Scottish Tartans Museum
The Scottish Tartans Museum * 86 East Main St, Franklin NC 28723 * (828)524-7472 * tartans@scottishtartans.org
 
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Your tour of the
Scottish Tartans Museum
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Gaelic man and woman We now comet to the sixteenth century.  By now, in the Highlands, the simple leinte (the plural form of leine) had evolved into an elaborate garment.  The sleeves were long and full, hanging down to the knee in some cases, and the body and skirt of the shirt were very full with pleats and gathers.  Several styles were worn, some pull over, some wrap around like a kimono.  The most popular colour was yellow, from the saffron plant.  But all accounts of this shirt make remark of the sheer multitude of material required for the making.  Most mention anywhere from 15 to 30 ells, or yards of material (the yardage would be 25" to 30" wide).  The 16th century fashion seemed to be for excess--the more material you had in your clothing, the higher your place in society.  The same applied to the mantles worn over the shoulders.  Seen here in these drawings from 1564, they completely cover the body.  In the middle of this century, the cost of wool dropped dramatically, and people began to make these mantles out of larger and larger quantities of material.  Once they reached a certain length, these wraps began to be gathered into folds around the waist and belted on.  This was the first belted plaid, the earliest form of the kilt.
The belted plaid, also called the feilidh-mhor (great wrap) or breacan-feile (tartan wrap), was first recorded in 1594.  It is an Irish source, written in Gaelic.  In the Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell written by Lughaidh O’Clery, we read of a group of hired mercenaries from the Scottish Hebrides, employed by O’Donnell in 1594.  "These were recognized among the Irish by the difference of their arms and clothing, their habits and language, for their exterior dress was mottled cloaks to the calf of the leg with ties and fastenings.  Their girdles were over the loins outside the cloaks."  After 1600, however, when the elaborate leine fell out of fashion, the belted plaid became the universal garment of the Highlander.  It consisted of 4 or 5 yards of fabric, gathered into folds and belted around the waist.  The upper portion was brought up about the shoulders and pinned, while the lower portion formed what would later become the modern kilt.

This Highlander is outfitted as if from the eighteenth century (the belted plaid continued to be worn until the early 1800s).  He is wearing an unnamed tartan, but an authentic one.  It is reproduced from a small swatch dating to 1725 (the original near him under glass).  Even then, tartans still had not taken on names as such.  One could not tell what clan this Highlander was from by his tartan.  One could tell that he had money (red is an expensive dye) and that he is a Jacobite by the white rosette in his bonnet.

Belted plaid, feilidh-mhor or breacan-feile
Let us not forget the importance of Lowland Scotland as well.  Here we have Queen Mary Stuart (aka Mary, Queen of Scots).  She, too, lived in the sixteenth century, but notice the lack of plaid, tartan, or a leine.  It must be emphasized that what we think of as Highland Dress did not begin among the lowland nobility of Scotland.  It would be considered by the southern aristocracy as barbaric.  It was not until much later, in the nineteenth century, that Highland dress would begin to be worn outside of the Gaelic areas of Scotland.

We have the Royal Stewart tartan draped behind Mary, in honour of her Stewart dynasty.  She was mother of James VI of Scotland, I of England (of the KJV Bible fame).  Her dress would have been fashionable not only in Scottish courts, but among the nobility of England and France as well.  She was raised in France and brought many French customs into Scotland with her, including the Stuart spelling of the name Stewart.

Mary was a devout Catholic, and when she inherited the Scottish throne, the Protestant revolution was in full swing in Scotland.  Her reign was marked with turmoil, with Protestants in the south refusing to accept a Catholic queen and Catholics in the north upset that she was too lenient with the Protestants.  Eventually she fled to England where she was captured by Elizabeth I and accused of plotting to take over the English throne.  She spend the last years of imprisoned in England until she was eventually beheaded.

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