The Clan MacGregor and the Royal Visit of 1822
The Document of the Month for August is another in our series celebrating Scotland’s Year of Stories. This month is the two hundredth anniversary of the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh. Many historians regard this as a significant date as it marks the resurgence in the popularity of tartan in Scotland, and particularly, the wearing of the kilt. The Stirling area was an important part of this, as the Wilson woollen mill at Bannockburn was responsible for supplying much of the cloth that was worn as kilts and trousers by those attending the pageants that were held that August in the capital. Although the Council Archives does not hold records relating to Wilson’s business, there are papers in the collections that give some interesting details about the occasion.
Amongst the papers of the Clan MacGregor held at the Council Archives there are bundles of accounts relating to the attendance of Clan members at the visit of King George IV to Scotland in August 1822.
The Royal visit was largely organised by popular poet and author Sir Walter Scott. Scott had been introduced to the future George IV, then Prince Regent, in 1815 and the two subsequently became friends. Scott and some of his associates had, with the Prince’s permission, located the box containing the Scottish royal regalia in an obscure corner of Edinburgh Castle, and was given a baronetcy for his pains in 1820, once George had succeeded to the throne. The novelist, one of the most popular writers in the country at this time, was an obvious choice for the role of master of ceremonies for the long-awaited visit of royalty north of the border.
What Scott created was a month long pageant designed to celebrate Scottish identity and heal the perceived rift between George and his most northerly subjects. Those attending were encouraged to wear traditional Highland dress. The wearing of military dress had been proscribed after the Battle of Culloden, and this restriction was not lifted until 1782. By this time, the wearing of the kilt had largely fallen out of fashion. The enthusiasm for the kilt and all the accoutrements of full Highland attire resulted in a resurgence of interest in tartan generally, and can be said to be the beginning of the modern system of clan tartans.
Walter Scott, as part of his organisation of the event, recruited the various Highland Societies current in Edinburgh and elsewhere at the time, and various Clan Chieftains to the cause, giving prominent families roles in the formal gatherings and receptions to ensure their enthusiastic attendance.
One such was the ancient Clan MacGregor, a name that had once been proscribed across Scotland by royal decree. As if in apology for this, the MacGregors were granted the prestigious job of forming the honour guard around the Regalia of Scotland as it was paraded from the Palace of Holyrood House up the Royal Mile in procession with the royal coach and various military personnel on the 22nd August 1822. The enthusiastic preparation for this role is reflected in the receipts and other records that survive within this remarkable collection.
It is clear that new great kilts were required for the occasion by many MacGregor family members. Both Donald and John MacGregor purchased 11 yards of tartan cloth from the Albion Cloth Company of North Bridge, Edinburgh, presumably for the making of kilts. Similarly, Major MacGregor purchased 22 yards of tartan cloth, noted on the receipt as being for John McDonald, his piper, and John MacGregor.
The bundles also include a list of the Clan members who were chosen to attend the event, along with correspondence relating to how individual people were picked from amongst the family groups. This list of attendees also includes accounts of expenses including tartan cloth, two gallons of whisky and cockades, presumably for the bonnets the men will have been wearing. It also details other expenses, the hefty sum of one hundred pounds having been allocated for sundries during their stay.
Along with the tartans, there are receipts for the purchase of sporrans: ‘47 Grey Goatskin Highland purses with white tassels and black leather belts’. Jewellery was also purchased, crests, gold buckles, powder horns and chains.
The King himself on one occasion during his visit was similarly attired in a Royal Stuart Tartan great kilt with all the accoutrements specially made for him by George Hunter & Sons of Princes Street, Edinburgh. The sword and dirk he wore are held at Holyrood House and may be viewed in the museum there, and online. In the end, the King’s kilt was rather shorter than was customary, and George was dressed in pink tights to preserve his modesty and the people of the Scottish capital from having to witness the royal knees. Several newspapers of the time issued cartoons to lampoon his appearance, but when he sat for a portrait in this attire a few years later, the artist, celebrated Scottish portraitist Sir David Wilkie, was polite enough to adjust the costume so that it appeared more becoming in the resulting painting.
Ultimately, the visit was declared a resounding success. The carefully organised events were all packed-out, and crowds lined the streets to cheer the King as he went to his various engagements. Representatives from all of Scotland’s fashionable and noble families attended the balls and levees, and a good time appeared to have been had by all at the end of proceedings even if some local people were somewhat bemused by the whole experience. John Murray, the Fourth Duke of Athol referred to the event in his diary as ‘one and twenty daft days’.
It is estimated that around seven percent of Scotland’s population attended during the weeks of the King’s stay, and all of the events organised during the festival around it went off without a hitch, including the part that the members of the Clan MacGregor played. The Clan even went so far as to write a song to commemorate the event, a copy of which is to be found amongst their papers.
After the enthusiasm that accompanied the parades and balls and general festivities that were held, and the generally approving coverage in the newspapers of the time, the event had the secondary effect of attracting increasing numbers of people to Scotland as a tourist destination.