It’s Hey for the Tartan

it's_hey_for_the_tartan_01In his survey of British history through ceramics, Henry Willett included some important Scottish events and celebrities. This exhibition marked the drama of the Jacobite Rebellion and its aftermath, and saluted the achievements of Scottish politicians, soldiers and writers.

The thistle has been an important Scottish symbol for more than 500 years. According to legend, 10th-century Scottish sentries were alerted to an imminent attack by Viking raiders yelling, as they stepped on thistles. It was first used on coins issued in 1470 during the reign of James III and from the early 16th century, it was incorporated into the Royal Arms of Scotland. Scotland’s premier Order of Chivalry, established in 1687, is The Most Ancient and Noble Order of the Thistle.


Scottish Men of Action

It is perhaps ironic that having been absorbed (as they saw it) by the English to form Great Britain, that Scots should have been and continue to be so prominent in British public life. Not long after the Jacobite Rebellion some of the most powerful men in British politics were Scots. The power behind the throne of the young George III was John Stuart, Earl of Bute who became First Lord of the Treasury in 1761, while the Lord Chief Justice was Lord Mansfield. Henry Dundas, known as Harry the Ninth was immensely influential. A great friend of William Pitt, from 1791 he served as Home Secretary and from 1794-1801 as Secretary of State for War under Pitt. One of the most powerful Whig politicians of the next generation was the Edinburgh-born Henry Brougham who became Lord Chancellor and played a leading part in drafting and promoting the Reform Bill of1832. In 2004 the British government continues to be dominated by people born or educated in Scotland.

it's_hey_for_the_tartan_02The Scots were a major force in British military life. A great many Scottish regiments fought at Waterloo. One of the most famous episodes took place when the 92nd Foot Brigade of the Gordon Highlanders combined with the Royal Scots Greys cavalry in the famous Scotland for Ever charge. Sergeant Charles Ewart of the Royal Scots Greys captured the Eagle of the French 45th Infantry. They even struck fear into Napoleon, who is said to have commented, Ah! Ces terribles cheveaux gris (Oh! those awful grey horses).


The Scottish Enlightenment 

Scotland has always set great store by information and knowledge. After the upheavals of the 1740s the Scottish economy expanded faster than ever before. The proportion of Scots living in towns doubled while Englands urban populations increased by only 25 per cent. The celebrated Scottish Renaissance or Enlightenment flowered in the growing urban communities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Edinburgh got its first daily newspaper in 1705 The Scots Magazine was first published in 1739 and is still published today. The Encyclopaedia Britannica was first published in Edinburgh in 1768.


The Royal Bank of Scotland had opened its doors in 1727, as had the Friendly Insurance Company and the Royal Infirmary. Scotlands show-piece was Edinburgh New Town, designed by James Craig in 1767, as a celebration of British patriotism. The names of Princes Street, Hanover Street and St Georges Square all paid tribute to the House of Hanover. Later, the Scottish architects Sir William Chambers and particularly Robert Adam transformed the art of building and were appointed joint architects to King George III.

Among the giants of Scottish thought was the lawyer philosopher Henry Home, Lord Kames, who in 1748 invited Adam Smith the economic theorist, to give the lecture series at Edinburgh University that would form the basis for The Wealth of Nations. Kames was also distantly related to modernitys first great philosopher, David Hume. Later, Dugald Stewart, the professor of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University from 1785, was instrumental in shaping Whig policy in the early 19th century. Among his students were radical reformers and political leaders of the next generation, including two Prime Ministers, Lords Palmerston and Russell, Minto, First Lord of the Admiralty and the future Lord Chancellor, Henry Brougham.


The Romance of the Highlands 

it's_hey_for_the_tartan_04By 1707, at the founding of the United Kingdom with England, Scotland was a far from united nation.  The Gaelic word sasunnach (Sassenach), was then used by Scottish Highlanders for all English-speaking people, particularly Lowland Scots. Lowlanders regarded their Highland countrymen as violent, treacherous and backward. Indeed the old clan system was feudal and often brutal and the Clan Chiefs operated as warlords. A sympathetic Scotsman, Duncan Forbes, wrote in the 1740s that the clansmen around his estate in Aberdeenshire

‘…unacquainted with industry and the fruits of it, and united in some degree by singularity of dress and language, stick close to their antient way of life…’

Although they spoke Gaelic, remained Catholic and lived in tiny hamlets in the wilderness, it was their singularity of dress for which they are best known and most easily recognised. They wore the versatile Filleadh mor (great kilt), traditionally made from many yards of striped and multicoloured woven wool tweed. This was tightly pleated and belted around the waist, leaving a length of loose fabric thrown over the shoulder for a cloak or sleeping bag. Trowzes, often also striped or chequered, were for winter use. After the Jacobite Rebellion, the banning of Highland dress in 1747 was seen as a way of breaking the power of the clans and securing peace. After proscription was lifted in 1782 the patterns associated with particular clans and glens were codified and published in 1831 by James Logan in The Scottish Gael. By this time, largely through the influence of the writings of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott Scottish self-esteem had been rebuilt and the unspoiled beauty of Highland scenery made Scotland a fashionable tourist resort.

The craze for Scotland spread through Europe, as the Romantic Movement affected literature and music. The Brothers Grimm took Scotts folklore collections as a model for their Household Tales and Beethoven loved his novels. Mendelssohns Scottish journey of 1829 inspired his Hebrides Overture and his Scottish Symphony. Donizettis Scottish operas, Maria Stuarda and Lucia di Lammermuir (based on Scotts Bride of Lammermoor) were premiered in 1835 and Verdis Macbeth in 1847. George IV had already made a triumphant visit to Edinburgh in 1822 and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert toured Perthshire in 1842.They so enjoyed walking, sketching and deer-stalking that they returned annually. In 1852 they bought the Balmoral estate, built the castle and adopted the tartan. Sir Walter Scott was Victorias favourite author and after Alberts death she found comfort in the company of his former ghillie, John Brown. The present Queen continues the strong links with Scotland.


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