What Tartan should a Murdoch
In fact there is no 'right' or
'entitlement' to wear any particular tartan. Unlike Heraldry, tartan
is not strictly controlled or governed by any particular body, individual,
rules or regulations. Having read the brief history of tartan below you will
However, it is custom to wear the Clan
tartan of your surname or a Clan of which your surname is a 'sept'. Reading
the other history pages on this site will explain why it would be sensible
for Murdochs to opt to wear the District tartan from Galloway or Banff &
Some Murdochs may feel it appropriate
to wear a Macdonald or Macpherson tartan, to which Clans Murdoch has been
deemed 'sept'. Personally, I believe this association has as much to do with
the marketing of some very shrewd 19thC tartan salesmen as historical
Recently a new Murdoch tartan has been
created and registered. A sample of this is included here.
You can click on these tartans and
download a bmp to use as wallpaper on your computer screen.
This image courtesy of
Don Smith of Heraldic Graphics
Tartan has become the main symbol of
Scotland and Scottish Culture. It is an emblem for those of Scottish descent
around the world. With Scottish National identity probably greater than at
any time in recent centuries, the potency of Tartan as a symbol cannot be
There is evidence that Celts have used
striped and checked material for thousands of years. The Scoti, who settled
Western Scotland from 5-6thC onward and eventually gave the whole country
their name, are said to have used striped garments to signify rank. One possible
derivation of the word Tartan comes from the Irish tarsna - crosswise
& Scottish Gaelic tarsuinn - across. The basis of the pattern,
dress style and word may date back to the time when the Scots introduced
their Gaelic culture into what was to become Scotland. If early Tartan, like
the Gaelic language, were used across Scotland in the 10thC, by the 13thC
they would have been confined to the Highlands. Lowland Scotland began adopting
the language of the northern Angles and Norman social structure from the
However, another derivation may be
from Old French tartaine - cloth, implying the introduction of checked
woollen cloth in the early middle ages which simply became popular in the
In 1538 there is a reference to 'Heland
Tartan'. A Frenchman at the siege of Haddington in 1537 describes Highlanders
who were present as wearing what appears to be Tartan. From 1581 there is
a description of 'variegated garments, especially stripes, and their favourite
colours are purple and blue'. Poet John Taylor clearly describes the woollen
Tartan garments of Highlanders at Braemar in 1618. Martin, a doctor on Skye
around 1700, gives the first descriptions of Tartan which imply their
significance as regional and the importance to weavers of ensuring that their
cloth always has precise local patterns. Martin states that it is possible
to tell from a man's plaid where he came from. There is no implication from
any of this that specific families or Clans wore their 'own' Tartans - the
patterns appeared to be regional.
The battle of Culloden in 1746 saw
the end of Jacobite claims to the throne. Many Highlanders, but by no means
all, had backed the losing side of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The great
importance of Tartan and associated dress to Highland Culture at this time
can be deduced from the fact that the government banned it from 1746-82.
This proscription however applied only to common Highland men - not the upper
echelons of Highland society, not to Lowland Scots and not to women. But
most importantly, it did not apply to the Highland regiments that were being
formed in the Government army.
The new regiments were mainly associated
with specific Clans, containing the men of that Clan and often led by the
Chief or a senior member of his family. The first regiments used the 'Government
Tartan', the Black Watch, but others quickly adopted distinctive new patterns.
From this it appears that specific regimental Tartans became Clan or family
Tartans and not vice-versa.
Central in this 'new Tartan' industry
was the Lowland company of William Wilson. He meet the growing demand for
Tartan by inventing new patterns. He supplied the Army and the flourishing
demand for cloth in the Lowlands. All his patterns were initially simply
given numbers but some quickly became popular in certain areas and became
known by that regions name - thus were born the regional Tartans. Others
were commissioned for a specific person and soon the surname of that person
became the name of the Tartan!
New patterns appeared each year for
Wilson's salemen to market. There is no evidence that Wilson's Tartans had
anything whatsoever to do with any ancient regional or pre-1746 patterns.
The Tartans worn at Sheriffmuir or Culloden have been lost forever. When
in 1816 an attempt was made to match Clan to true Tartan. Tartans were gathered
but these had more to do with regimental uniforms and Wilson's successful
marketing than any older patterns. But the idea that Tartan and Clan paired
had become firmly established.
By the early 19thC the Gaelic mythology
of Ossian had been translated and was popular. Sir Walter Scott's novels
were popular. At times almost half the British army was Highland and the
worldwide success of these regiments was legend - never mind the Clearances,
look at our nice new Empire (a note of sarcasm from the author). When in
1822 George IV visited Edinburgh, Tartan and Highland Dress was the order
of the day thanks to Sir Walter Scott's personal planning. Tartan was seen
as Scottish rather than just Highland.
The variety of Tartans has never stopped
growing. Many Clan Tartans have become available in ancient, modern, weathered,
dress or hunting. Almost every surname from the British Isles has been associated
with a Clan and their Tartan. People's wish to wear 'their' Tartan has been
enthusiastically meet by manufactures. Companies, organisations and sports
teams have their own Tartan.
To finish, however, I return to the
initial point. For all it's doubtful pedigree and commercialisation, Tartan
symbolises Scotland and Scottish Culture more than anything. And as a born-again
Scotland moves into the new millennium, Tartan will continue to play it's
central symbolic role.
And anyway - it looks good !