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 illustrations, 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 (now known as the Cromarty MS), which bore the date 1721 on the first page and with the title Liber Vestiarium Scotia, was said by its possessors to have been obtained from a certain John Ross of Cromarty, 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 (now known as the Douay MS) whose date was claimed to be 1571 (or earlier) which was at that time in the possession of John Lesley, Bishop of Ross. This Douay 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 Correspondence
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 Scoticum
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
- 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 tartans presented in the Vestiarium were divided into three sections. First came the "Hieland clannes", followed by "Low country pairtes" and "Bordour clannes". In the listing below, following the plate # (from the Vestiarium) is given the clan name (with original spelling as it appeared in the VS), followed by a graphical image of the pattern and, finally, the thread count derived from the plate image.
Hieland Clannes (Highland clans)
Low country pairtes (Lowland clans)
|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)
|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 Review
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 book by John Sobieski and Charles Edward Stuart entitled The Tales of theCentury. 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 Glasgow Herald published a series of articles 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
- Donald C. Stewart and J. Charles Thompson, Scotland's Forged Tartans, Paul Harris Publishing, Edinburgh, 1980. ISBN 0-904505-67-7.