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The Universe

The Realm

The Ruler

The Territory

The People

The State

Religious Authority

Administrative Authority

Armed Authority

The Achievement

Back to United Kingdom



The recorded history of Scotland begins with the arrival of the Roman Empire in the 1st century, the Roman province of Britannia reached as far north as the Antonine Wall, which once ran from the Clyde to the Forth. To the north lay the territory of Caledonia, whose people were described as "Picti" in Latin, meaning ‘painted ones’. Due to constant incursions from these Picti the Roman legions would be forced back to Hadrian's Wall within 20 years of its construction, and forced to abandon the territory by the beginning of the 3rd century. Historical records of Pictish kings began in the mid 6th century, and by the end of that century the conversion of the Pictish kingdom to Christianity had begun. The cultural influence of the Church was considerable for it brought Pictland into the mainstream of European art and civilisation. The emergence of the kingdom of the Picts mirrored the social developments taking place elsewhere in Britain but without the political instability created by the arrival of the land-hungry Angles and Saxons from North Germany.  There were inter-tribal problems among the Picts from time to time, as well as political and territorial struggles with their neighbours, particularly the Scots to the  west and the Angles to the southeast. The independent kingdom of the Picts came to an end in the 9th century; their distinctive culture was gradually replaced in the far north by Scandinavian ideas and elsewhere Pictland became Scotland. 

According to 9th- and 10th-century literature, the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata was founded on the west coast of Scotland in the 6th century. In the following century, Irish missionary Columba founded a monastery on Iona and introduced the previously pagan Scoti, and with less success the Picti, to Celtic Christianity. King Nechtan of Pictland later chose to expel the Columban church in favour of the Roman, principally to restrict the influence of the Scoti on his kingdom and to avoid a war with Northumbria. In the same period Angles had conquered the previously Brythonic territory south of the Clyde and Forth, initially creating the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Bernicia, later becoming a part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Towards the end of the 8th century all three kingdoms were raided, settled and to some extent came under Viking control. Successive defeats by the Norse forced the Picti and Scoti to cease their historic hostility to each other and unite in the 9th century, to form the Kingdom of Scotland.

The Kingdom of Scotland was united under the descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin, first king of a united Scotland. His descendants, known to modern historians as the House of Alpin, fought among each other during frequent disputed successions. The last Alpin king, Malcolm II, died without issue in the early 11th century and the kingdom passed through his daughter's son, Duncan I, who started a new line of kings known to modern historians as the House of Dunkeld or Canmore. The last Dunkeld king, Alexander III, died in 1286 leaving only a single infant granddaughter as heir; four years later, Margaret, Maid of Norway herself died in a tragic shipwreck en route to Scotland. England, under Edward I, would take advantage of the questioned succession in Scotland to launch a series of conquests into Scotland. The resulting Wars of Scottish Independence were fought in the late 13th and early 14th centuries as Scotland passed back and forth between the House of Balliol and the House of Bruce. Scotland's ultimate victory in the Wars of Independence under David II confirmed Scotland as a fully independent and sovereign kingdom. When David II died without issue, his nephew Robert II established the House of Stewart (the spelling would be changed to Stuart in the 16th century), which would rule Scotland uncontested for the next three centuries. James VI, Stuart king of Scotland, also inherited the throne of England in 1603, and the Stuart kings and queens ruled both independent kingdoms until the Act of Union in 1707 merged the two kingdoms into a new state, the Kingdom of Great Britain. Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch, ruling until 1714. Since 1714, the succession of the British monarchs of the houses of Hanover and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Windsor) has been due to their descent from James VI and I of the House of Stuart. [1]


Government in Medieval Scotland




Early Emblems

Early emblems of the scottish nation are on so-called Pictish Stones from the early christian era in Scottish history between the conversion of the Picts in the 6th century until the subordination of the Scottish church to the Roman Catholic church in the 12th century.

On the Pictish Stones (which, by the way, are not all pictish) there are representations of the repertory of socio-political symbols which we also know from many other societies.

The Pictish stones are a very archaic way of representing socio-political symbols. Examples of such stones, called kudurrus are known from the Mesopotamian Kassite Dynasty (1729-1155 BC), showing cosmic symbols and symbols of urban societies together with representations of rulers and their officials holding their regalia. 


