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Tartan Ferret
Forged Tartans

Scotland's Forged Tartans

Scotland's Forged tartans

The first serious refutation of the Sobieskis' Vestiarium Scoticum appeared in 1847 in Volume 81 of the Quarterly Review which was, a year later, answered by the Sobieskis in a printed pamphlet. It would have been interesting indeed to see the brothers' response to the first serious study of the Vestiarium Scoticum - Scotland's Forged Tartans - and the expert dissection - thread by thread - of the brothers' preposterous claims. Jamie Scarlett was the editor of that publication and his introduction is reproduced below.

About the year 1820 (the exact date is doubtful) there appeared upon the Highland scene two young men, the brothers John and Charles Hay Allan. Undoubtedly charming and talented, their passport among the Highland aristocracy, however, was the widely held belief that they were the legitimate grandsons of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' of The '45, the story being that their father, Thomas Carter Allan, had been born to Prince Charles and his wife, the Princess Louisa of Stolberg Guedern, and had been immediately smuggled away into the care of a naval Admiral to save him from possible harm at the hands of the Hanoverians. The truth of this story has been argued at length and somewhat inconclusively and, in fairness to the brothers, it must be pointed out that their biographer has stated that they never themselves made this claim. Nevertheless, they cannot have been unaware of it or of the immense value of the prestige which it conferred upon them and they certainly did nothing to refute it. However, all this is of little present moment.

It was not long before the brothers began to let it be known that they had in their possession an ancient manuscript which gave precise details of all the old Clan tartans and to hand out details of these to their friends some of whom, it would seem, had not previously known that they had Clan tartans. Soon the single manuscript became two, the original supposedly dating from the end of the sixteenth century and called the Douay Manuscript from its having been discovered in the library of the Scots College there, and the other, stated to be a late and inferior copy, dated 1721 and known as the Cromarty Manuscript. Much later, there came a third document, allegedly another version of the first, although differing markedly from it, and named after the place of its discovery, the St Augustine Monastery at Cadiz.

In, 1842, under the title of Vestiarium Scoticum, the brothers published an edited version of their documents in which the tartan of each clan was described and illustrated. Long before the publication of the Vestiarium, the documents that went into it were the subject of much controversy but, it being an age when the hurling of abuse at one's opponents by way of magazine articles was considered to be a fair substitute for logical argument, little enlightenment resulted. The tartan trade, ever in search of business, leapt gladly upon the new 'old' tartans and nobody even stopped to consider that the 'exact' descriptions left so much latitude in interpretation that the tartans shown must have come largely from the imagination of the illustrator, brother Charles.

There matters remained for many years, untilJ.C. Thompson, an American philologist already interested in the Vestiarium, raised with D.C. Stewart the question of the whereabouts of a certain set of photographs of the Cromarty MS. That particular set of photographs, actually languishing unknown in the archives of the Scottish Tartans Society, proved to be largely illegible but, soon after, good fortune put another set of photographs, twice as big and almost completely legible, into Thompson's hands. Meanwhile, Stewart, himself considering a critical study of the Vestiarium from the tartan point of view, had proposed collaboration on the project.This work is the result of their co-operation, Stewart working on the tartans and Thompson on the language of the manuscripts. Between them, they have shown, with little room for doubt, that the Vestiarium Scoticum and the documents leading up to it were forgeries. It is perhaps the first scholarly attempt to make a critical study of the subject and it is not likely that it will go unanswered. However, the authors have extracted some quite damning evidence in the course of their investigations, not the least important of which is the frequency with which tartans described in the manuscripts can be related to designs current in the 1830's.

It is sad that Donald Stewart did not live to see this work published. He would have enjoyed it, as he would have enjoyed answering his critics.
James Scarlett

This highly controversial new book knocked the foundations from under more than 50 highly respected tartans.
Vestiarium Scoticum was published in 1842, the work of two brothers who, by that time, were calling themselves John Sobieski Stuart and Charles Stuart. A compendious work, edited by John and illustrated by Charles, the Vestiarium was based upon a supposedly sixteenth century document and some copies of the same which the brothers claimed to have in their possession and contained, as its most important element, descriptions and coloured drawings of dozens of tartans, many of them previously unheard of.
Despite the misgivings of a few, but potent, authorities, these tartans were eagerly accepted by a public desperate to wear its "authentic" clan tartans and a trade equally desperate to sell them and they have remained with us, highly respected and totally unauthenticated.
Such a controversial publication clearly demands further study and in Scotland's Forged Tartans the man who may fairly be regarded as the father of modern tartan research, D.C. Stewart, and an American philologist, J.C. Thompson, come together to make a detailed investigation of the tartans on the one hand and the language of the "sixteenth century" document on the other, proving beyond all possible doubt that the Vestiarium and its background material are complete forgeries.
With an Introduction by James Scarlett





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