Life In A Kilt’s 15 Best Holiday Tartans

Christmas and tartan plaid seem to go hand-in-hand. Whether on ribbon prints, wrapping paper, ornaments, blankets, pillows, tree skirts, tablecloths, wreath bows or Santa hats, it seems tartan has always been a part of Christmas our decoration. While a handful of tartan designs have always been the traditional Christmas staples, the last few years have seen new tartans making their holiday appearance, such as the Rob Roy MacGregor tartan seen on many products and decorations at Target and Big Lots. Even Christmas itself now has it’s own Christmas Tartan to specifically honor the holiday season.

If you intend to add tartan to your holiday decor but don’t know where to begin, here are “Life In A Kilt’s 15 Best Christmas Tartans” for your consideration. While we feel like these are the most festive tartans for the holiday season, any tartan is great for adding a traditional Scottish and Celtic element to your celebration, so your own family tartan is a perfect personal touch. For those who would like assistance in their Christmas tartan choices we suggest the following tartans.

15. Cameron Modern

Clan Cameron is said to be one of the most ancient of Scottish clans and is described as fiercer than fierceness itself. They claim descent from the King of Denmark Fergus II on his restoration in 778.

The name comes from the Gaelic Camshron from cam (wry) and sron (nose). In the fifteenth century Donald Dubh married into the family of Cambrun of Ballegarno in Fife. This brought together a confederation of tribes which became known as Clan Cameron. It was further confirmed by James V settling the charter of the barony of Lochiel in Lochaber on the captain of Clan Cameron. Achnacarry Castle was built in the seventeenth century (1655) becoming the home of the Camerons. In the 1745 rebellion Donald the 19th of Lochiel gained the name The Gentle Lochiel whilst displaying great bravery. He is credited to saving Glasgow from the ravages of the Jacobite army. The rebuilding of Achnacarry Castle vertually bankrupted the Lochiel estates with much of the tenantry and famillies evicted to the clearances. Clan Cameron is a clan, with one main branch Lochiel, and numerous cadet branches such as Erracht, Clunes, Glen Nevis, and Fassifern. (from Kinloch Anderson)


14. MacKintosh Modern

Mac(K)Intosh results from the Anglicisation of the Gaelic name ‘Mac-an-toisich’.  In old Gaelic ‘toisech’ meant ‘chief, leader or front man’.  The ‘k’ is intrusive, the result of the ‘c’ being pronounced hard.  The name is usually associated with the Clan of the same name from Inverness=shire.  There was also a small Clan of the same name in Perthshire.  There does not appear to be a connection between the two as the latter come from a MacDonald link (John of Islay).

The Clan MacIntosh are descended from the Shaw, second son of Duncan, earl of Fife who accompanied Malcolm IV on an expedition to Moray in 1160, and was rewarded with land there and made Constable of Inverness Castle.

Clan MacIntosh are members of Clan Chattan, a confederation of clans claiming descent from the Bailie of the Abbey of Kilchattan in Bute.  This also includes MacPhersons, MacGillivrays, Davidsons, MacPhails, MacBeans, Gows, Clerks and MacThomases.

During the 17th century the Chiefship was in dispute between the Chief of the MacPhersons and MacIntoshes, settled for MacIntosh in 1692.  The MacIntoshes, and the rest of the Clan Chattan, supported James I against the Lord of the Isles during the 15th century, gaining possession of Lochaber, Keppoch and Innerorgan as a result (although they continued to be controlled by the MacDonalds).

During the revolution of 1688, the clan followed the new monarch but in 1715 and ’45, they supported the Stuart cause.  Two of the most famous MacIntoshes of recent times are Charles Mackintosh (1766-1843), who created the process for waterproofing and creating rainwear, and Charles Rennie MacKintosh (1868-1928), the famous artist and architectural designer from the ‘Glasgow School’.  The tartan is too well authenticated to admit doubt or question, with only minor differences in two counts. (from Kinloch Anderson)


13. Maxwell Modern

Some controversy has surrounded the origin of the name Marshall, because of the form in which it appeared in early records, Maccusville, in the 12th and 13th century.  It was commonly thought to be of Norman origin.  It is however, of Old English derivation from the personal or forename Maccus and the Old English name for a pool ‘wae;’.  The original pool on the Tweed, near Kelso Bridge, is still locally known as ‘Max Wheel’.  It was obtained by grant by Maccus, son of Undewyn, a Saxon Lord, during the years 1124 and 1153 and the lands around the fishery took their name from Maccus’ Weil.

The place name Maxton in Roxburghshire is probably also named after the same person.  The Barony of Maxton passed out of the hands of Maccus and his family at the end of the 12th century.  It is with Maccus’ son Herbert that the name begins to be used in a way which we would today recognise as a surname. While Maccus was recorded as ‘Son of Undewyn’ his son was ‘of Maccuswell’ and it was in this title that he bestowed a charter upon Kelso Abbey.  Herbert’s son John became Royal Chamberlain c1232 and acquired Caerlaverock Castle, succeeded by his brother Aymer.  His descendant Sir Eustace of Maxwell held Caerlaverock Castle in the interest of Edward I’s claim to the throne but later dismantled its fortifications in the interests of Robert the Bruce, becoming one of the signators of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

