While working on my Scots ancestry this week, I spent a little time looking at my Scottish made ties and caps that represent the tartans of my various Scottish ancestral clans.
We all know that it is difficult to prove true ancestry to any of the famous clan surnames back to the distant past because early clans were more closely associated with tribes or commonly allied groups rather than just a family surname. Most members took on the name of their clan as their surname rather than the name of their father.
Clan members generally stayed together in common causes to protect their lands, families and interests. At times, some members would change allegiance to anther clan. These decisions had significantly more personal impact than swapping political parties today but did happen.
The wearing of the clan tartan was important, involving pride, allegiance, marking of territory and ideals.
Did you know that tartans were once outlawed by the English Government?
After the Battle of Culloden on 16 Apr 1746, the Duke of Cumberland earned the reputation of ‘Butcher’ because of his savage treatment of the survivors. Scotland was divided on both sides of the conflict and in an attempt to stop clan loyalties from combining and continue to fight, the English Parliament passed a law that prohibited the carrying of arms by “such Persons who have lately raised and carried on a most wicked and audacious Rebellion against his Majesty, in favour of a Popish Pretenter.”
The law also declared that no one in Scotland other than those employed as Officers an Soldiers of his Majesties Forces “could on any Pretence whatsoever, wear or put on the Clothes commonly called Highland Clothes” or in other words, Scottish Tartans.
The first offense of wearing the tartan carried a penalty of six months in jail. The second offense carried the penalty of being “transported to any of his Majesty’s Plantations beyond the Seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.” In other words, it generally meant being shipped off to America.
The law was meant to disarm and humiliate the rebels who fought against the crown.
British soldiers patrolled the Scottish highlands and lowlands for years looking for anyone breaking this law.
Stories have been handed down of the brutal treatment of any law breakers.
One example was of a McKay from the far northwestern tip of Scotland being arrested for wearing his tartan. When questioned, he claimed that he didn’t know anything about the law due to the distance of his home from the population centers to the south.
As he was being hauled off by the troops, they were attacked by a large group of women who secured his release. Unfortunately, the British sent a larger contingent to find these “miscreants” and both the man and his rescuers were arrested and jailed.
Magistrates often turned a blind eye to the law when locals wore their tartans. Unfortunately, when this was discovered by the Kings men, they were arrested and also jailed for six months.
The law was repealed in 1757 when Prime Minister William Pitt chose to commission new Highland regiments to fight the French in the war with them in America. Outcry from the politicians over this decision was quickly quieted when these regiments proved their worth in battle.
In 1760, George III, became the English King and the hard-core Jacobites were put out of power. Because of the legendary actions of the Highland regiments, political opinion toward the banning of wearing clan tartans diminished.
On 17 Jun 1782, the Marquis of Graham, who was one of the leaders in the Highland Society in London, rose in Parliament and moved that the law prohibiting the wearing of the Scottish Highland dress be repealed. On 1 Jul 1782, an act to that effect received royal assent and it was again lawful for the Scots to wear their tartans.
And so, here I sit in my office, legally holding and occasionally wearing the tartans worn by my many Scots ancestors. I like some of the colors and designs better than others but that is based simply on my personal taste, not on the valor, ideals and attendant relationship they represent to any of the clans.
I love and honor all of my Scots ancestors. Equally. I am fascinated by them, their lives, struggles and amazingly tenacious ability to cling to life in a most inhospitable environment. My Scots ancestors often fought each other and my ancestors who were English kings. I wish they hadn’t had these brutal battles but because of them, I have a history of ancestors that probably wouldn’t exist otherwise.
Today, when I speak to some of the older Scots gentlemen, I usually don’t understand much of what they say, but love listening to them. As much as I’d love speaking to most of my ancestors face to face today, I’d probably have the same problem with most if not all of them. I suppose they’d feel the same way listening to my western twang.
So on this snowy December day, my best holiday wishes go to all my ancestors and because of the tartans held in my hands, especially to my Anderson, Bruce, Buchanan, Campbell, Cumming, Davidson, Forbes, Fraser, Grant, Gordon, Hay, Innes, Keith, Logie, MacLeod, McMahon, Murray, Ross, Stewart and Urquhart ancestors and the minor families who associated with them.