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Vestiarum Scoticum or The Book of Tartans

This splendid book belongs to a class of works which must, from their cost, be of rare appearance anywhere, and which are rare indeed in Scotland. It is a book for the rich and the aristocratical; or for what are called “historical families.” It belongs as much to the decorative arts as to literature; though national costume certainly falls within the province of the literary antiquary. The author or editor of this unique publication must be Well known in Scotland and the North of England, especially to the Roman Catholic and the old Jacobite families, or those who once were Jacobites. The phrase, publication, is, however, hardly applicable to a work of which there were only forty copies for sale; and of which it may soon be difficult to obtain even a sight. We therefore seize the first opportunity to describe to our clan-Utah readers the Book of Clans and Tartans.

In the possession of Mr. John Sobieski Stuart, there is an old MS. black-letter quarto, of the sixteenth century, containing thirty-four pages of Vellum, illuminated with small plain capitals, such as the ordinary initials of inferior missals. In this Volume, the tartans of each of the great feudal families of Scotland are minutely described. It was at one time in the possession of John Lesley Bishop of Ross', but of the author, save that he would appear to have been a Sir Richard Urquhart, —and even that is indistinctly intimated,—nothing whatever is known. The MS. volume was deposited, no one can tell when, in the library of the Scots College at Douay, along with many other papers belonging to the Bishop. When Prince Charles Edward visited that seminary, some time between 1749 and 1754, he, according to Mr. Stuart, obtained from the Fathers this singular relic among many other papers. How or when it came into his own possession, or of its history since 1754, we do not learn. The MS. has been collated by Mr. Stuart, with the transcript of another copy stated to be in the library of the Monastery of St. Augustine in Cadiz, which bears internal evidence of having once belonged to “ane honerabil man, Maister James Dunbare, w1in ye burg of Inner nesse,” and which, it is imagined, may, through the hands of some refugee or Irish priest, have passed into Spain. Between these copies there exist merely the slight differences and omissions which arise from inaccuracy in copying, or clerical errors; but there is a third copy very much vitiated and mutilated, that is also in the possession of Mr. Stuart, of which the history is even more romantic than that of the other copies; the fathers and monks of the religious houses of the Continent being much more likely to prove faithful custodiers of rare MSS. than old illiterate Highlanders, transferred from the mountains to city lanes. This last “was obtained from an old Highlander named John Ross, one of the last of the sword-players, who may yet be remembered by those who recollect the porters of Edinburgh twenty years ago.” It is written negligently and inaccurately, and differs in several particulars from the MS. of the Bishop of Ross.

It is as difficult to fix the date as the authorship of the Vestiarium Scoticum, though it is presumed by Mr. Stuart to be not later than the reign of James III. of Scotland, and, consequently, long prior to the time when it could have fallen into the hands of the learned and loyal John Lesley, the adherent and historian of Queen Mary, who was somewhat contemptuous of “Hieland vanities," and of “compilin ane buik upon the stripis and colouris of a common garment,” though he has fortunately pm-served this curious volume. It contains a roll of the clans, of date 1571, which is consequently very long subsequent to what Mr. Stuart imagines the date of the original document. Having given this roll which must be of interest to all feudal families, and to all who boast clan blood, Mr. Stuart proceeds with his Introduction, which, together with the numerous foot-notes, fills 66 quarto pages with antiquarian dissertation upon the tartan which is shown to be of very ancient date, and which in all probability is nearly as old as the art of weaving cloth of different colours, the chequer or crossstripe being quite as easily invented as the simple stripe. Indeed no sort of cloth for garments has been more generally diffused over the civilized globe than chequered cloth or tartan, (the breacan of the Highlander,) and that from periods of the highest antiquity down to our own age. From the Highlanders of Scotland to the mountaineers of Burmah, from the Calmncs of the north to the Biscayans of the south,” may be found variegated or parti-coloured garments, together with other relics and usages of a common family, now very widely dispersed. The antiquity and universality of tartan, or of chequered or parti-coloured garments, among different nations, is abundantly demonstrated; but until the eighth century no mention is, we are told, made of it in oral Gaelic poetry, or by manuscripts in the Gaelic language, though the omission is us proof of its non-existence. Tartan or Breacm is now, however, chiefly of interest from the exclusive appropriation of different and fixed patterns or setts by the leading clan families of the Highlands, and as it now appears from the Vestiarium Scoticum, by those of the Lowlands also, who were of any note previous to the 16th century. Indeed the leading object of the work is to prove, that to each of these families a particular sett or pattern was exclusively appropriated, by which every man of the tribe could be recognised from his plaid, as readily as from his surname or the badge or ensign of his clan. Its splendid illustrations are embla-zonings of these tartans in every brilliant rainbow dye. The tartans so enamelled are in as great variety as the number of the great families, of whom each, according to the Vestiarium Scoticum, had a pattern of their own. There are between seventy and eighty specimens; forty-two Highland, and thirty-one Lowland and Border families being enumerated as each having its own tartan. These, taken alphabetically, are of Highlanders:—

