Monday, November 19, 2012

Romanticisation and Revival: Sir Scott, King George IV, and the Rise of Tartan

When King George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822, he was greeted by a sea of tartan, bagpipes, and Highland dress.  One Edinburgh citizen wrote of the occasion that, "Sir Walter Scott has ridiculously made us appear to be a nation of Highlanders, and the bagpipe and the tartan are the order of the day" (Cheape, p50).

The Procession of King George IV Entering Princes Street, Edinburgh, August 1822, by William Turner--notice the high number of men in Highland dress
King George IV was the first monarch to visit Scotland in 171 years when he arrived in 1822, and the visit attracted quite a bit of attention.  When he arrived in Edinburgh, George was greeted by "a great spectacle of pageantry and ceremony" organized by Sir Walter Scott, author of the wildly popular novel Waverly (Edinburgh Museums).  Waverley, published anonymously in 1814, is set in the Scottish Highlands during the Jacobite uprising in 1745.  The three-volume novel was followed by a several other works set primarily in Scotland and published over the five years.  These are all collectively known as the "Scottish Novels", and were wildly popular throughout Europe and the United States.  In fact, the king himself was a huge fan, and Scott was invited to dine with him in 1815 just so George could "meet the author of Waverley."

tartan costume most likely designed for the ceremony during the king's visit in 1822 (courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland)

The novels presented a romanticised version of life in the Scottish Highlands in the 18th century, and the impression was devoured by the public. (After all, it was the Romantic Era!)  This built on the popularity of the 1760 epic poem Ossian by James Macpherson, who claimed that he had compiled ancient Scottish Gaelic sources and translated them--in actuality, he wrote it.

An illustration from The Heart of Midlothian, 1818, by Sir Walter Scott
So before the king ever planned his trip north, there was a certain idea of Scotland in the public imagination.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Scott's organized welcome for the monarch embraced the romanticism he had helped to design--including lots and lots of tartan.  During the next two decades tartan appeared up more and more in fashion, and also certain patterns started to be associated with particular clans, based on the publication of books on "clan tartans" that originated from the samples collected by the Highland Society of London (see my last post for more about this).  There are also several mentions in descriptions of fancy dress balls of ladies and gentlemen attending as "highlanders."  This cultural appropriation would continue throughout the mid-century, but more on that later...on to the clothes!

While all of the tartans from my previous post (and so many more!) can all be used for 1820s-1830s tartan sewing, the most popular color sets seem to be purple and red in addition to the already-present blue and green.

walking dress from La Belle Assemble, 1822
evening dress in Mackenzie tartan, 1822

the Mackenzie tartan, version from the 1842 sample. via the Scottish Register of Tartans

dress with tartan bow, 1827-1830

tartan skirts with bias ruffles, Costumes Pariesiens 1826

"Portrait of Lady in Plaid," 1830s

tartan apron, far left, 1830s

tartan dress (under cloak) and matching bonnet, Le Journal des Modes 1826 

silk dress, 1830 (I don't think this is tartan, just plaid)

turban in Dress Stuart tartan, 1820-1835
silk dress in Clan Chattan tartan, c.1832. *Scanned from Tartan, owned by National Museum of Scotland

the Clan Chattan tartan sett, as recorded in the Registry.  Dated 1816
If you can push your Regency fashion dates to 1822, all the tartans can be yours to wear.  Personally? I'm still stuck on the plumed hats in some of the earlier plates.  How totally fab!


Notes taken in "Gaelic Language and Culture" and "Modern Scottish History" Fall 2010, University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh Walter Scott Archives

Tartan, by Hugh Cheape

Scottish Register of Tartans

National Museum of Scotland

1 comment:

  1. Hello from Italy
    I'm Antonio and I'm totally obsessed by PLAID too.
    I have more than 150 plaid and gingham shirts..
    You are so ADORABLE in plaid dresses
    my mail address is:
    CIAO bye