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Tartan Ferret

Tartan Timeline

Here we offer you an historical timeline from 1200BC to just prior to the 1745 rising.

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 them
with full details of the source.

1200BC Tartan 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 BC)

30BC ( Circa) "Their cloaks are bright and shining" Virgil's Aeneid, Book VIII

" . . . flaming coloured dresses." Titus Livius (59 BC - AD 17),

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.

200AD Caledonians are shown with check (tartan?) leggings on Caracalla's triumphal arch of 200AD at Volubilis in Morocco. The discovery was made by Dr. Fraser Hunter of the National Museum of Scotland.

Gap of almost 1,000 years

1100 "Diversis coloribus vestes" T(h)urgot, Prior of Durham & Bishop of St. Andrews (died 31st August 1115)

1355: "unus 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.'

1471: And 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 Scottish Dress).

1500: "Five thousand ellis gaed till his frog Of Heiland pladdis and mair..." (Dunbar)

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).

1544: "...touching the claim of one tartan plaid clamed by Andrew Bruce from Janet Leslie..." (Burgh Court Book of Elgin).

1549: "Master 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)

1561: John Cuthbert fails to pay to John Coupland "ane tartane blew and greyne in compleit payment." (Grange).

1566: Dunsleye is sued for payment for "an tartan blak and quhet..." (Grange). 

1575: "We 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).

1578: "Their 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).

1581: "They 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 of Straloch).

1596: "John 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).

1598: "The 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).

1603: Thomas Dalgleis, burgess of Inverness, is ordered to pay Ferquhar MackAllister of 'Dunzcan croy, ane gray plaid, a tartan, of fiv elnis doubil'. (Grange).

1607: The 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 sorts." (Grange).

1618: Letter 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 Learney).

"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 Braemar).

1641: "Their 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).

1651: David 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." (Braithwaite).

1656: "Richard 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'" (Grange).

1662: "Charles 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).

1671: Elegy for MacGille Chaluim of Raasay who drowned in 1671 from the anonymous Marbhrann do Mhac Gille Chalium Ratharsaidh.

O is maith thig dhuit breacan
air a lasadh le càrnaid

It is well you suit tartan
lit up with scarlet . . . .

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).

1688: "The 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).

1689: From James Philip's Latin panegyric epic, The Grameid, MacNeill of Barra is described as follows:

Tot chlamyde intextos et ille colores
Sole quot adverso curvata in nubibus iris.

He displays as many colours woven in his plaid as the rainbow in the clouds shows in the sunlight.

1689: "First, 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 the red
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 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).

1715: "Next 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 on their
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 Scotland, Memoirs).

1715: "We 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).

1718: Allan 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 "Stuart").

1720: "At 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).

1725: "..take 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 Companies).

1730: "There 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 Captain's tenants).

"...they wear a plaid, which is usually three yards long and two breadths wide, and the whole garb is made of chequered tartain."

"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 on
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 Scotland).

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 Companies).

1740: Two cargoes from Leith to London included 9,406 yards of tartan. (From the Caledonian Mercury and quoted in Tartans and Highland Dress. C.R. MacKinnon).

1745: "[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 Gibson).

 "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 Lodgings in
the Canongate).

1746: "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 evading it."

1765: Founding of Wilsons of Bannockburn.

1782: The Repeal of the Tartan Act.

1789:  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 kind..."

1822: George IV visits Edinburgh and unleashes a clan panic to identify and wear their tartan finery to the Royal Levee in Edinburgh.

1842: 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.

1842: 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.

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