Ells, striped and
partly coloured, which they gird breathwise with a leather Belt, so
as it scarce covers the knees... Far the greatest part of the Plaid
covers the uppermost parts of the Body. Sometimes it is all folded
round the Body about the Region of the Belt, for disengaging and
leaving the hands free; and sometimes 'tis wrapped round all that
is above the Flank." (Robert Gordon of Straloch).
1645: "At the
battle of Kilsyth in 1645 Montrose instructed his soldiers to put
away their plaids and knot the ends of their shirts between their
legs." (Scottish Clans & Tartans. Ian Grimble).
1650: "I set
down that which I myself was an eye witness of. On the 7 May at
Lovat [near Inverness], Montrose sat upon a little shelty horse
without a saddle, but a bundle of rags and straw, and pieces of
ropes for stirrups; his feet fastened under the horse's belly, and
a bit halter for a bridle. He had on a dark, reddish plaid, and a
cap on his head; a muscateer on each side and fellow-prisoners on
foot after him. Thus he was conducted through the country."
(Minister of Kirkhill).
Ross of Balnagowan's clansmen at the Battle of Worcester were
described as being dressed - "in doublets and breeches of striped
redd hieland stuff with blew French bonnets on their heads."
Frank, who wrote of his experiences as a trooper in Scotland,
mentions 'tartans' among the various goods traded at Glasgow. When
at Jedburgh, he said, 'Oat-straw was our sheets, and portmantles
our pillows. It's true some had cloaks, and 'twas well they had,
otherwise they had been constrained to use plads'"
II, on the occasion of his marriage to Catherine of Portugal,
decorated himself with tartan ribbons." (Grange).
"When they go abroad, none of them wear hats, but a
party-coloured blanket, which they call a plod, over their heads
and shoulders." (John Reay, Fellow of Trinity College,
Cambridge, on a visit to Dunbar).
1678: "Those of
the best sort that are very well habited in their modish silks, yet
must wear a plad over all for the credit of their country."
(Thomas Kirke, Account of Scotland).
usual outward habit of both sexes is the pladd; the women's much
finer, the colours more lively, and the squares larger than the
men's, and put me in mind of the ancient Picts. This serves them
for a veil and covers both head and body. The men wear theirs after
another manner, especially when designed for ornament:- it is loose
and flowing, like the mantles our painters give their heroes. Their
thighs are bare, with brawny muscles. Nature has drawn all her
stroakes bold and masterly." (William Sacheverell, Governor of
the Isle of Man, observing the dress of the Isle of Mull).
from his northern shores, the brave Glengarry leads three hundred
illustrious youths in the first flower of vigorous manhood, each of
whom a tartan garb covers, woven with Phrygian skill in triple
stripe..." "Following him closely comes his brother Allan, the
brave, with a hundred men all clothed in garments interwoven with
stripe..." (A translation from the Latin of "The
Grameid", an eye-witness account of the campaign of Viscount
Dundee, written by James Philip of Almerieclose).
1703: "The Plad
wore only by the men, is made of fine wool, the thread as fine as
can be made of that kind; it consists of divers colours, and there
is a great deal of ingenuity required in sorting the colours, so as
to be agreeable to the nicest fancy. For this reason the women are
at great pains, first to give an exact pattern of the Plade upon a
piece of wood, having the number of every thread of the stripe on
it." (Martin Martin).
"Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making
Plaids, as to the stripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as
different through the mainland of the Highlands in so far that they
who have seen those places is able, at the first view of a man's
Plaid, to guess the place of his residence." (Martin
"The said Ronal MakDonald of Gelloway and Archibald MakDonald of
Tullock Crombie, Wassels of Lagan in Badenoch, to the Right Hon.
Ludovick Grant of that ilk and
the tannantes and indwellers on these landis, are ordained to have
readie tartans short coates and trewes and short hose of red and
grein set dyce, all broad springed."
(Court Books of the Regality of Grants).