Bachanan, Cameron, Campbell, Chisholm, Clanranald, Farqubarson, Fraser, Grant, Gun, Lamont, MacArthur, MacDonald of the Isles, MacDougall, MacDuff, Mac-Farlane, MacGrigor, Macintosh, MacIntyre, MacKay, MacKenzie, MacKinnon, MacLauchlan, MacLean, MacLeod, MacNab, MacNeill, MacPherson, MacQueen, Menzies, Monro, Robertson, Ross, Prince of Rothesay, The Royal Stuart, Sutherland.

The Lowland and Border Clans who had tartans were, the Armstrong, Barclay, Brodie, Bruce, Col quhonn, Com yn, Cunningham, Cranstoun, Crawford, Douglas, Drummond, Dunbar, Dundas, Erskine, Forbes, Gordon, Graham, Hamilton, Hay, Home, Johnston, Kerr, Lauder, Leslie, Lindsay, Maxwell, Montgomery, Murray, Ogilvie, Oliphant, Ramsay, Rose, Ruthven, Scott, Seton, Sinclair, Urquhart, Wallace, Wemyss.

The peculiar tartan of each of those families is accurately described in the Vestiarium, otherwise "ycleped the garderope of Scotlande,” and for the following weighty reasons :—

For sameikle as in thir pres1 tymes bene sene dyuers vnevthe chavnges in tbe avid scottysche fassoune, and men do nowe effect foreigne and stravnge fantasyes, rad-der nor sic holsom vse and ordyr as cvmethe of yr ain native gvise, and hes ben vsit be owr forbeiris yn the anlde tyme, for nowe all do tak pryd to bupke y™ yn heich cromit hattis, frensche claukis, Englische hades, lang pykit schnne, and vdder syk lyk vncovthe braneries, the quhilk wes vnknawen till owr antecessories of gude fiunen quha wes conteintit to gang w* ane bonnette of Kelsheu-blewe, and ain mantil or playde lyk as afford tym wes vsit be ther faderis begone, w* ane payr of rouch rowlyns, or bemands of harteshyd, as wes moche vsit be owr vmqnhile lorde and sonraine King James of nobil meuorye ; for he had euer, besyd thai of hys awin oonlouris, twa or thre pladia of diners kyndes in hys gnarderobe, quhilk he vsit yn his iornayes quhen that he wald not be knawen openlye ; and for that sic fassovns be not of vse in vther cvntryes nor foraine reaulmes, for thir cawsis 1 bane taken on hande to compil, accordand to my prir habylitye, a trews ensample off alle, or tbe maiet parte, the pryncyppul tartanis of Scotlonde, sic as 1 maye discerne yra, baitbe for the trewe witting and pleasaunce of alle cvriovs straungeris, and to y ende y* gif paravannture, quhilk God forbyd, that herefter ovr eomtrye fiassoune sail alle to fayl and baillilie cvm to sooht, ms heth bene sene w* monie vtharis of mair and greater renome and puiasannoe ; as to wyt, y nobyll rronlmin of Babyloun, Troie, and Jewerie, Egyptia, Car-tegen, and of lyk wyse gloriovs and ymperiall Rom, qnhilk wet svmtym qwene and ladye of alle the wordle; Mit, nenerthelesse, bathe her anticke and hethen fassovn all to perrischift owt of vse and mynd throuch y* mycht of ovr Lorde and halye crosse, quhilk heth put doune theyr idollis lyk as wes y dewil D&goune and the fenlie dragonne of Kinge Cyrvg, w* y fowle ymage bel, w* shidrie sick pagovoe herreseye ; quharfor, if so be befol on lyk sort that ovr gudlye oys sail be decayit and cvm to nocht, y‘ then alle men may knawe the anlde gvyse of theyr forberis ; for yn sae moehe as we that be in thir daiss he cvriovse and desyrons to seke efter and dys-eoner the fkmons gestis of ovr antecessoris in theyr avid tym of renowme, swa 3m lyk manners I doubt not that thai qnhilk sail cvm efthr vs, sail be careful to knawe owr manor of gyse and vdder manneris, to the end yt thai maye vnderstonde yn quhat we be lyk vnto y^luis, and alsna qnharin we be dyiiers from, and do vnlyk ntil y*.