The Universe


The cosmic symbols represented are:


A sickle-shaped figure, open side down, on which two hands of a clock make an angle of 80°. This could be a representation of the universe, heaven or the sky. The meaning of the arrow must remain an enigma.


In christian times this symbol was replaced by an orb surmounted with a latin cross, symbolizing the Christian universe. Initially, from the rule of Alexander I (1107-’24), this orb was held in hand by the ruler. It disappeared from there in the 13th century, probably because of the loss of sovereignty. At the end of the 15th century it reappeared on top of the crown.


Orb on top of the Scottish crown, 1540


The Realm


Another cosmic symbol represented is a disc symbolizing the sun.


Sun on the Eassie Stone

Composed sun on Shandwick stone


Generally a sun symbolizes the realm and in many cases the sun-disc on the stones is unmistakably meant to symbolize the sun. Early european representations of the sun are usually coloured gold. Some excavated ancient bronze shields may actually have been sun-symbols. A sun chariot from about 1350 BC was found in Denmark. It shows a golden disc decorated with little concentric circles, reminding the much later Pictish sun discs.  In ancient Egypt and the far east the sun was colored red.

A peculiarity poses the Stone from Hilton of Cadbol on which are two suns. This would mean that the stone represents a union of two realms for which Dalraida and Pictavia, which were united in 842, are candidates.  


The Stone from Hilton of Cadbol

Showing a thunderbolt, two suns and the ruler and his attendants


Hilton of Cadbol stone

The stone once stood in Hilton of Cadboll, a seaboard village on the east coast of the Tarbat Peninsula in northeastern Scotland. Originally carved on the seaward side with an early Christian cross and on the landward side with traditional Pictish symbols like the crescent and double disc and secular themes like a hunting scene, the stone was knocked down in the 17th century, possibly by a storm in 1674. After its fall, it was lying face down with the Christian side One Alexander Duf had the early Christian Pictish cross on the reverse side chipped away and replaced with his own coat of arms. He also left an inscription identifying himself as: “He that believes well does well sayeth Solomon the wyse. Heir lyes Alexander Duf and his three wyves 1676.”


The idea is confirmed by the first two-sided seals of the Scottish kings on which the king is seated between two suns, properly represented as rayonnant.


Alexander I


St. David I






Seal: Obv.: Enthroned crowned ruler with sword and orb, between two suns radiant. L.: X ALEXANDER  DEO RECTORE REX SCOTTORUM (Alexander guided by God King of the Scots).


Seal: Obv.: Enthroned crowned ruler with sword and orb, between two suns radiant. L.: X  DAVID DEO RECTORE REX SCOTTORUM

Malcolm IV




Seal: Obv.: Enthroned crowned ruler with sword and orb, between two suns radiant. L.: X MALCOLVM DEO RECTORE REX SCOTTORUM.


When William the Lion (1165-1214) had become a vassal of Henry II of England in 1174 the suns disappeared from the royal seal never to return.


William the Lion


Alexander II





Seal: Obv.: The king seated with sword and orb. L.: X WILLELMVS DEO RECTORE REX SCOTTORVM


Seal: Obv.: Uncrowned king seated with sword and orb. L.: X ALEXANDER DEO RECTORE REX SCOTTORVM

Alexander III



Second Seal


Seal: Obv.: Enthroned crowned ruler with lily-scepter. His throne decorated with fleurs de lis.



After Alexander III apparently an emblem symbolizing the realm was abandoned. Instead, the coat of arms slowly developed into a kind of emblem of the realm of Scotland. This happened when the arms were crowned or crested and a third uncrowned version existed at the same time. These versions then were the emblems of the supreme administrator, the supreme commander (both called the royal arms) and the realm of Scotland tout-court called “of Scotland”.

In fact, the arms with the lion and the tressure became the arms of Scotland when they were used by an other institution than the kings from the House of Dunkeld. This occurred for the first time during the interregnum of 1290-’92 when the deputies from the kingdom charged their seal with the arms with the lion and the tressure.

