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Vestiarium Scoticum

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The Vestiarium Scoticum (full title, Vestiarium Scoticum: from the Manuscript formerly in the Library of the Scots College at Douay. With an Introduction and Notes, by John Sobieski Stuart) was first published by William Tait of Edinburgh in a limited edition in 1842. John Telfer Dunbar, in his seminal work History of Highland Dress referred to it as "probably the most controversial costume book ever written."

The book itself purported to be a reproduction, with color ilustrations, of an ancient manuscript on the clan tartans of Scottish families. Shortly after its publication, it was denounced as a forgery and the "Stuart" brothers who brought it forth, and who claimed to be the grandsons of Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, were likewise denounced as imposters. It is generally accepted today that both the brothers and the Vestiarium are indeed inauthentic.

Nevertheless, the role of the book in the history of Scottish tartans is immense, with many of the designs and patterns contained therein passing into the realm of official clan tartans.


The 1842 edition of the Vestiarium had its beginnings in the late 1820s when the Sobieski Stuart brothers, then resident in Moray, Scotland, produced a copy of a document containing tartan patterns and showed it to their host, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. This manuscript, however, was not the one which the brothers claimed to be the basis for the later publication of the Vestiarium.

As explained in the Preface to the 1842 edition (which is extensively excerpted in Dunbar's History of Highland Dress) the copy which Sir Thomas saw, dated to 1721 (or earlier) and with the title Liber Vestiarium Scotia, was said by its possessors to have been obtained from a certain John Ross, and was said also by them to be an inferior copy of an earlier manuscript.

In this same Preface, it is claimed that the 1842 edition is based on an original manuscript dated to 1571 (or earlier) which was at that time in the possession of John Lesley, Bishop of Ross. This 1571 MS is said by the author of the Preface to be the "oldest and most perfect" copy of the Vestiarium. Having once been in the possession of Bishop Ross, subsequently it had found its way into the library of the Scots College at Douay. From there, it was supposed to have come into the possession of Bonnie Prince Charlie himself who took over the MS when on a visit to the Scots College in the early 1750s.

The Lauder - Scott CorrespondenceEdit

Soon after Sir Thomas saw the book, he wrote of it to Sir Walter Scott (in a letter dated June 1, 1829). In this letter, Lauder highly commended the book, stating that several clan chiefs, such as Cluny MacPherson and McLeod, had derived their "true and authentic" (verify) tartans therefrom. Lauder described the manuscript in detail, stating that he had obtained drawings, in color, of all the tartans contained therein (about 66 in number) and sent some of these (of the Scott tartan) to Walter Scott himself. In addition to material on tartans, the book also contained Appendices on women's plaids (arisaids) and on hose and trews. In the end, Lauder urged the brothers to have the book published and made inquiries concerning costs and procedures to that end. A plan was adopted to publish it, illustrated by swatches of silk in the tartan colors and patterns.

In his reply of June 5, 1829, Scott expressed skepticism over the claims of both the brothers Sobieski and the manuscript itself, at the same time requesting that a copy of the MS be sent for investigation by competent authorities in antiquities. Among other things, he disputed the assertion that Lowlanders had ever worn tartans or plaids; questioned the lack of any corroborating evidence, including any in Bishop Lesley's writings even though Lesley was said to have been in possession at one time of the original upon which the present MS was based; and called into question the authenticity of the brothers. He also noted that the title - Vestiarium Scotia - was, in his words, "false Latin".

On July 20, 1829, Sir Thomas replied to Sir Walter. In this letter, he describes the (alleged) 1571 original from which the 1721 copy which he saw is said to be derived and which was in the possession of the brothers' father in London. Sir Thomas then goes on to discuss the brothers' character, credibility, and society's opinion of them, admitting that the "Quixotism of the two brothers must render these very unfortunate individuals for the introduction of a piece of antiquarian matter to the world. . .". He nevertheless reasserts his belief in the authenticity of the MS and goes on to discuss the "false Latin" and the presumed use of tartans in the Lowlands.

In a final letter in this exchange from Scott to Lauder, dated 19 November 1829, Scott rejected again the authenticity of the Vestiarium and further rejected the notion that Lowlanders ever wore clan tartans. He went further and rejected the entire notion of clan tartans altogether, stating that the "idea of distinguishing the clans by their tartans is but a fashion of modern date . . .".

Publication of the Vestiarium ScoticumEdit

The Vestiarium was finally published in 1842. A summary of its contents follows.

  • Preface, in which is described the origin of the manuscripts, together with observations on the supposed author and date
  • Rolls of the Clans
  • Introduction
  • Text of the Vestiarium
  • The setts, stripes, and colors of the tartans, together with a listing of

clans and families whose tartans are described

  • Color plates - seventy five plates (in color) illustrating the tartans of the

clans and families mentioned in the previous section

The TartansEdit

The tartans presented in the Vestiarium were divided into two sections. First came the "Highland clans" and this was followed by "Lowland Houses and Border Clans". In the listing below, the clan name (with original spelling as it appeared in the VS, is followed by the Tartan Society number (TS#) and the (modern) thread count.