The manner of forming a the settis or stryppis” is next described, and also the different chequers proper for hoes and trews, which admitted of great variety; every man being allowed, in those inferior articles, to follow his own convenience or fancy* though the plaid, the w&r-garbs, the garments of honour, were not to be tampered with. The women were, however, allowed unlimited license in tbe patterns of their plaids and dresses. Some of the setts, as they are blazoned in this work, and upon the authority of the Vestiarium, differ materially from the tartans usually recognised under the respective clan names. The tartans given here as those of the M&ckays, the Mackenzies, the Grants, and the Macgregors, for example, are not those usually recognised as the tartans of those clans. We, however, only speak to the best of our recollection, an we have not lately visited a Clan Tartan Warehouse to refresh memory with a sight of thoee brilliant fabrics.

The Vestiarium Scoticum must henceforth be the book of authority, the final arbiter, in this important question with manufacturers as well as clansmen ; and we suspect that its fiat will reduce many pretty patterns, with clan names, to the anomalous list of fancy or mongrel tartans. Many of the tartans in Mr. Stuart's work must be quite new, even to those who have, from commercial reasons, of late paid considerable attention to this fashionable and favourite manufacture ; such are those of the Cranstouns, the Lauders, the Brodies, the Ramsays, and so forth. The description of one pattern from the Vestiarium w ill give a perfect idea of the whole; though, of course, the description is short or lengthened according to the simplicity or intricacy of the sett. Thus, the tartan of “the Macifarlan of ye Arroquhar,” is described in half a dozen words. It “hath thre stryppis quhite, vpon aneblak fyeld f while the tartan of “MakDonnald of ye Ylis," and of the Clan Ranald, require this long explanation

MakDonnald op y* Ylis, qnhilk is tbe chiefest and m&ist nobil of alle elanned names, howbeit the clann Grigor and y* Clan chattane of anlde sail be consawit of lyk avncient stocke ; yet, iu respect of ponste and dig-nitie, we call none lyk vnto hym : be beth ane blue set, and ane greine sett, quharoff y* blew sett hathe twa greit panes of blak, ane vpon y ylk bordure y'off and y*by two gross sprangia of y samen, and in y mydnard of y ylk gren sett ane stryp quhite, the maist pairt of half ane finger breid, and yn y• mydward of y blew ane gross spraing reidd.

The clan Raynald, ye second hovse of y Clandonald. howbeit ybe y% say he svld be y fyrst off rycht, hot y Donald mak lan mak Angus gat y* herytage, contrar to y mindis of ye men of y Yllis: he hath ane sett of blewe and ane sett of grene, quharoff y blewe sett hath vpon y ylk syd ane blak stryp, and yrby vpon y ynward syd yroff ane sprainge scarlatt, and yn y' inyddest of y* blewe be ither tua sprangia of ye sameu a littel asonder, as of fovrty tbreidis betuix ym or thairby, and the greine sette hath ane quhite spraing, and be y ylk syd ypoff twa of redd, ain greiter and ane less, qubarof y greiter sail bo vtterward, and hathe avghte threidis, and y ynnerward hath fovr threidis, and betnix y reidd and the qohite sallbe y* space of aughteen threidis or thairbye, and vtheris yr be of y* famylyes of ye cl&nn-donald, lyk as tbe clan-haistein in Sky, makconel of y glennis, makiane of ardnamurackane, and vtheris yl have y samen w* diners smal dinersities, of y quhilk I spoke not yn respect I knawe yhaim not parfkictly.

Many of these tartans are truly beautiful; though no doubt they may owe part of their splendour to the &rti6t or illuminator. But the style in which they are executed, and their dazzling effect, must be seen to be comprehended. We do not pretend to describe by words either the process of painting them, or to give any idea of the brilliant results. One may easily conceive the idea of a massy imperial quarto volume, very beautifully printed upon drawing paper, and magnificently bound, gilt, and emblazoned with the royal arms; but the illustrations, the illuminations, the tartans, are the novel feature of the work; and without the actual vivid representations of these beautiful and delicate fabrics be seen, glowing in all the colours of the rainbow, no adequate idea of the work can be formed. We would therefore advise all who have the power of inspection not to rest content with description, but to procure at least a sight of the original work.

The Vestiarium describes the badges of the different Highland clans, which also differ, in some instances, from those which have hitherto been received; and it gives the ensigns of several Lowland and Border families, which, we presume, will be quite as new to many of the descendants of these families as are their tartans. The badge of Bruce is rosemary; of Lyndsay, rue; of Hamilton, bay; Dandas, bilberry; and so forth. On these botanical badges Mr. Stuart has a long and curious note.

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