The Maxwells were appointed as Lords of the Marches under James I, and latterly the 5th Lord Maxwell was appointed Regent to King James V.  In the 17th century the family acquired the title Earl of Nithsdale.  The 5th Earl was sentenced to death in Westminister for his part in the 1715 rebellion, but escaped with the help of his wife, and fled to Rome.  The Maxwells have many branches, the principal ones being Carruchan, Monreith, Pollock, Cardoness, Farnham and Sprinkel.  There is no trusted authority for the source of this tartan.  Some similarities are noted with  MacIntosh motifs.  The second count comes from Clan Maxwell Association of USA. (from Kinloch Anderson)


12. MacCaulay Modern

The name MacAulay is common in both Ireland and Scotland.  Two possible derivations exist: both Amhalghaidh (an Irish personal name) and Amhlaibh (a Gaelicisation of the Norse name Olafr), with the prefix ‘mac’, are commonly pronounced MacAulay.  In Scotland these two origins appear split nicely into those of Dunbartonshire, who are said to be of Irish stock, and the Hebridean MacAulays, who trace their descent from Olafr ‘the Black’, brother of Magnus, the last King of Mann and the Isles who lived during the early 12th century.

The MacAulays of Ardencaple (Dunbartonshire) claim to be of the Siol Alpin and were followers of the MacGregors who claim to be the senior branch of the Clan Alpin.  Others suggest the descent from the old Earls of Levenaux, specifically, from a younger son of the second Alwyn, Earl of Lennox (Levenaux).

The family was styled Ardincaple and Alexander de Ardincaple who lived during the reign of James V and was the first to adopt the name MacAuley. There has always been a strong link between the Ardencaple MacAulays and the Clan Gregor; in 1591 the Chief signed a Bond of Manrent which acknowledged the Clan as a cadet of the MacGregors.  The line ended in 1767 when the lands of Ardencaple were sold to the Duke of Argyll.

The Hebridean MacAuleys held Uig in the South of the Isle of Lewis where they were followers of the MacLeods and bitter enemies of the Morrisons.  This small clan were not related by blood or etymology to the MacAuleys of Clan Alpin.

Although little has been written of them, the Lewis MacAulays appear to have fared better than their southern namesakes, among their number were Lord MacAuley the historian, clergymen and a general in the East India Company. (from Kinloch Anderson)


11. Livingstone Modern

The name exists pre 12th century in charters as Livingston.  The name Livingston is derived from lands in West Lothian thought to have been named for a Saxon called Leving.  Sir William Livingston witnessed a charter of the Earl of Lennox in 1270.  Sir William’s lands were received the lands of Callendar from David II in 1347.  The Livingstones of Westquarter, Bonton and Dunipace Kinnaird are descended from the Calendar Livingstones.

Sir James Livingston of Callendar was created Lord Livingston in 1458.  The 5th Lord, Alexander, had charge of young Queen Mary before she was removed to Inchmahome after the Battle of Pinkie. The 7th Lord, another Alexander, was raised to Earl of Linlithgow in 1600, but the family’s involvement on the Rising of 1715 led to the titles being lost.  The Livingstones of Argyll claim to be descended from a physician to the Lord of the Isles MacLeay – son of a physician.  The MacLeays of Appin sometimes anglicised their name as Livingstone, of whom was the celebrated missionary David Livingstone.

The Livingstones followed the Stewarts of Appin, thus their involvement at the Battle of Culloden.  There, Donald Livingstone saved the banner of the Stewarts, returning it to Ballachuish.  The Tartan Society records five setts with varying links to Macleay, some linking to Livingstones of Argyllshire and others to Callendar and Westquarter. (from Kinloch Anderson)


10. Moncrieffe Modern

The name Moncrieff is derived from the Gaelic words ‘monadh’ – a moor or hill pasture, and ‘croaibhe’ (the genitive of ‘croabh’ – tree); the name is therefore a topographical one meaning ‘the moor of hill-land of the trees’.  Bearers of this name are generally regarded to have taken it from their residence in the lands of Moncrieff in the parish of Dunbarny in Perthshire.  Moncrieffe Hill lies on a peninsula between the Rivers Tay and Earn, 3 miles south-east of Perth.  It appears to be a name of Anglo-Norman lineage, one Mortimer, who assumed the name of Moncrieff after obtaining those lands.

A Ramerus de Moncreiff, is named living at the start of the 12th century, who was keeper of the robe to Alexander I.  There is also claim to the name deriving from Celtic origins; from the name Monadh Croaibhe, i.e. Moncrieffe Hill.

There is also a strong link with the Murrays, and an association with Atholl claimed for the mid 13th century.    Other references put the name later mid 13th century.  Interestingly, both the Moncreiffes and MacLachlans claim descent in the direct male line from two different sons of Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland c.5th century.  The three main lines of the family descend from the eighth Laird of Moncreiffe, who died around 1496, and are distinguished by the spelling of the name.

The Moncreiffes of Moncreiffe are the chiefly line, while the principal cadets are the Lords Moncreiff of Tulliebole and Moncrieff of Bandirran, from whom the Scott-Moncreiffs and the Moncreiffs of Kinmonth descend.

In the 16th century one family joined the famous Scots Guard of Archers of the Kings of France and established three noble French families.

