Tartan Ferret
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Victoria and Albert

Victoria and Albert's love affair with Scotland was a pivotal moment for all things Scottish and especially for tartan. Then, as today, it was the outward sign of belonging to or being in some way connected with, that brave and romantic little country which stirred the royal hearts. This excerpt from Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey sets the scene admirably:

A Balmoral Castle interior showing tartan everywhere.Prince Albert's sitting room

"With great ceremony, in accordance with a memorandum drawn up by the Prince for the occasion, the foundation-stone of the new edifice (Balmoral Castle) was laid, and by 1855 it was habitable. Spacious, built of granite in the Scotch baronial style, with a tower 100 feet high, and minor turrets and castellated gables, the castle was skilfully arranged to command the finest views of the surrounding mountains and of the neighbouring river Dee. Upon the interior decorations Albert and Victoria lavished all their care. The wall and the floors were of pitch-pine, and covered with specially manufactured tartans. The Balmoral tartan, in red and grey, designed by the Prince, and the Victoria tartan*, with a white stripe, designed by the Queen, were to be seen in every room: there were tartan curtains, and tartan chair-covers, and even tartan linoleums. Occasionally the Royal Stuart tartan appeared, for Her Majesty always maintained that she was an ardent Jacobite. Water-colour sketches by Victoria hung upon the walls, together with innumerable stags' antlers, and the head of a boar, which had been shot by Albert in Germany. In an alcove in the hall, stood a life-sized statue of Albert in Highland dress.
Victoria declared that it was perfection. "Every year," she wrote, "my heart becomes more fixed in this dear paradise, and so much more so now, that ALL has become my dear Albert's own creation, own work, own building, own layout... and his great taste, and the impress of his dear hand, have been stamped everywhere."

* Lytton Strachey gets the facts a little wrong here. The introduced line was not white but red and Victoria was not the designer. The late Harry Lindley of Highland Dress outfitters and Royal Warrant holders, Kinloch Anderson, said: "Queen Victoria admired the Dress Stewart tartan so much, but requested a variation, so the red line was introduced in the 1800s."

 

Queen Victoria's bedoom.  Queen Victoria's sitting room.

 

 

John Brown  MacLeay's portrait of John Brown

Very little to do with tartan but fascinating nevertheless, is this excerpt from Tom Cullen's 1969 book The Empress Brown which talks of the volume of MacLeay portraits of Balmoral staff commissioned by Queen Victoria. He makes special comment on the depiction of John Brown - the Queen's trusted ghillie who was her frequent companion after the death of her beloved Prince Albert. Here is the portrait of Brown which, Cullen suugests, was the result of Macleay being 'nobbled' by the Queen and instructed to 'civilise' Brown so that he would be more acceptable to Victorian society.

"In this unique work, portraits of a select few of the Royal retainers are shown cheek-by-jowl with those of representatives of the great Highland clans; thus Brown finds himself unexpectedly in the distinguished company of MacDonalds, Gordons, Frasers and Forbes. But it is Brown who is total unrecognisable: the granite-like features have been softened, the chin sanded down, the mouth given an almost feminine expression. He is shown wearing a grey hunting kilt and a modern turndown collar and Royal blue cravat such as no gillie on Deeside would be seen wearing even in his coffin.
A massive gold watch is looped high in his waistcoat, a grey plaid neatly folded and pedant from his arm. His dagger is visible above the right stocking top. This son of a crofter who started life as a stable hand is made to look like a foppish fashion-plate of some Edinburgh kilt-maker."

 

 

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Bust of John Brown by Boem.


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