Tartanry is a word used to describe the kitsch elements of Scottish culture that have been over-emphasised or super-imposed on the country first by the emergent Scottish tourist industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, and later by an American film industry. The earliest use of the word "tartanry" itself is said to have been in 1976.
Modern historians suggest that due to economic and social change, the clan system in the highlands was already declining by the time of the failed 1745 rising. In its aftermath the British government enacted a series of laws that attempted to speed the process, including a ban on the bearing of arms, the wearing of tartan in the Dress Act 1746 and limitations on the activities of the Episcopalian Church. Most of the legislation was repealed by the end of the eighteenth century as the Jacobite threat subsided. There was soon a process of the rehabilitation of highland culture. The Dress Act was repealed in 1782. Tartan was adopted for highland regiments in the British army, which poor highlanders joined in large numbers until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, but by the nineteenth century it had largely been abandoned by the ordinary people.
In the 1820s, as part of the Romantic revival, tartan and the kilt were adopted by members of the social elite, not just in Scotland, but across Europe. The international craze for tartan and for idealising a romanticised highlands was set off by the Ossian cycle published by Scottish poet James Macpherson's in 1761-2. Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novels further helped popularise Scottish life and history and he founded the Celtic Society of Edinburgh in 1820. He "staged" the royal Visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822 and the king's wearing of tartan. George IV was the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland in 171 years. Scott and the Celtic Society urged Scots to attend festivities "all plaided and plumed in their tartan array". One contemporary writer sarcastically described the pomp that surrounded the celebrations as "Sir Walter's Celtified Pagentry". Nevertheless, the result was a massive upsurge in demand for kilts and tartans that could not be met by the Scottish linen industry.
The designation of individual clan tartans was largely defined in this period and they became a major symbol of Scottish identity. The fashion for all things Scottish was maintained by Queen Victoria who help secure the identity of Scotland as a tourist resort and the popularity of the tartan fashion. Her Highland enthusiasm led to the design of two tartan patterns, “Victoria” and “Balmoral”, the latter named after her castle Balmoral in Aberdeenshire, which from 1852 became a major royal residence.
- Sunday Times (Colour Suppl.) 31 Oct 73 Tartanry has spread into radio, television, cabaret and clubs
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