This tartan is undoubtedly one of the oldest tartans existing and is one known by at least four separate names: Moncrieffe, Old Grant, Old MacLachlan and Robin Hood. (from Kinloch Anderson)


9. MacGregor Modern

Clan Gregor is the senior member of Clan Alpin. They are the descendants of Grigor, third son of Kenneth MacAlpin the King of Scots in the 9th century, hence their Motto: “Royal is my Race.” Robert the Bruce gifted to the Campbells the Barony of Loch Awe, which included MacGregor lands. This caused inter clan confrontation  which lasted for almost two centuries.
The MacGregors retreated into remote Glenstrae operating as cattle raiders in order to survive. They fought against the English Earl of Somerset’s invasion at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.  In the reign of James IV in 1603, the MacGregors won a battle against the Colquhouns of Luss at Glenfruin, but the Colquhouns had a Royal Commission, and vengeance was swift. The Chief, along with eleven of his chieftains, were captured and hanged at Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross in 1604.

The clan was proscibed forcing many to change their names and for their illusiveness, became known as “The Children of the Mist.” The persecution continued into the reign of Charles I. When the Marquis of Montrose raised the King’s Standard in 1644, the Laird of MacGregor came forward and joined him.

At the restoration, the Clan was therefore pardoned, but it was not until 1775 that the name was restored. Over those 170 years many clan’s folk had sought sanctuary with other clans. Many had changed their names. One of the most notorious of the name was Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734). In 1775, a petition was signed by eight hundred and twenty six MacGregors nominating General John Murray of Lanrick, a descendant of Duncan MacGregor of Ardchoille, as Chief. (from Kinloch Anderson)


8. Morrison Modern

The highland Clan Morrison belongs to the Island of Lewis and the adjoining mainland of north-west Scotland.  The Morrisons of Harris claim to be the original stock and the early Morrison stronghold was a castle on the island of Pabbay, 3.5 miles north of Berneray in the Sound of Harris.

The Morrisons of Perth and Lennox formed no clan and have a different Gaelic name; Moiris, Maurice, from the Latin Mauricius, ‘Moorish’.  The Clan is known in Gaelic as Clann MhicGillemhoire which is derived from the Gaelic personal name Gillemoire or McGilmor, Gille-mhoire meaning ‘servant or devotee of St Mary’.  This was sometimes shortened to Gillmore, Gilmore or translated Morrison, Maryson or reduced to Milmore, Miles, Myles.

There is much supposition around the origins of the clan; some connections with O’Muirgheasains of Donegal making their way to the north-west coast of Lewis.  Another trail depicts a Ghille Mhuire, washed ashore following a shipwreck, a natural son of King Olav and thus half-brother of Leod, the progenitor of the Macleods.  Whichever route the story takes, we do know Olav’s son married the heiress of the Gows, or Clan Igaa, who held Pabbay in the Sound of Harris.  The Gows were noted armourers.

In 1346, Cedhain, son of Maclain of Ardnamurchan, married the heiress of the Morrisons of Lewis.  In 1493 the Lordship of the Isles was finally dissolved and the Crown granted feudal charters to various chiefs.  Hence a small clan like the Morrisons of Ness, became susceptible to attack from their neighbours the MacLeods and the MacAulays. (from Kinloch Anderson)


7. Lennox Modern

The ancient earldom consisted of the whole of Dunbartonshire as well as large parts of Renfrewshire, Stirlingshire and Perthshire.  From the Gaelic ‘Leven-ach’, the Celtic Mormaers of Levenax emerged as the Earls of Lennox who would become joined to the royal house of Stewart.  Some dispute exists over the origins of the Earldom.  Some suggest a Saxon baron called Arkyll was conferred lands by Malcolm III and subsequently married a Scottish heiress who had a son, the first Earl of Lennox.  Others look to William the Lion giving the title to his brother, David, Earl of Huntingdon; the Lennox family not being established until after William’s reign.

At the end of the 13th century Lennox nobles were powerful; supporting the Bruce in his claim to the Scottish crown.  Malcolm. The fifth earl, besieged Carlisle in 1296, and while swearing fealty to Edward I of England, was at the forefront of the campaign for Scottish Independence.  In 1373 the earldom passed through his daughter to Walter de Fasselane.  Their granddaughter Isabella married Murdoch, Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland between 1419 and 1425.  Connections to Albany proved catastrophic for the Lennoxes; Isabella’s husband and father both being executed while she was imprisoned at Tantallon Castle.

John, Lord Darnley assumed the title of Earl of Lennox in 1488.  Matthew, the second Stewart Earl of Lennox was slain at Flodden in 1513.  The younger son of the fourth Stewart Earl was Henry, Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary Queen of Scots.  The title passed through a complex set of familial links including James IV, ending up with Charles II after another line had failed.  He conferred the now Dukedom of Lennox on his illegitimate son, Charles Lennox.  In the 19th century, the Lennoxes of Woodhead, later Lennox Castle near Glasgow claimed the right to succeed to the title.

Reference to the tartan first appeared in the D W Stewart’s ‘Old and Rare Scottish Tartans’ in 1893, depicting a tartan depicted in a 16th century painting of either the Countess Lennox, mother of Lord Darnley or perhaps Queen Mary.  There is uncertainty over these origins. Others suggest it is likely to be a family tartan rather than a district one, given the Earl of Lennox was a Scottish Noble and not a highland Chief. (from Kinloch Anderson)


6. Nesbit Modern

The surname Nisbet is derived from the barony and lands near Edrom in Berwickshire.  The lands are likely to have been named after a geographical feature such as a nose-shaped hill or bend.  In clan circles the name is best known through the work of Alexander Nisbet (1657-1725), who was one of the greatest authorities on Scottish heraldry.  Alexander Nisbet established his connection to the chiefly line of the clan and he is regarded as authoritative on the pedigree of the family.  He stated that the lands of Nesbit, during the reign of King Edgar, son of Malcolm Canmore, were donated to the monks of Dunfermline to pray for the soul of his father.