1704: "There is
a match of Hunting to be as is said against 2nd of next month
amongst several of our great folks, particularly the Duke of
Hamilton is to be there, the Marquis of Atholl and a neighbour the
Laird of Grant, who has ordered 600 of his men in arms, in good
order, with tartane coats all of one colour and fashion. This is
his order to the people of Straithspey." (A letter from Captain
Hamilton to the Governor of Fort William).
"Your Commrs. Observe there is a peculiar Cloathing for the
Three Highland Companies in North Britain, not at all Military But
like the Cloathing of the Natives there."
(Commissioners for Clothing of the Army).
1711: "It is
proper to mention their Plaids, a Manufacture wherein they exceed
all Nations, both as to Colour and Fineness. They have of late been
pretty much fancy'd in England, and are very ornamental as well as
durable for Beds, Hangings, Window-Curtains and Night-Gowns for Men
and Women... A good improvement may be made of this manufacture for
domestick use and export, now that the prohibition is remov'd by
the Union." (The Present State of Scotland).
Reported that tartan was being exported to London where there
was a trade in tartan bed hangings, curtains and nightgowns.
(Tartans and Highland Dress. C.R. MacKinnon).
1713: The Royal
Company of Archers adopt a uniform incorporating - "Stuart tartan
coat lined with white shalloon..." (Company records quoted by
J. Telfer Dunbar).
morning, the Duke of Mar, finding most of our left had run away and
was not returned, retired towards Perth, as the enemy had already
done into Stirling; he resolved there to reassemble those who had
run away, and although a considerable number of them were there
before us, yet they were of no use having lost their cloaths in the
actions. To explain thiis, one must know the habits of the
Highlanders and their manner of fighting. Their cloaths are
composed of two short vests, the one above reaching only to the
waste, the other about six inches longer, short stockings which
reaches not quite to the knee and no breetches; but above all they
have another piece of the same stuff, of about six yards long,
which they tie about them in such a manner that it covers their
thighs and all their body when they please, but commonly it's fixed
left shoulder, and leaves their right arm free. This kind of
mantel they throw away when they are ready to engage, to be lighter
and less encumber'd and if they are beat it remains on the field,
as happened to our left wing." (George Keith, Earl Marischal of
humbly presume herewith to offer your Highness by our member of
Parliament, a swatch of one of the manufactorys peculiar to this
place, being that of plaids
which are generally used over that pairt of the United Kingdom
called Scotland, by our women for covers when they go abroad, and
by some men for the morning guns, or for
hangins in bedrooms." (A letter from the Provost of Glasgow to
the Prince and Princess of Wales).
Ramsay writes "Tartana (The Plaid)", an ode to tartan which
strongly implies the existence of named clan tartans at the time of
writing - The piercing beams Brucina can defy...
The lily, pluckt by fair Pringella, grieves...
If shining red Campbella's cheeks adorn...
If lin'd with green, Stuarta's Plaid we view...
(The tartan worn by the Royal Company of Archers, of which the
poet became a member, was lined with green and said to be
length a woollen manufacture arose in some degree. There was an
exportation of it into Holland till 1720; it was a coarse kind,
such as is made in the Highlands: much of it was sold to Glasgow,
and sent into America for blankets for the Indians. It is in
Scotland a clothing for the country people, and it is worth About
10d or 12d a yard."
(Thomas Pennant, Tour through Scotland).
Care to provide Plaid Cloathing and Bonnets in the Highland Dress
for the Non-Commission Officers and Soldiers belonging to their
Companies, the Plaid of each
Company to be as near as they can of the same sort and Colour".
