Figure 1.--

Scottish Kilt History

The modern kilt is most associated with Scotland. The modern modern image of the kilt is very different from that the earlier historical image. The kilt along with bagpipes had been the symbol of the wild, warlike Highland clans. They were considered by the Lowlanders and English alike as late as the mid-18th century as the garb of barbarrious savages. Kilt-clad Highlanders with bagpipes blaring led by Bonnie Prince Charlie had posed a major threat to the English Crown in the Kacobite uprising of 1745. Yet in less than 100 years by the early 19th century that image of the kilt had changed and had become the very symbol of the British Empire with kilt-clad Scottish units of the British Army leading Britain's Imperial expansion. And to complete the change in image, the Scottish kilt which was employed as a fashion suitable for the sons of Queen Victoria herself a Hanovarian who had come to love the Highlands and bragged about the Stuart blood in her veins.

Two Scotlands

Destinction between Higland and Lowland Scots are today minimal. This was not the case in the 18th century when there was in fact two destinct Scotlands, the Highlands and Lowlands. Differences between the Highlands and Lowlands had begun developing even before the 13th century when the English first attempted to seize Scotland. Scotland developed as a land with two destinct peoples with ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences.
Higlands: The Highlands was the land of the ancient Gael, descended from Celtic people with Norse, Flemish and even some Norman ancestry. The Celts came to the British Isles 1,000 years before Jesus was born. The Highlander still living under the clan system retained the native Gaelic language, clothing styles, and Celtic outlook. Highlanders looked on Lowlanders as foreigners, not unlike the English.
Lowlands: The Lowlanders were a more Germanic-English people which means Saxon, Angle, Norman, Celtic, Dane, Flemish and other European ancestry. The Scottish monarchy was culturally more English than Celtic and ruled from the Lowlands. The Lowland Scots had gradually adopted English. The English language had become widely used in Edinburgh and other Lowland cities as early as the 11-12th centuries and gradually spread to maller towns and villages. The Lowlanders did not see themselves as English, but not only did they speak English, but they also dressed in English styles. Lowlanders looked on the Higland clansmen as tribal barbarians--constantly waring among themslves, and even worse from the Lowland perspective, involved in cattle russling and other illegal activities.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Bonnie Prince Charlie was the son of the uncrowned Stuart King James III of Britain and the grandson of the dethroned and last Stuart king--James II James had ruled for only 3 years, from 1685-88. He quickly lost control of the country when he arogantly ignored the advise of his older, more cautious brother--the restored Charles II. Perhaps more importantly a son was born, leading to the prospect of a future Catholic king--James III. Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart had trained in France for warfare since childhood. He had fought bravely with the French at the siege of Gaeta in Italy. The Prince, like his father, had been brought up a Roman Catholic, and dreamed of bringing England back to the Catholic faith. The Prince became for ever associated with Scotland, but was in fact not a Scot.

The Jacobite Uprising of 1745

James III with French encouragement conceived a plan to seize the British throne from the ruling Hanoverians--George II. Prince Charles was to command French invasion forces. The expedition, however, was cancelled due to bad weather and a British naval build up. Little further French assistance was forecoming. Prince Charles, however, relcklessly decided to go ahead with the expedition even without the anticipated French forces. Prince Charles in July 1745 sureptiously landed on the west coast of Scotland. He raised his standard at Glenfinnan on August 18, 1745. Little support was forth coming from the Lowlanders, but the Highlands was a different matter. The Prince succeeded in amassing a small, but dedicated force of Highlanders (about 2,500 men) for his Jacobite cause. At first not taken seriously, the Prince Charles by September occupied Edinburgh and destroyed the Hanoverian Government army of John Cope at Prestonpans outside Edinburgh. In November he crossed into England, his ranks swelling to almost 6,000 men and marched south to Derby. English Catholicsm however, did not rise to his Jacobite standard. The reenforcements he had anticipated from France never arrived. The English recalled forces from the Continent and began amassing a powerful force. Confronted by the growing English forces, the Prince decided to withdrew back to Scotland. Much of his force deserted along the way. The final confrontation came at Culloden Moor. The Duke of Cumberland's modern, disciplined force on April 16, 1746 defeated the undisciplined Higlanders at Culloden. The actual battle lasted little more than an hour, but the English and Lowland forces proceeded to massacre what ever Higlanders they could find. The massacre lastted until nightfall. Cumberland for weeks afterwards carried out vicious reprisals on the feeing Highlanders. Several thousand Higlanders, including women and children, are believed to have been killed. Many of those killed had nothing to do with the battle or even the Jacobite cause. After 5 months of evading capture Charles himself escaped by ship to France.

Supression and Prohibition

The English in the 18th Century crushed defeat of the Scottish Prentender, Bonny Prince Charlie--Charles Edward Stewart, at Culloden (1745). The British redcoats stalked and killed kilt-clad clansmen in the Higlands. Many clansmen were subsequently hunted down and sumarily executed. The English then proceeded to attack Highland culture to ensure that there would never again be a rising. They prohibited the wearing of the kilt in Scotland as part of their effort to destroy Scotish culture and continuing resistance to English rule. Both men and boys were prohibited from wearing the kilt, although we are unsure how strictly this was enforced in the case of boys. Some reports suggest that the bagpipe was also banned, but other sources insist that this was not the case. The penalties for wearing the kilt or violating other legal prosccruptions could be quite severe. The Scottish clearances which had begun before Culloden were changing the very character of the Higlands. The population was removed so sheep could be raised on large estates. Clansmen and their families had to leave the Highlands. Many emmigrated to America as Canada until the 1760s was still French.

Scottish Revival

The English attitude toward Scotland and things Scottish, however, changed as the century progressed. The first step in this process was the raising of Scottish units for the British Army. They were the only Clansmen which could legally wear the kilt. For many Higland families, the husdband's army pay was the only means of support. Scottish regiments became a mainstay of the British Army. Soon poets and authors like Burns and Scott began romantaising Scotland and which profoundly changed English attitudes. The Victorians in the 19th century, as a result, had very romantic attitudes toward Scotland. A major step toward the popularization of theckilt as stylish dress was when George IV wore the kilt during a visit to Scotland. This was very important as many fashionable people in England closely followed royal dress and adopted the kilt themselves. I am not sure to what extent, however, boys' wear was affected. A painting of the event does show a boy weaing the kilt.

Victoria and Albert

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are surely two the most remarkable individuals in the history of the British monarchy. Perhaps the Queen with Prince Albert at her side is the only monarch since Elizabeth I that played a key role in British history. The Queen, abely advised by Albert, played a major role in the repeal of the Corn Laws, a major step toward truly democratic rule in Britain. The Prince was a tireless poponent of technology and industrial innovation. One of the Prince's last acts before his untimly death, was to discourage British support for the Confederacy in the American Civil War. If the Confederacy had succeded, there would have been no stroing united American Republic to come to Britain's aid in the two great World Wars of the 20th century. In addition, together they reshaped the image of the British monarchy in th public mind. In doing so, the kilt, and later the sailor suit, emerged as major styles for boys. Victoria Queen Victoria who read the poerty of Burns and the novels of Scott as a child was enamored by Scotland. Prince Albert, perhaps for more staid political reasons, bought the royal estate at Balmoral in the Highlands near Inverness for her. She was delighted and for the rest of her life would spend extended vacations there. The impact was soon felt in boys' fashions.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 25, 1999
Last updated: March 17, 2002