Great Seal appointed for the Government of the Realm 1290-‘92


Rev.: Arms: Lion within a double tressure flory counterflory. L.: SIGILLVM SCOCIE DEPVTATVM REGIMINI REGNI. [2]


Goldcoin of Robert III 1390

Goldcoin of James V 1513


The arms with the lion and the tressure remained the arms of the realm in the next few centuries. In 1471 there was a curious attempt of the Scottish Parliament to displace the tressure. An Act was passed in that year, for some hitherto unexplained reason, by which it was ordained  “that in tyme to cum thar suld be na double tresor about his armys, but that he suld ber hale armys of the lyoun without ony mair.” [-] Like many aother Acts, however, it never seems to have been carried into effect; [-] [3]


At first it was represented in alliance with the arms of the Houses of Balliol and Bruce and, from the reign of Queen Mary Stuart in arms quarterly of Scotland and other realms belonging to the king or queen of Scotland. As the royal arms of Queen Mary were of a quarterly, the crowned arms with the lion and the tressure became at the same time the arms of the Kingdom of Scotland. Her son James VI, who could not quarter his arms with other blasons bore the crowned arms of Scotland for a short time, these arms being the arms of the Kingdom at the same time. This changed again when he was also crowned king of England in 1603.

The situation changed in the time of the Commonwealth and Protectorate when Oliver Cromwell preferred a coat of arms of the realm consisting of the saltire of St Andrew, being the symbol of the Scottish congregation of St Andrews and symbolizing the Res Publica or the realm of the people of Scotland.

Arms of Scotland, 1659-‘60


Immediately after the restoration of the kingdom in 1660 the crowned arms with the lion and the tressure were also restored.






At the Act of Union of 1707 the kingdom of Scotland ceased to exist and the realm became an integral part of Great Britain. The arms of this Great Britain showed an impaled of the arms of the  former  kingdoms of England and Scotland.

The situation did not change with the next two unions when Great Britain was united wit Ireland in 1801(lost it in 1922) and united with Northern Ireland. A kingdom of Scotland was never restored but the arms of Great Britain of 1707 was split up in its composing parts for Great Britain and Ireland. As a result the (crowned) arms of the kingdom of Scotland, now just symbolizing Scotland, were restored.





Above the entrance of Edinburg Castle

On shillings 1953-‘70




Uncrowned arms of Scotland


The realm consists of the people and its territory.


The Territory



The symbol of the Scottish territory is a thistle, usually referred to as the national flower. As a floral emblem it is standing in a long tradition of floral emblems symbolizing a territory. Best known is a tree, known from the Middle East and for example of the Phoenicians.  Also well known is a lotus in Indian culture and a sprig of olive in Athens. 

“The reason of the assumption of the thistle as the national badge of Scotland remains largely a matter of mystery, though it is of nothing like so ancient an origin. Of course one knows the time-honoured and wholly impossible legend that its adoption as a national symbol dates from the battle of Largs (1263), when one of the Danish invaders gave away an attempted surprise by his cry of agony caused by stepping barefooted upon a thistle.

The fact, however, remains that its earliest appearance is on a silver coinage  of 1474, in the reign of James III., but during that reign there can be no doubt that it was accepted either as a national badge or else as the personal badge of the sovereign. [4] The period in question was that in which badges were so largely used, and it is not unlikely that desiring to vie with his brother of England, and fired by the example of the broom badge and the rose badge, the Scottish king, remembering the ancient legend, chose the thistle as his badge.

In 1540, when the thistle had become recognised as one of the national emblems of the kingdom, the foundation of the Order of the Thistle stereotyped the fact for all future time. The conventional heraldic representation of the thisle is as it appears upon the star of that Order, that is, the flowered  head upon a short stalk with a leaf on either side. Though sometimes represented of gold, it is nearly alwasy proper. It has frequently been granted as an augmentation, though in such meaning it will usually be found crowned.” [5]

Which species of thistle is referred to in the original legend is disputed. Popular modern usage favours Cotton Thistle Onopordum acanthium.


Royal Thistle Badge on Coins







The Thistle Badge before 1707


Å Throne du Roi

The thistle-badge was on the baldachin of the throne in the House of Parliament. On the back of the throne was the Scottish  achievement.

Under the baldachin is an official called Le Grand Commissaire.


È Porte du Parlement

The thistle was also on the door giving access to the House of Parliament. Above the gate was an allegory of the armed forces in the form of a representation of  Mars in full armory armed with a sword and shield showing the arms of Scotland. He was surrounded by a trophy of banners and cuirasses.