A William de Nesbite appears as a witness to a charter by Patrick, Earl of Dunbar in c.1160.  From 1219-1240 Thomas Nisbet was Prior of Coldingham.  In 1296 Philip de Nesbit appears on the Ragman Rolls submitting to Edward I.  Also appearing on the rolls are James, John and Adam Nisbet.  It is likely that Adam was the Nisbet who received a charter for the land of Knocklies from Robert the Bruce.  They were involved in defending the Scottish Borders in the service of David II.

Their descendant, Alexander, was a royalist devoted to Charles I.  Alexander Nesbit was appointed sheriff of Berwickshire, later joining the King’s standard at Oxford.  Nesbit’s eldest son Philip was abroad when the civil war broke out but was knighted on his return and given command of a regiment.  He was lieutenant governor of Newark-on-Trent during the Siege of Newark.  On leaving Newark, he became an officer for James Graham, first Marquis of Montrose.

Philip was captured at the Battle of Philiphaugh and executed in Glasgow on 28 October 1646.  Two of his brothers were also killed during the Scottish Civil Wars. (from Kinloch Anderson)


5. MacKinnon Modern

MacKinnons are a branch of the Siol Alpin, descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin.  ‘Fingon’ in Gaelic means ‘fair-born’.  The MacKinnons on Arran were friends to Robert the Bruce while he was a fugitive, helping him escape to Carrick.  Following victory at Bannockburn, they were gifted land on Skye.  The Chiefs lived at Dunrigall Castle.  A branch of the family also became hereditary abbots of Iona, the last of which was John MacKinnon, who died c.1500.

The MacKinnons were rivals to the MacLeans.  During the reign of James IV the government of the Isles, and independence of the Chiefs, was put to the test.

In 1609, Lachlan MacKinnon and other chiefs were forced to subscribe to the Statutes of Iona, curtailing their powers.  However, the MacKinnons were loyal to the Stuarts, fighting with Montrose at the Battle of Inverlochy in 1645.  In 1651, Lachlan Mor fought on the royalist side at the Battle of Worcester.  Latterly, the chief was made a knight banneret by Charles II.  Again, the MacKinnons supported the royalist cause at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715.  They also fought at Culloden.  Prince Charles was protected by the MacKinnons in a cave. (from Kinloch Anderson)


4. Grant

After the Normans had established themselves in England, the name Grant became widespread, appearing in many documents from various areas.

The earliest recordings of Grants in Scotland, however, are from the mid-thirteenth century, and describe the acquisition of Stratherrick land through the marriage of a Grant to Sir John Bisset’s daughter Mary. One of their two children was Sir Laurence le Grand, who became the Sheriff of Inverness.  The family supported Robert the Bruce towards his acquisition of the Scottish crown.  At the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, both Randolph and John de Grant were imprisoned for a time.

The family continued to acquire lands in Glen Urquhart and Glenmoriston. With Bruce’s victory came rewards and endorsement of Strathspey property.  Marriage brought yet more power for the Grants when Sir John Grant married Maud, the daughter of Gilbert of Glencairnie.  Maud was heiress of the cadet branch of the ancient Celtic Stathearn dynasty, an Earldom older than written records.  Their eldest son was the first of the Grants of Freuchie, while a younger son was the progenitor of the Tullochgorm branch.

The Grants consistently supported Royalty.  James V rewarded their support by granting James Grant of Freuchie, known as James the Bold, with a charter placing him outwith the authority of all royal courts except the Supreme Court of Edinburgh.  Ludovick Grant, 8th Earl of Freuchie, supported William of Orange, and in 1694 his Barony of Freuchie was raised to a regality, effectively giving him the power of a king in his own Highland kingdom.

In the years of the Jacobite risings, again all but a few of the Grants were on the side of the Royalists.  The family reaches out into many branches today with the Grants of Rothiemurchus being one of the principal branches. (from Kinloch Anderson)

3. Scott Modern Red

The surname Scott is one of the twelve commonest in Scotland where is has a long association with the Border region as well as being found frequently in the northern counties of England.  The name as we know it today is Old English and originally meant ‘an Irishman’, the name obviously came into English from the Latin, brought by the Roman occupation, Scotus was the Latin name for Ireland.  The Scotii tribe on spreading into Scotland gave their name to it and so Scott must have been settlers from beyond the Forth.  There will of course be many families of the name in that area, each having no connection except that they were regarded as Scots by the southern neighbours.

The first of this name to be recorded in Scotland was Uchtred filius Scot who appeared as a witness in an inquisition of Earl David c.1124.  His son, Richard, called Richard le Scot was living in 1158.  He is said to have two sons, Richard, Richard le Scot de Murthochston, and Michael.  From Richard stemmed the Buccleuch family and Sir Michael was the progenitor of the Scotts of Balwearie and Ancrum.  Sir Michael possessed large estates in Fifeshire including the lands of Ceres that he acquired from Margaret whom he married.

