National Tartan Day was put into US law in 1998, but is actually a Scottish holiday too. I guess you could say it's similar to Patriots' Day, because it's historical and not really celebrated the way actual big holidays are--but it comes from an important moment in history, and is worth remembering for that reason alone. As I've discussed on this blog before, plaid--both as an article of clothing and a pattern--has been a part of parts of Scottish culture since the Middle Ages, but gained widespread popularity and association during the 19th century. National Tartan Day memorializes the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, which occurred on April 6 1320.
|The Declaration of Arbroath, currently in the National Archives of Scotland. It became part of the Scottish archives in 1829, right in our tartan timeline|
The Declaration of Arbroath was written in Latin and sent to Pope John XXII by the barons of Scotland on behalf of the "whole community of Scotland." The declaration was essentially a letter asking the Pope to recognize Scotland's independence and its king, Robert the Bruce. Struggles over Scottish independence had been ongoing for decades at this point, and convincing the Pope to support independence would greatly aid Robert's efforts to hold a Scottish throne, which he had seized in 1306.
|portrait of Robert the Bruce|
Courtesy of the Scottish Registry of Tartans' Facebook page, here's an excerpt, translated from the original Latin:
"As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
Sound a little familiar? It does to me. Not the words themselves, but the message: it's the same quest for freedom we celebrate on Patriots' Day in Boston (but more on that next week). It must have resonated with the Pope too, because he wrote to Edward II (then King of England) to support peace. In 1328, England finally acknowledged Scotland's independence, and Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland.
|Robert the Bruce is crowned King of the Scots by Isabella Buchanan, from a tableau at Edinburgh Castle|
National Tartan Day celebrates the end of a bloody struggle in Scottish history brought about by citizens unafraid to declare their own independence in the face of the crushing English force. It also pays tribute to a national symbol that's actual history is often discussed. Did Robert the Bruce really wear a tartan kilt into battle against Edward II? Modern scholars say probably not. Regardless, tartan has a place in Scottish nationalism, and what better way to celebrate Scottish independence than that?
|where tartan actually comes from...just kidding!|
I've written about Robert the Bruce briefly before, when I visited Melrose Abbey (where his heart is buried!). You can read about that here!