Mars and thistle together symbolize the defence of the Scottish territory.

Visible also on this detail are the heralds in their tabards of the arms of Scotland. [6] 




Thistle Badge, 20th cent.

Royal Thistle Badge, 20th cent.



í  The thistle can also be interpreted as a so-called impresa, a personal emblem symbolizing a quality or motto. Such impresas, invented in Italy, became the fashion in the 15th century and the Scottish thistle is closely following this fashion. A difference is that it developed from a personal- into a national emblem. The fact that it was a personal emblem does not rule out that it was also a symbol of a territory.


The People


The Cross Saltire



The cross saltire as an emblem of the Scottish people is derived from the cross saltire of the abbots of Cellrígmonaid. This developed into the emblem of the diocese of St. Andrews in the second half of the 13th century.


As an emblem of the Scots, or of the congregation of St. Andrews, the cross saltire appeared in 1385, when parliament decreed that Scottish soldiers should wear it as a distinguishing mark.  A few years later it appeared on some coins of Robert III and his successors.


Demi Lion/ 9 shillings of Robert III (1390-1406)

Courtesy Heritage Auctions


Cross saltire between fleurs de lis and emblems symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Legend. On the obverse the uncrowned arms of Scotland


Gold demi of 9 shillings of james I, 1406-‘37


Obv.: Crowned arms of Scotland in lozenge. L.: IACOBVS DEI GRACIA REX S.

Rev.: Cross saltire between two fleurs de lis. L.: X SALVVM FAC POPVLUM TVVM DN



Lion crest with saltire pennon 1500 ca

On a panel in St. Andrews Castle


During the fifteenth century there is evidence of its use on flags, but the first example of a flag consisting solely of the Saltire dates from 1503.  It depicts a white cross on a red field.  The blue flag we know today is not attested until 1540, by which time there existed a legend that King Angus of the Picts had been inspired to victory over the English army by a vision of a St. Andrew's Cross against a blue sky. Since that time, the saltire has been the national flag of Scotland.  Its use went into a decline after the Union of 1707, but as Scottish national feeling rose again in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it came into prominence again, and is now seen flying all over Scotland.


In James’ IV Book of Hours, 1503ca

As a part of the achievement, 1540-present


On later coinage the arms of Scotland are often represented between two saltires.


By Oliver Cromwell the white saltire on blue was adopted as the emblem of Scotland on his arms for Scotland of 1656 and on his arms for the Commonwealth of 1658. After the restoration of the kingdom in 1660 it became the Scottish National Flag and Arms, so defined by Act of Parliament. [7]

They are Azure, a saltire Argent, and this is recorded in Lyon Register, pursuant to 1672, cap. 47, as the ‘Armes or Badge’ proper and peculiar to the Kingdom of Scotland’. [8] This national badge, ‘the Silver Cross to Scotland dear’, is traditionally said to have been instituted by Achaius, King of the Picts (really Angus II (820-834), who is said to have introduced the veneration of St. Andrew).


Scottish Red Ensign until 1707

On a Dutch flag chart, 1700 ca.


After the Union of 1707 the Scottish saltire flag became obsolete and was replaced by the Union flag. It was reintroduced in the Royal Achievement for Scotland in the 19th century and can be seen nowadays as a National Flag for Scotland.

The Cross of St. Andrew is the flag now which any Scotsman is entitled to fly, or wear as a badge, as evidence of his national identity or patriotism. [9] This is also the proper flag to fly on Scottish churches, and corresponds to St. George’s cross in England, the Red Dragon in Wales, and St. Patrick’s Cross in Ireland. [10]


Today a gonfanon with the white saltire on blue is a part of the emblem of the Scottish Parliament.


The Scottish Parliament, like other such institutions, evolved during the middle ages from the king’s council of bishops and earls. It is perhaps first identifiable as a parliament in 1235, described as a ‘colloquium’ and already with a political and judicial role. By the early fourteenth century the attendance of knights and freeholders had become important, and from 1326 burgh commissioners attended. Consisting of the ‘three estates’ of clerics, lay tenants-in-chief and burgh commissioners sitting in a single chamber, the Scottish Parliament acquired significant powers over particular issues. Most obviously it was needed for consent for taxation (although taxation was only raised irregularly in Scotland), but it also had a strong influence over justice, foreign policy, war, and all manner of other legislation, whether political, ecclesiastical, social or economic. Parliamentary business was also carried out by ‘sister’ institutions, before c.1500 by ‘General Council’ and thereafter by the ‘Convention of Estates’. These could carry out much business also dealt with by parliament - taxation, legislation and policy-making - but lacked the ultimate authority of a full parliament.