Richard married Alicia, daughter of Henry de Molla from whom he received lands in Roxburghshire in the reign of Alexander II.  His heir William had two sons, Walter and Richard who both swore fealty to Edward I of England in 1296.  Walter of Scotstoun was the elder and his descendants remained the senior line until they died out some fifty years later.  Richard married the heiress of Murthochston in Lanarkshire and assumed into his arms ‘the bond of Murdiestoun’.  He later became ranger of the Etterick Forest which brought him the lands of Ranhiburn in the county of Selkirk later known as the Buccleuch estates.

Richard died in 1320 and his son Sir Michael was a staunch supporter of Bruce and later David II.  He was killed at the Battle of Durham in 1346.  He left two sons, Robert who added Scotstoun to the estates of Buccleuch and John from whom descended the ancient cadet House of Synton in the counties of Selkirk and Roxburgh from whom descended the Scotts of Harden and the Lords Polwarth.

The powerful position of the Scotts continued and was maintained in the borders due to numerous cadet houses of the name and their large land acquisitions.  The Synton race produced the house of Harden.  That line died out in 1770 and the estates devolved to Walter Scott of Highchester who married Mary Countess of Buccleuch.  Other branches of the Scotts include: the Scotts of Ancrum, Thirlestane, Tushielaw, Raeburn, Mallery, Duninald, Benholme, Logie, Brotherton, Scotstarvet, and Hassendean.  The famed poet and novelist Walter Scott, was descended from the Harden branch. (from Kinloch Anderson)


2. Hay Modern

The de la Hayes were a powerful Norman family, princes of whom came with William the Conqueror to England in 1066. The name means hedge, and was not translated into the English language. In Gaelic, however, the nameholders became Garadh, a word encompassing hedge, wall, dyke and also a defensive stockade. To this day the Chief of Clan Hay is known as Mac Garaidh Mor.

By 1160 the Hays were well established in Scotland. William de la Haye was cupbearer to Malcolm IV, becoming the first lord of Errol, and husband of Eva, Lady of Petmulin, a Scoto-Pictish heiress. Their son David integrated the line further into the ruling classes by marrying Ethna, daughter of the Earl of Strathearn, one of Scotland’s most ancient earldoms.

Sir Gilbert Hay, 5th Lord of Errol, was a comrade-in-arms of Robert the Bruce at numerous battles, including Bannockburn. He was rewarded with the powerful hereditary position of Constable of Scotland, and given much of the lands of Bruce’s defeated enemies the Comyns, including their stronghold Slains, on the Buchan coast.

When the Reformation was forced upon the country, the Hays, with other Catholics such as the Red Douglases and the Gordons, attempted to negotiate an alliance with Philip II of Spain. Ultimately, Errol and Huntly were declared outlaws by James VI, and both had to go into exile, while the King personally supervised the demolition of Slain Castle, leaving it as it can still be found today.

Whether better for his soul or not, Errol found changing his religion better for his position, and returned from exile into royal favour. The Order of the Thistle was given by James VIII, the ‘Old Pretender’, to the 13th Earl of Errol for his support in the 1715 rising. His sister and successor, Mary, was deeply involved in the administration of the Jacobites, using Slain Castle’s ruins as a contact point. She brought the Hays out to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. When she died in 1758, her great-nephew, James Boyd, inherited all, taking on the name Hay, the Earldom and the Chiefship.

James would have been the Earl of Kilmarnock also, had the title not been removed from his father, along with his head, for treason in 1746.

The 19th Earl, William Hay, founded the fishing village of Port Errol, and was known for his generous support of fishermen’s widows.

Other branches of Hays include the Hays of Yester who became the Marquesses of Tweedale. (from ScotClans)


1. Royal Stewart Red

The name is found spelt two ways, Stewart or Stuart; the reason for this is in the French language there was no “w”. It is derived from the Old English word Steward, a person who tended domestic animals. In Scotland it is the term used to mean magistrate or person appointed by the King to administer lands hence a  “stewartry”. It became a surname in the seventeenth century.

The family came from Brittany acquiring lands in England after the Norman conquest, and moved to Scotland when David I (1124-1153) ascended to the throne of Scotland. They were granted (1141) extensive estates in Renfrewshire and in East Lothian with the office of High Steward of Scotland were made hereditary to the family. The result was the family became powerful.

Through marriage and royal patronage it acquired lands and influence with the major families/clans. Examples would be Stewarts/Stuart of, Atholl, Barclye, Buchan, Bute, Rothesay and others.

Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward by marrying Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce founded the Royal  House of Stewart which came to the throne with Robert II (1371). It ended in 1707 on the Act of Union in Queen nn’s reign.  The Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century, the “Fifteen” and the “Forty Five”, were lead by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). He was the exiled claimant to the throne.

Stewarts fought mostly for the Jacobites many of them having their estates forfeited. Today the Stewart clan does not have a clan chief . The Earls of Galloway are now considered to be the principal Stewart branch, their crest, motto and arms are used by the clan. Of the other two  ‘Stewart’ clans that are recognised, Stuart of Bute and Stewart of Appin, the former is the only one with a recognised chief.  The Queen is the chief of Chiefs and as a result the Royal Stewart and the Hunting Stewart tartans are seen as “universal” tartans so are used by anyone without clans or a tartan. (from Kinloch Anderson)

The 1990s: A Good Decade For Men In Kilts At The Movies

william wallaceWhere have all the movies with men in kilts gone? Admittedly I may not go to the cinema as much as I once did, but I can’t remember the last occasion on which I saw a man in a kilt on screen.

