by Colin W Hutcheson
The vast majority of tartans are modern and do not pre-date the
Battle of Culloden in 1746. Few of those connected with the Royal
Household today date back further than the reign of Queen Victoria,
but it is appropriate to record some historical information about
those turbulent times.
The Royal House of Stewart or Stuart, the "High Stewards" of
Scotland can be traced back to a Breton nobleman in 1097. Later,
when the reign of James V ended in 1542, the direct male
line of the Stewarts failed, but the succession continued through
Mary Queen of Scots to James VI (VI of Scotland
and I of England) who died in 1625. On the death of Prince
Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in 1788 and his brother
Prince Henry Cardinal Duke of York (d. 1807), the male
line ended. The House of Stewart continued down the female line to
Queen Victoria and onward to our Royal Family today.
The Jacobite risings and the subsequent exile of Prince
Charles Edward Stuart in 1746 after Culloden nearly caused the
disappearance of Scottish tartans altogether but the continued use
of them by the regiments, and the interest in them of the
Hanoverian court at the end of the 18th Century, followed by the
visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, did much to
preserve the wearing of Tartans and Highland Dress.
Tradition has it that those who have no tartan of their own can
wear the Black Watch (The Universal or Government
Tartan) or the Hunting Stewart, but not the
Royal Stewart without the express authority of the
Queen. However, commercialisation in recent times has rather
blurred this. The one tartan which cannot be worn by
anyone unless the Queen's permission has been granted is
The Monarch and immediate family.
BALMORAL - This tartan was designed by Queen
Victoria's husband. Prince Albert in 1853 and, while predominantly
grey with overchecks of red and black the background contains a
thread of black and white yarns twisted together to achieve the
appearance of the rough hewn granite so familiar in Royal Deeside.
It is worn by HM Queen herself as a skirt and several members of
the Royal Family but only with the Queen's permission. The only
other approved wearer of the Balmoral Tartan is the Queen's
personal piper. (The Estate workers and Ghillies wear the Balmoral
STEWART HUNTING - worn by the Queen when "off
duty" and during moments of relaxation. A most popular tartan with
surprisingly little history as to when it was designed but also
worn by HM King George VI and HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
when she was Queen.
STEWART OLD - Also worn by the Queen on holiday
at Royal Deeside and also favoured by the late HM Queen
Mother. A distinctive tartan it originally belonged to the
Stewarts of the Western Highlands.
STEWART ROYAL - Probably the most well known
tartan world wide today and the basis of many of the Stewart
STEWART DRESS - The Dress version of Royal
Stewart with the predominant red squares replaced by white. Worn by
the female members of the Royal family often for evening occasions
but also worn for Dress occasions by HRH Duke of Edinburgh, HRH
Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Edward.
STEWART VICTORIA - Known to have been favoured
by Queen Victoria who had an extra red line inserted to
the Dress Stewart, and used it for curtains and
furnishings at Balmoral.
KING GEORGE VI - A dark green version of
Royal Stewart was woven for King George IV in
1819. A version named the Green Stewart with a
lighter green ground was woven especially for King George
The Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Charles, has
been a staunch supporter of the Kilt and wears a number of tartans
linked with titles he holds.
LORD OF THE ISLES HUNTING - HRH is often to be
seen in this tartan when he visits Scotland and holds the title
Lord of the Isles. Commercially it will appear in darker
colours of green than those worn by the Prince.
ROTHESAY HUNTING - The Prince of Wales is also
Duke of Rothesay and wears the Hunting version.
The Prince wears many of the Royal Tartans most notably the
Balmoral. A non Royal tartan he has also worn is the Gordon Tartan
in his capacity as Colonel in Chief of the Gordon Highlanders
The Second son of the Monarch, the Duke of York holds the
Scottish title, the Earl of Inverness, and, from Victorian
times always followed a career in the Royal Navy. The title was
first given to the sixth son of George III, HRH Prince Augustus
Frederick who was also Duke of Sussex in 1801. In
several of the following generations the second son held the title
of Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron
Killarney and were, the son of Edward VII (later
George V), the son of George V (later George VI), and the
son of HM Queen Elizabeth II (Prince Andrew).
INVERNESS - the Inverness Tartan has a red
background and the Inverness Hunting, a preferred
version by George V, has a navy ground.
The Royal Princesses
PRINCESS ELIZABETH - so named in the 1930's but
is, in fact, the Inverness tartan.
PRINCESS MARGARET ROSE - designed for the late
Princess Margaret in the 1930's.
PRINCESS BEATRICE - designed for Queen
Victoria's youngest child.
PRINCESS MARY - based on Royal Stewart with a
dark green ground in place of Red.
PRINCESS LOUISE - designed for Princess
Louise. In 1881 the 91st regiment was linked with the 93rd as
a territorial one and named as Princess Louise's Argyll &
Sutherland Highlanders. Princess Louise was one of Queen
Other Royal Tartans
STRATHEARN - first made for the Duke of
Kent, Queen Victoria's father.
EARL of ST. ANDREWS - Worn by the present Earl,
son of the Duke of Kent.
DUCHESS of KENT - designed in 1934 for the
PRINCE REGENT - designed for George IV
and originally called MacLaren.
VICTORIA BLUE - one of the many versions linked
to Queen Victoria,
STEWART BLACK & WHITE - also known as
PRINCE CHARLES EDWARD - several tartans are
linked with Prince Charles Edward but the best known is a
version of Royal Stewart with the larger area of
red reduced. Another is a design reconstructed from fragments of a
plaid given to the Countess of Eglinton by Bonnie
Prince Charlie after the battle of Culloden. There are
numerous other tartans with which he is linked including
Drummond of Perth, MacDonald of Kingsburgh and
MacDonald of Keppoch.
Stewart -v- Stuart - The French spelling of
Stewart was Stuart since the letter 'w' did not
exist in the French alphabet. Even today there are les than 50
words in the language beginning with 'W' and most of those are
imported ones such as wigwam, whisky, watt, waterproof etc.