A history of the Royal Stewart tartan


December 16, 2015 by Ville Raivio

The Royal Stewart is one of the best-known and widely spread free use tartans. It is used in all possible and impossible clothes and accessories among the famed Black Watch, so it’s useful to know the story of this tartan. Scribner’s superb Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, however, tells us that the origin of tartans is hidden. Written documents or preserved cloths haven’t been found from Scotland before the 1500s, and neither is the word British in origin, but somehow the French term tiretain has shifted across the Channel and all the way to Scotland. Either way, tartan cloths were popular clothes in the 1600s both on the grand as well as the commoners of the Scottish Highlands. Different patterns were local as weavers and clients had them made to order. Industrial pigments had not arrived, so cloths were dyed with vegetable colours that slowly wilted away with washes, rain and abrasion.


The tartan became part of the Scottish identity in the 1800s due to the influence of writers and artists, who found worth in nationalism. Before it had been common mostly on the “>Highlands. Although grandees stood behind these cloths from the start, the greatest boon for tartans arrived in the 1840s in the plump form of Queen Victoria. She took them as her own and the rest is so-called history. According to The Scottish Register of Tartans, the red-blue-yellow-black-white-green Royal Stewart was originally created as the emblem of the regal house of Stewarts. Its last scion disappeared without heir in the the beginning of the 19th century, and after this, at the latest, this bright, lively tartan has amassed voluminous popularity. Several versions of it have been created for different uses, such as hunting. It’s also the personal pattern of the current regent and thus suitable for the use of all her subjects. The Royal Stewart is a so-called free tartan that can be worn by all who have no personal tartan from familial, local or organisational backgrounds. Thanks to this freedom, the pattern has spread to all continents in classic or contemporary dress.

Photo: The Tuukka Simonen


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