This wasn’t the case in the 1990s when a whole plethora of films featuring kilt wearers were released.

Two movies that were issued in 1995 immediately spring to mind. They both portrayed real-life Scottish heroes of old. Liam Neeson starred as Scottish outlaw, Robert MacGregor, in Rob Roy and then there was Mel Gibson’s kilt-wearing portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart. Whether William Wallace actually wore a kilt going into battle against the detestable English is a moot point, but it certainly made for some unforgettable scenes in the movie.

Billy Connolly stars as another famous real-life kilt wearer, John Brown, in Mrs. Brown (1997). Historians and movie buffs alike will recall that Brown was the Scottish servant with whom Queen Victoria formed a close relationship after her husband’s death.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) is another movie from the same era that includes a famous kilt-wearing scene. The wedding in Scotland of Andie MacDowell’s character, Carrie, to ghastly politician, Sir Hamish Banks, gives the perfect justification for most of the men to appear in kilts. Sadly this occasion does not end well for Gareth (played by Simon Callow), who drops dead and becomes the unfortunate recipient of the funeral in the film’s title.

So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993) is another movie that features multiple characters wearing kilts at a wedding. Mike Myers plays the dual roles of a San Francisco poet, unlucky in love, and his Scottish father, hence the kilt-wearing connection.

As if that wasn’t enough, the kilt-wearing wedding scene strikes again at the end of A Life Less Ordinary (1997). This black comedy, directed by Danny Boyle, stars Ewan MacGregor, a bona fide Scotsman who has been known to wear a kilt in real life.

Possibly the only redeeming feature of the much panned 1998 movie re-make of 1960s classic TV programme, The Avengers, is Sean Connery’s kilted villain, Sir August de Wynter. Nothing more to say on this movie other than the obvious question – with such a stellar cast how did it turn out so badly?

You would expect a movie called Loch Ness (1996) to feature a kilt wearer and it does not disappoint. The Beautiful Game (aka The Match) from 1999 is also set in Scotland. Set in an idyllic Highlands village, this very British comedy tells the story of a football grudge match between two pubs. Unsurprisingly, given the setting, one of the characters wears a kilt throughout the movie.

All in all, this constitutes quite a list of notable movies from the 1990s. That is before we consider kilt wearing cameos such as the Highland regiment that appears in The Last Of The Mohicans (1992) and the Scottish student at a party in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998).

It has been good to recall the halcyon days of the kilt in the movies during the 1990s. It must surely be time for a movie to be made about the tempestuous life of Bonnie Prince Charlie, or even Robert Burns. Either of these biopics would enable the kilt to make a much overdue comeback on the silver screen.

— Margaret Brecknell


Rufus Harley: America’s First Kilted Jazz Bagpiper

© Blue Cat

Recently I was in the studios of Atlanta’s radio station WABE 90.1 in full kilt gear, preparing to do an interview about Tartan Day and Kilt Con 2017. While waiting to go to the “City Lights” recording studio, I met H. Johnson, the station’s jazz expert and host of “Jazz Classics” and “Blues Classics.” He took a look at my kilt and asked me if I was familiar with the jazz musician Rufus Harley. Now, even though I’m a long-time jazz lover, I had to admit I was unfamiliar with Rufus Harley. “He was the first jazz bagpiper,” Johnson said. “He performed in a kilt. You should look him up.” Well, of course I had to do just that and soon discovered the fascinating story of jazz bagpiper, Rufus Harley.

Rufus Harley was born of mixed African-American and Cherokee descent in North Carolina on May 20, 1936 and not long afterward, his family moved to Philadelphia. While in high school, Rufus sold newspapers so he could purchase his first saxophone and eventually started playing sax and oboe in the local Philadelphia jazz clubs.

In 1963, while watching the Black Watch Pipe Band play at President Kennedy’s funeral, he found himself inspired to learn the bagpipes after unsuccessfully trying to mimic the bagpipe sound on his saxophone. Harley searched several local pawn shops for a decent set of bagpipes and finally found a set in New York City for $120. During his learning period, neighbors would call the police about the noice coming from Harley’s apartment. Harley would ask the cops, “Do I look like I’m Irish or Scottish?” keeping the police officers away long enough for him to learn the instrument. In 1964 Harley made his first public appearance playing his bagpipes.

Over the course of his career, Rufus Harley played with artists such as John Coltrane, Herbie Mann, Sonny Stitt, Dizzie Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Laurie Anderson and The Roots. He began making appearances in the 60s and 70s on television shows, including “To Tell the Truth,” “What’s My Line?” “I’ve Got a Secret, ” Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and Bill Cosby’s “Cosby Show.” It was said that his bagpipes technique was unorthodox in that he played with the drones over his right shoulder rather than his left.

Rufus Harley regularly played wearing a kilt and at one point, a Scottish family presented him with his tartan, the MacLeod tartan, after seeing him on television. Harley wore that tartan for the rest of his life.

Rufus Harley died of prostate cancer on August 1, 2006 in Philadelphia at the age of 70.