The Scottish Parliament agreed the Treaty of Union with England on 16 January 1707. The Parliament adjourned on 25 March and was dissolved on 28 April only to be reestablished after 291 years.

By Scotland Act of 1998 Art. 1 section 1 it was provided that:

There shall be a Scottish Parliament


The first session of the new Parliament was held on 12 May 1999. It has the Scottish saltire for emblem.


The Royal Saltire Badge

By James V the crowned saltire was introduced on the banner of the High Constables of Holyroodhouse, so qualifying them as a royal guard. Somewhat later the badge was also on coinage.


James V, third coinage (1538-‘42)


Obv.: crowned thistle between I 5,  L.: IACOBVS • D • G • R • SCOTORVM.

Rev: Saltire between two fleurs-de-lis and charged with a crown. L.: OPPIDVM • EDINBVRGH


Scottish Arms and Tartans


A quite unique source of information about early heraldry in Scotland are the so-called Pictish stones.

Symbol stones are the single most important source of information about the Picts. The earliest are stones bearing incised designs, most of which were unique to the Picts and which appear to have acted as a means of communication. The symbols were used throughout Pictland from the Firth of Forth nort to Shetland and west to the Outer Hebrides, and their message must have been widely understood, but their decipherment is now a matter of informed guesswork. They are likely to have functioned as memorial stones, perhaps also marking territorial boundaries.

Scholars have given descriptive names to these symbols for convenience, such as ‘crescent and V-rod’, but the names by which the Picts knew them are lost.


The stones are engraved with several kinds of symbols. The eagles, bulls and lions are also known from the international repertory of symbols of military rank but they are very scarce.

The other animal symbols may be classified as totemistic symbols and may have been badges for use on banners and standarts of warriors or fighting units of certain clans or tribes.


Scottish Clans

The origins of Scotland’s clans and of their distinctive dress are wrapped in controversy. Yet their story can be traced back with certainty to the middle of the 5th century, and to Ireland where the Scots then lived. Here the earliest historical High King was known as Niall Noigiallach (of the Nine Hostages), whose descendants of the O’Neill dynasty expanded northwards into Ulster. As a result Fergus Mór of the little kingdom of Dalraida moved his seat of government from northern Ireland, and crossed the sea to found a new Dalraida for his Scots in the land that now bears their name. In 563 a prince of the house of O’Neill called Colum Cille (Dove of the Church) joined them there, and is remembered today as Saint Columba. A century later the Scots were organised in three principal kindreds from Ardnamurchan in the north to Kintayre in the south: the kindreds of Lorne, Angus and Gabrán.

In the course of time these kindreds, and the dynasties of the Celtic church, proliferated into the clans of mediaeval record. To the north and west of them lived the Picts, to the west and south the Britons, while their first serious encounter with Germanic peoples occurred early in the 9th century when the Viking long-ships appeared. The Scots held their own against all these peoples. Their Gaelic tongue replaced Pictish throughout the Highlands; it replaced the Welsh tongue in large areas of south-western Scotland; it drove the Norse language from every island in the Hebrides. And when the Gaels were in the death throes of their final struggle against another Germanic people, the English-speakers of the south, they gained their last and most spectacular victory. After every attempt  had been made to destroy their ancient clan organisation and their distinctive dress these were adopted as the proper emblems of all Scots throughout the world.


Pictish Costume

The Pictish garment is called in Gaelic léine. It was a form of long shirt with wide sleeves and low neckline which men wore also in battle. Probably it was generally made of linen, and although the earliest references describe it simply as light coloured, it was probably of the yellow shade which led to the English description of it as a saffron shirt.

An early picture of such a léine is on a pictish stone.


Pictish warriors on the Brough of Birsay stone (7th-8th cent.?)


The léine was the common garment for centuries and it was also worn by a 10th century king of Scotland.