Highland ClansEdit

Plate # Clan/Tartan Name Plate Thread count derived from plate
1 Stewart   G4 R60 B8 R8 K12 Y2 K2 W2 K2 G20 R8 K2 R2 W2
2 Prince of Rothsay   W4 R64 G4 R6 G4 R8 G32 R8 G32 R8 G4 R6 G4 R64 W2 R2 W4
3 Stewart   R6 W56 K6 W6 K6 W6 G26 R16 K2 R2 W2
4 MakDonnald of ye Ylis   R6 B20 K24 G6 K2 G2 K2 G60 W8
5 Raynald   B10 R4 B30 R4 K16 G52 R6 G2 R4 G6 W6
6 Gregour   R128 G36 R10 G16 W4
7 Anrias   G4 R6 G2 R56 B6 R2 B6 R8 G2 R2 G2 R4 G24 R6
8 Makduffe   R6 G32 B12 K12 R48 K4 R8
9 Makanphersonis   W6 R2 W60 K40 W6 K18 Y2
10 Grant, or Grauntacke   R8 B4 R4 B4 R112 B32 R8 G2 R8 G72 R6 G2 R8
11 Monrois   K36 R8 K36 R64 W6
12 Clann-Lewid   K16 Y2 K16 Y24 R2
13 Cambell   B132 K2 B2 K2 B6 K24 G52 W/Y6 G52 K24 B42 K2 B8
14 Sutherlande   G12 W4 G48 K24 B6 K4 B4 K4 B24 R2 B2 R6
15 Clanchamron   R8 G24 R8 G24 R64 Y4
16 Clanneill   B12 R2 B40 G12 B12 G48 K2 G4 W8
17 Mackfarlan of ye Arroquhar   K54 W48 K8 W48
18 Clanlauchlan   K12 Y4 K42 Y4 K12 Y48 K4 Y12
19 Clan-gillean   G12 K20 W4 K20 G6 K8 G60 K4
20 Clankenjie   B56 K6 B6 K6 B6 K20 G54 W/R6 G54 K20 B56 K2 B12
21 Fryjjelis in ye Ayrd   R4 B12 R4 G12 R24 W4
22 Menghes   W4 R40 C2 R2 C2 R6 C10 W48 R6 W4 R2 W8
23 Chyssal   R2 G28 K2 G4 K2 G4 B14 R56 W2 R12
24 Buchananis   K2 W18 C8 W4 C8 W4
25 Lawmond   B50 K2 B2 K2 B4 K28 G60 W8 G60 K28 B32 K2 B6
26 Dowgall of Lorne   R8 G18 K12 C16 R10 G4 R4 G4 R52 G2 R6
27 Makyntryris   G10 B26 R6 B26 G64 W10
28 Donoquhay   G2 R68 B16 R4 G40 R4
29 Maknabbis   G14 R4 C4 G4 C4 R24 K2
30 Clannkynnon   K2 R36 G24 R4 G24 R36 W2
31 Makyntosche   R6 G32 K24 R56 W4 R10
32 Clanhiunla, or Farquharsonnes   B56 K6 B6 K6 B6 G54 R/Y6 G54 K20 B56 K2 B12
33 Gun   G4 K32 G4 K32 G60 R4
34 Clan-mak-Arthour   K64 G12 K24 G60 Y6
35 Morgan   B8 K24 B8 K24 B64 R4
36 Makqwhenis   K4 R14 K4 R14 K28 Y2