—Rick Baldwin

Book Review: Highland Fire: Guardians of the Stone, Book 1

Title: Highland Fire (Guardians of the Stone Book 1)
Author: Tanya Anne Crosby
Publisher: Oliver-Heber Books
Publication Date: January 15, 2014
Print Length: 335 pages

In the year 1123, King David of Scotland has established a tenuous peace across the kingdom. Only one obstacle remains in his path towards lasting peace: the Dun Scoti, a wild Highland tribe fiercely opposed to outside rule. In a last-ditch effort to form an alliance with the dun Scoti, David arranges a marriage between clan leader Aidan and Lileas MacLaren. However, Lileas happens to be the daughter of the man who betrayed the dun Scoti clan, and lives under a tragic curse as punishment for her father’s crime. Even worse, Lileas is blackmailed into the arranged marriage under threat of bodily harm to her precious son. In spite of her troubled past, and his own resistance, the wild warrior Aidan finds himself growing unable to resist Lileas’s beauty and kindness. As kings and nobles play politics over the fate of Scotland, love brings two hearts together in a bond that will determine the land’s destiny.

A companion series to author Tanya Anne Crosby’s previous Highland Brides novels, the Guardians of the Stone books take the reader on a journey to Scotland on the cusp of its birth (the Stone in question being the fabled Stone of Destiny, which determines the true King of Scotland). This first entry presents a tale of warring cultures, as the dun Scoti clan clings to the traditions of its Pictish ancestors in a land that is changing far too fast for their comfort. Crosby brings across the story of the dun Scoti with a palpable poignancy, the wistful dreaminess of a culture on the brink of oblivion. History buffs will want to read this with a grain of salt, as Crosby freely admits to taking some liberties with historical details in crafting her story. But this isn’t meant to be a factual historical tale. It’s a speculative “what-if?” yarn, an elegy to a culture that has shaped Scotland to this day, despite vanishing without a trace.

As with any romance, the characters are key to the story’s enjoyment, and Crosby does not fail to provide us with a bevy of colorful personalities. Lileas is a strong, capable heroine with a kind heart; despite the curse laid upon her for her father’s sins, she refuses to give in to self-pity. Drawing on her healer’s skills and gracious ways, she wins over the dun Scoti clan in almost an instant. Her betrothed, clan leader Aidan, is a fine Highland hero, a battle-hardened warrior whose new bride brings out the gentle heart buried deep within. The chemistry between Lileas and Aidan is undeniable. Their coming together as a couple is the stuff that romance novels are made of, a mutual awakening of desire and trust that can only come forth in a love that was meant to be.

The cast is rounded out further by a motley crew of fascinating side characters, particularly Aidan’s sisters, warlike Lael and exuberant Sorcha. The enigmatic Druid priestess Una is an intriguing side character, a mysterious entity whose mysticism quietly shapes the clan’s destiny. The main villain of the story is Rogan, the brother-in-law of Lileas’ late first husband and the driving force behind the marriage. His cruelty and lack of concern for anyone other than himself make him the sort of villain you long to see get his just desserts.

Guardians of the Stone currently has three books out, with a fourth due in July 2017. With its clever combination of history and magic, it’s a series that fans of Highland romance will devour, and have them coming back for more.

Highland Fire is available in paperback and audiobook formats, and in digital format for Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook.

— Heather McNamara

Book Review: Falling for the Highlander

Title: Falling for the Highlander
Author: Lynsay Sands
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Print Length: 384 pages

Having been dealt one tragic blow after another, Lady Murine Carmichael comes under the cruel guardianship of her gambling drunkard of a half-brother. When Lord Danvries tries to sell Murine in exchange for a pair of Scottish horses, she decides enough is enough and boldly makes a break for it. To her surprise, Dougall Buchanan, the gallant Highlander who refused her brother’s offer, is more than willing to help Murine escape Lord Danvries’ clutches. Under the escort of Dougall and his valiant brothers, Murine sets out on the journey to freedom. But she gets more than she bargained for when and Dougall find themselves ever more drawn to each other. As she discovers that Dougall’s desire to protect her comes from a place far deeper than mere chivalry, and the passions he awakens within her, it isn’t long before she finds herself slipping under the dashing Highlander’s spell.

In another sweeping tale, Lynsay Sands, bestselling author of the Argenau vampire romance series, takes us back once more to medieval Scotland, where kilted Highlanders offer up body and soul to protect the women they love. Many of the characters in Falling for the Highlander have appeared in previous novels, but while it helps to have read those, it’s not entirely necessary to enjoy this story. Any of Sands’ Highland romances are worth a read, and in this her latest, she continues to deliver the goods. Serving up a tasty dish with the just the right mix of humor and suspense and a generous helping of sex, Falling for the Highlander is tailor-made for reading while sipping a hot mug of tea on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

All the ingredients for an enjoyable romance are present. The story is populated with sympathetic-yet-flawed characters worth investing in and caring about. Murine’s tendency to faint is balanced out with plenty of scenes that show her wits and guts; Dougall is as loyal and loving a Highlander as you could ask for. Sands has a particular gift for drawing out the characters’ growing feelings for one another, capturing the confusion they feel over their increasing attraction and concern. Dougall doesn’t understand why he feels so violently jealous of his brothers’ attention to Murine; Murine doesn’t understand the fierce carnal desires Dougall is bringing out in her. This is a true hallmark of a great romance author—the ability to create characters you want to cheer for even though their words and actions may make you want to bang their heads together.