The dress of Irish and Scottish Gaels

Both figures are wearing a Léine, the long shirt like tunic that was the common element in Gaelic clothing

Códice De Trajes, Biblioteca Nacional de España c.1529


There are ample descriptions of this garment throughout the 16th century, of which that of a French visitor in 1556 is typical: ‘They wear no clothes except their dyed shirts and light woollen coverings of several colours, ‘certaines couvertures légères faites de laine de plusieurs couleurs.’


Scottish Costume

The most distinctive garment which the Scots brought with them from Ireland, and which had probably been worn in the reign of Niall (400 ca), consisted of a short skirt ending a little above the knee. Such garments can be seen on the 12th century St. Manchan’s Shrine. This garment came to be known as a kilt.


St. Machan’s Shrine (Boher Catholic Church, Co. Offaly, Ireland).

Six figures out of originally 50, wearing decorated kilts


A very early representation of the Scottish garment is on the 8th century St. Andrews Sarcophagus, showing a short skirted man  with spear and shield



Scottish hunter on St. Andrews Sarcophagus (2nd half 8th cent.)

Wearing a kilt


There is no evidence that the Scottish Gaels continued the Irish practice of marking léine with stripes to indicate the rank of the wearer. A (Irish-) High King wore seven stripes, one of them purple. The Ollamh (chief man of learning) wore six, a striking reminder of the importance attached to scholarship.



Scottish soldiers at the invasion of Edward III, 1335

By Froissart


Much later the Scottish dress was continued by the Higland dress but, probably due to extreme poverty, there is a wide gap of four hundred years in its documentation to fill. Its decoration however is described in the 16th century by the Scottish historian George Buchanan (1506-’82) which makes the gap somewhat smaller: ‘They (the Highlanders) 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.” 


Alterius Viri Pictis Vicini (Another Pictish Neighbour)

By Theodor de Bry in:  Admiranda Narratio 1590


By the end of the 16th century most of the clans had assumed their final identifications and alignments. In 1594, indeed, Lughaidh O’Clery distinguished Hebrideans even from their nearest kinsmen the Irish, by their dress. ‘They 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.’


In the Thirty Years War the Scottish mercenaries of Mackay’s Regiment of Foote (1626-’34) wore uniforms of checked cloth, by then already called by its name in french tartaine, which was developed in Scotland. In this they followed a Swedish military development: “It was with the appearance of Gustavus Adolphus [....] in 1632 that [....] the Swedes served as models for all belligenrents for their “Blue”, “Yellow” and “Green” regiments (so called from the colour of their clothing) represented the first real step towards uniformity in dress in the field. At the same time the design of weapons was standardized, which led naturally to increased efficiency.”  This development is  thought to have been the origin of the modern armed forces uniform.


Four Scottish Mercenaries in their Uniforms, 1631


On their dressings a preference is seen for checkered patterns. These may have been the predecessors of the tartan but such a preference seems to be very old taking into account the checkered pattern of the cloak of the man on a leaf in the 7th century Book of Durrow.


The new martial fashion introduced in the Thirty Years War may have been the impetus for the development of the tartans of patterns specific for each clan because Scottish troops were organized clan-wise. A particular pattern had become common to a particular locality first and was only associated with a clan because different clans predominated in each district.


Lord Mungo Murray wearing a kilt of his colours

By John Michael Wright, 1660


In 1703 it is reported (by Martin Martin) that ‘Every island 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.’ Shortly afterwards, before 1715, Sir Ludovic Grant of Grant ordered that all his tenants should provide themselves with Highland dress made of red and green tartan ‘set broad-springed’. This attempt to introduce a livery for his tenants however apparently did not succeed.


Grant Tartan


Tartan Uniform

Nevertheless the tartan had not yet become a form of military identification in Scotland by the time of the last and decisive clan conflict, the battle of Culloden (1746). The Scottish rebels wore their tartans but no uniforms and the only badge by which they could be recognized was a white cockade in the form of a saltire.

Bonnie Prnce Charlie wearing the White Cockade [11]


The Scottish Irregulars, serving under British command wore a black cockade in the form of a bow.  