(Order from General Wade, Commander-in-Chief, Scotland, of the
British Army, to the Highland Independent
are six of them [Independent Companies], viz, three of 100 men, and
three of 60 each, in all 480 men. These are chiefly tenants to the
Captains; and one of the Centurions or Captains of 100, is said to
strip his other tenants of their best plaids wherewith to clothe
his soldiers against a review..." (Burt's Letters from the
North of Scotland - suggesting that the tartan worn by the
Independent Company in question had been previously worn by that
"...they wear a plaid, which is usually three yards long and two
breadths wide, and the whole garb is made of chequered
"The plaid is the undress of the ladies, and to a genteel woman,
who adjusts it with a good air, is a becoming veil. But I am pretty
sure you never saw one of them in England, I shall employ a few
words to describe it to you. It is made of silk or fine worsted,
chequered with various lively colours, two breadths wide, and three
yards in length; it is brought over the head, and may hide or
discover the face according to the wearer's fancy or occasion; it
reaches to the waist behind; one corner falls as low as the ankle
one side; and the other part, in folds, hangs down from the
opposite arm. I have been told, in Edinburgh, that the ladies
distinguish their political principles, whether Whig or Tory, by
the manner of wearing their plaids; that is, one of the parties
reverses the old fashion..." (Burt's Letters from the North of
1733: "Dr. Sir,
I send by the bearer, George More in Delnapot 269 ellsof tartan for
the use of the independent companies. I'm told that itwas 360 ells
that was bespoke, and my Lord Lovat's Chamberlain senthere for
tartan for my Lord's Company without mentioning the number ofells
he desired; he sent twenty pounds Scots to pay for it, and I
senthim forty ells of tartan, and wrote him that he could have more
if hedesired it. There is still here 60 ells that is not quit
ready, which any that wants may have in two
dayes if it's called for." (Letter from Robert Grant of
Tammore, factorto Grant of Ballindalloch, whose tenants were
producing the uniformplaids for all six Independent
cargoes from Leith to London included 9,406 yards of tartan. (From
the Caledonian Mercury and quoted in Tartans and Highland Dress.
"[Lochiel's regiment] ...would be to some extent uniformly clad; in
the months before the Rising Lochiel had ordered plaids from
Glasgow for his men..." (Lochiel of the '45, John Sibbald
"Of the above number of 5000 rebells I compute two thirds
to be real highlanders and one third lowlanders, altho' they are
putting themselves in highland dress like the others." (Letter
to the Whig Duke of Perth [as opposed to the Jacobite Duke of
Perth] from Commissary Bissett, dated 31st October 1745).
"They marched in two divisions, of which the first,
commanded by Lord George Murray, comprehended what are called the
Lowland regiments; although the greater part so called Lowland were
Highland by language and all of them by dress, the Highland garb
being the uniform of all of the infantry of the Jacobite army."
(Sir Walter Scott).
"Amongst other things I have been endeavouring to get
tartan and plaids provided for the men, and some time ago sent a
note of tartan that I was having weave in Crief for that purpose,
to His Grace..." (Letter written Drummond Castle, 3rd November
1745, from John Stuart to Capt. James Stuart at the Duke of Perth's
"The carrying of weapons, and the wearing of tartan and Highland
dress were banned, and whole communities pillaged and sent into the
hills for no crime other than an inability to speak English. This
was 18th century ethnic cleansing with a vengeance. The tartan ban,
enforced by means of the 1746 Dress Act, was a determined effort on
the part of the British government to stifle rebellion, humiliate
the Highlanders and crush the power of the Chiefs and put an end to
Gaelic culture. Ironically, however, it also
elevated tartan to almost cult status. As so often is the case,
the act of banning something made it seem more rather than less
important, and the Highlander devised many ingenious ways of
of Wilsons of Bannockburn.
The Repeal of the Tartan Act.
From the Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, 18th June, 1789: "The
Prince of Wales, and the Dukes of York and Clarence, have provided
themselves with complete Highland Dresses.... The tartan plaid,
philebeg, purse, and other appendages, were of the handsomest
George IV visits Edinburgh and unleashes a clan panic to identify
and wear their tartan finery to the Royal Levee in Edinburgh.
The Sobieski brothers (alleged grandsons of Bonnie Prince Charlie)
startled the country with the publishing of their mammoth
Vestiarium Scoticum containing many "newly discovered old
clan tartans" - most of which were fraudlent inventions.
The new monarch Queen Victoria visited Scotland with her consort
Prince Albert and heralded the birth of the Victorian love affair
with Scotland and its Highlands and people.