Another of Sands’ excellent storytelling skills is wrapping an element of mystery within her tales. This mystery is presented here in the form of unanswered questions surrounding the deaths’ of Murine’s relatives and how she wound up under her creep of a brother’s care. This lingering sense of suspense weaves itself seamlessly into the tale as one more obstacle that Murine and Dougall must overcome before they can have their well-deserved happy ending.

Lynsay Sands has delivered another winning Highland romance with all the right stuff. With six more bachelor Buchanan brothers, one can only hope she’ll be penning yet another entertaining story soon.

Falling for the Highlander is available in hardcover, mass-market paperback and audiobook editions, and in Kindle and Nook formats.

— Heather McNamara

20 Questions with Cooper McBean

Cooper McBean

Photo by Giles Clement.

Cooper McBean is guitarist and banjo player for The Devil Makes Three which, along with guitarist Pete Bernhard and upright bassist Lucia Turino, has become one of music’s more reliable and successful touring bands. Mixing bluegrass, rock, country, jazz and blues, the band continues to attract a diverse audience willing to support them in their exploration of sounds and styles. Life In A Kilt caught up with Cooper a few days before the release of “Redemption & Ruin,” the seventh album from The Devil Makes Three and we tossed out a few questions. 

LIAK: You’ve been performing with The Devil Makes Three for almost 15 years. How do you keep everything artistically and creatively fresh?

CMcB: We are always working on something new, and in between always, we try to mess with old things until they are new again.

LIAKTell us about the upcoming release, Redemption and Ruin.

CMcB: Redemption and Ruin is sort of a concept record. It’s all covers of our heroes, half songs about ruining your life, and half gospel songs about putting it back together.

LIAKThe name “McBean” certainly has a deep presence in Scottish lore. Have you ever researched the history of clan MacBean? Do you feel a connection with your Celtic heritage?

CMcB: The McBeans (or MacBeathains if you want to get down to the nuts and bolts) were a small Highland clan who were eventually lumped in with Clan Chattan. Our bass player Lucia is a MacLeish, so we are allies from way back.

LIAKHave you ever owned or worn a kilt?

CMcB: I have never owned a kilt myself, but many of the guys in my family do, though they mostly only come out for weddings and funerals.

LIAKEarly TDM3 albums were often categorized as “bluegrass” but the band seems to feel it is more “rock” than “bluegrass.” I think I heard one of you once describe TDM3 as an “American version of The Pogues.” Is that an accurate description?

CMcB: I’ve never been able to come up with a description for our music that I felt was just right. I think that we share an irreverent love for traditional music with The Pogues, so in that sense I suppose it fits.

LIAKWhat is your favorite beer?

CMcB: I’m a big fan of Lagunitas Daytime right now.

LIAKFor those not familiar with your other band, Cooper McBean and Vested Interest, tell us about the band’s history and why you decided to start another band?

CMcB: The Vested Interests was a side project I started with some friends to stay busy between tours, and to play songs that didn’t make the cut for The Devil Makes Three.

LIAKMany bands couldn’t survive 15 years with the same members. How do you three spend so much time together without wanting to punch each other out?

CMcB: Wanting to punch somebody, and actually doing it are two different things. We’ve had our disagreements over the years, but it has never come to blows. We’re all very old friends, so we’ve figured out ways to reconcile our differences.

LIAKHow would you describe each personality in the band?

CMcB: Stinky, Ugly, and Loud. I’ll leave it up to the readers to figure out who’s who.

LIAKWho is your favorite tattoo artist and how often do you update your ink?

CMcB: My fiancee is a tattooer, so she’s definitely my favorite. She thinks I’m a giant sissy for not getting tattooed more often.

LIAKWhat song do you think would be much better with the addition of banjo?

CMcB: I just played for a band called Miss Lonely Hearts on their new record. We did a cover of Breaking The Law by Judas Priest. Banjo was a real improvement.

LIAKIn addition to being a master musician, you are also an accomplished leatherworker. How did you get into that art form?

CMcB: I have a list of hobbies at least 400 miles long. Leather working is just one of them.

LIAKI can imagine several Life In A Kilt readers drooling at the thought of a custom-made Cooper McBean kilt sporran. Do you take custom orders?

CMcB: I have a pretty insane waiting list right now for leather work, but I’m always up for a new challenge!

LIAKWhat classic artist has influenced you the most and what contemporary artist inspires you the most?

CMcB: Mississippi John Hurt and the Reverend Gary Davis were two of my biggest influences when I was first discovering folk music. Does Kris Kristofferson count as contemporary? ‘Cause that dude is TOPS.

LIAKWould you prefer a sturdy pair of boots or good pair of sandals?

CMcB: Boots all the way, although I’m wearing sandals now…

LIAKWhat is your preferred social media outlet to keep up with family and fans?

CMcB: I have an Instagram account, but that’s it. I’m not super big on the whole social media thing.

LIAK:I counted several marriage proposals on one of your social media accounts. Have you ever dated or married a fan from the Internet?

CMcB: I’ve never dated ANYBODY from the internet. Have you even heard how people talk there?

LIAKDescribe your ideal tour.

CMcB: The next one!

LIAKOf the instruments you own, which is your favorite to play?

CMcB: That changes hour to hour. Today I’ve been playing my Telecaster and my musical saw.

LIAKHave you ever tried to see if you could play banjo better after an entire bottle of scotch?

CMcB: Yes. It didn’t work. But I’ll always give it another try!

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