The tartan as a form of military identification came about when Independent Highland Companies  were raised as a militia in 1725 by General George Wade. Six Independent Highland Companies were recruited from local clans, with one company coming from Clan Munro, one from Clan Fraser, one from Clan Grant and three from Clan Campbell. These companies, officially called the 43rd Regiment, were commonly known as Am Freiceadan Dubh, or the Black Watch. This name may well have been due to the black cockade they wore on their bonnets. It was officially adopted in 1881.


Å Soldier of the 43rd Regiment with black cockade

Engraving of Samuel MacPherson

of the 43rd Regiment of Foot, 1740 ca.

National Army Museum, London


ÈTartan of the 43rd Regiment, the later Black Watch


í The original uniform of the 43rd Regiment was a twelve yard long plaid of the dark tartan which is now so well known as The Black Watch tartan. This was fastened around the body with a leather belt. The jacket and waistcoat were scarlet with buff facings and white lace and a blue bonnet was worn. The men were armed with a musket and bayonet, a broadsword and generally also a pistol and dirk (long dagger).

In 1825, Stewart of Garth wrote that "The uniform was a scarlet jacket and waistcoat, with buff facings and white lace, tartan plaid of twelve yards plaited round the middle of the body, the upper part being fixed on the left shoulder, ready to be thrown loose and wrapped over both shoulders and firelock in rainy weather. At night, the plaid served the purpose of a blanket, and was a sufficient covering for the Highlander


Four more companies were added in 1739 to make a total of ten Independent Highland Companies.

In September 1745, Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, was given a commission to raise twenty new Independent Highland Companies to oppose the Jacobite rising of 1745. He succeeded in raising a total of eighteen Independent Highland Companies. The men were drawn from the respective clans of their commanders. These were the Clan Munro, Clan Sutherland Clan Mackay Clan MacLeod, Clan MacLeod of Assynt, Clan Mackenzie, Clan Macdonald of Sleat and Clan Ross.


After the Battle of Culloden, the wearing of  tartan (by civilians) was forbidden by Act of Proscription of 1747 for 36 years. The section about the tartan reads:


Para 16. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the first day of August, one thousand seven hundred and forty seven, no man or boy, within that part of Great Briton called Scotland, other than shall be employed as officers and soldiers in his Majesty's forces, shall on any pretence whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb; and that no TARTAN, or partly-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats, or for upper coats; and if any such person shall presume, after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garments or any part of them, every such person so offending, being convicted thereof by the oath of one or more credible witness or witnesses before any court of justiciary, or any one or more justices of the peace for the shire or stewartry, or judge ordinary of the place where such offence shall be committed, shall suffer imprisonment, without bail, during the space of six months, and no longer; and being convicted for a second offence before a court of justiciary or at the circuits, shall be liable to be transported to any of his Majesty's plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for a space of seven years.


After the parliamentary act was repealed by Repeal of the Act of Proscription of the Highland Garb.
Given the Royal Assent By King George III on Monday 1st July, 1782
, reading:


.....That ſo much of the Acts above-mentioned, or any other Act or Acts of Parliament, as reſrtains the Uſe of the Highland Dreſs, be, and the fame are hereby repealed.


the custom was slowly restored. In 1822 King George IV was even portrayed wearing a tartan when visiting Edinburgh.


Finally the tartan and the kilt developed into a kind of national costume which is still worn by some Scots at special occasions. In most countries of Europe such national costumes were abandoned after WWII..


The Ruler


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© Hubert de Vries 2015-01-26


[1] From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] https://archive.org/details/historyofscottis01birc Pp. 32-33, figs. 14 & 15

[3] Fox-Davies, A.C. : The Art of Heraldry, London 1904.  p. 99.

[4] No such coin has been found

[5] Fox-Davies, op. cit. p. 198

[6] From: L’Honore, François: Carte pour donner une idée generale du gouvernement d’Ecosse l’ordre de la marche du cavalcade de l’assemblée de son parlement; et celui de la séance de cet illustre corps. Amsterdam, 1708.

[7]  A.P.S., Vol. vi, pt. ii, p. 817.

[8]  L.R. i, 20.

[9] Statute of 1388, A.P.S., i. 555; 1672, cap. 47; Historical Account of the Royal Visit, 1822, p. 90.

[10] Innes of Learney, Sir Thomas: Scots Heraldry. Johnston and Bacon. London/Edinburgh, 1934. Repr. 1978. p. 105.

[11] From a painting by William Mosman

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