Low country pairtes (Lowland clans)Edit

Plate # Clan Name TS Number Thread Count
37 Bruiss   W8 R56 G14 R12 G38 R10 G38 R12 G14 R56 Y8
38 Dowglass   K30 Gr2 K2 Gr2 K14 Gr28 K2 Gr4
39 Crawfourd   R6 G24 R6 G24 R60 W4
40 Ruthwen   R4 G2 R58 B36 G30 W6
41 Montegomerye   B18 G6 B18 G68
42 Hamyltowne   B10 R2 B10 R16 W2
43 Wymmis   R8 K24 W2 K24 R8 K8 R52 G2 R10
44 Cumyne   K4 R54 G8 R4 G8 R8 G18 W2 G18 R8
45 Seyntcler   G4 R2 G60 K32 W2 B32 R4
46 Dunbarr   R8 K2 R56 K16 G44 R12
47 Leslye   K2 R64 B32 R8 K12 Y2 K12 R8
48 Laudere   G6 B16 G6 K8 G30 R4
49 Connyngham   K8 R2 K60 R56 B2 R2 W8
50 Lyndeseye   G50 B4 G4 B4 G4 B20 R60 B4 R6
51 Haye   R12 G8 Y4 G72 R4 G4 R4 G24 R96 G8 R4 G2 R4 W12
52 Dundass   K4 G4 R2 G48 K24 B32 K8
53 Ogyluye   B58 Y2 B4 K32 G52 K2 G4 R6
54 Olyfaunt   B8 K8 B48 G64 W2 G4
55 Setown   G10 W2 G24 R10 B8 R4 K8 R64 G2 R4
56 Ramsey   K8 W4 K56 R60 K2 R6
57 Areskyn   G14 R2 G52 R60 G2 R10
58 Wallas   K4 R64 K60 Y8
59 Brodye   K10 R60 K28 Y2 K28 R10
60 Barclay   G4 B64 G64 R4
61 Murrawe   B56 K6 B6 K6 B6 K20 G54 R6 G54 K20 B56 K2 B12
62 Urqwhart   B4 W2 B24 K4 B4 K4 B8 K24 G52 K4 G4 R2
63 Rose   G4 R48 B10 R8 B2 R4 B2 R24 W4
64 Colqwohoune   B8 K4 B40 W2 K18 G58 R8
65 Drummond   G4 R2 G2 R56 G16 K2 G2 K2 G36 R2 G2 R8
66 Forbas   R4 G64 K36 G10 K16 Y4

Bordour clannes (Border clans)Edit

Plate # Clan Name TS Number Thread Count
67 Scott   G8 R6 K2 R56 G28 R8 G8 W6 G8 R8
68 Armstrang   G4 K2 G58 K24 B4 K2 B2 K2 B26 R6
69 Gordoun   B60 K2 B2 K2 B8 K28 G52 Y2 G2 Y4 G2 Y2 G52 K28 B40 K2 B8
70 Cranstoun   DG28 B2 DG2 B2 DG6 B12 LG24 R4
71 Graeme   G24 K8 G2 K8
72 Maxswel   R6 G2 R56 K12 R8 G32 R6
73 Home   B6 G4 B60 K20 R2 K4 R2 K70
74 Johnstoun   K4 B4 K4 B48 G60 K2 G4 Y6
75 Kerr   G40 K2 G4 K2 G6 K28 R56 K2 R4 K8

The Quarterly ReviewEdit

In June of 1847, a highly critical review of the Vestiarium Scoticum was published in the Quarterly Review. Originally published anonymously, the authors are now known to have been Professor George Skene of Glasgow University and the Rev. Dr. Mackay, the editor of the Highland Society's Gaelic Dictionary.

The Quarterly Review article was occasioned by the appearance of a a book by John Sobieski and Charles Edward Stuart entitled The Tales of the Century. These stories, although presented in fictional terms, lay out the authors' claims to be direct descendents of Prince Charles Edward, the Young Pretender. The Quarterly Review article, while nominally a response to these claims, in fact mainly consisted of an examination of the authenticity of the Vestiarium Scoticum.

In 1848, John Sobieski Stuart replied to the Quarterly Review article with a treatise of his own entitled The Genuineness of the Vestiarium Scoticum. In this reply, Stuart offered the 1721 edition for inspection. For his part, Skene expressed a desire that the original manuscript, that said to have once belonged to Bishop Ross, be exhibited. In the end, no record of anyone examining the 1721 copy at that time exists and no one other than the Sobieski Stuart brothers ever saw the Ross copy.

In 1895, the Glasow Herald published a series of artilces entitled "The Vestiarium Scoticum, is it a forgery?" authored by Andrew Ross. Ross was able to locate the 1721 copy, but not any earlier manuscripts. He gave a detailed description of the 1721 copy, and had it subjected to chemical testing by Stevenson Macadam, a chemist. Macadam reported that the "document [bore] evidence of having been treated with chemical agents in order to give the writing a more aged appearance than it is entitled to". He concluded that "the manuscript cannot be depended upon as an ancient document".

This 1721 copy was also presented for examination to a Mr. Robert Irvine, the director of a chemical firm who reported that it was "impossible to arrive at any accurate conclusion pointing to the age of the writing".

In earlier years, there was some discussion of publishing a second edition of the Vestiarium Scoticum (the first edition had a press run of only several dozen copies), but nothing came of these discussions.


  • John Telfer Dunbar, History of highland dress: A definitive study of the

history of Scottish costume and tartan, both civil and military, including weapons, ISBN 071341894X

  • Hugh Trevor-Roper, "The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of

Scotland." in The Invention of Tradition ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, ISBN 0521246458

External linksEdit

Smallwikipedialogo.png This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Vestiarium Scoticum. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Highland Games, the text of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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