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Black Watch Tartan

The history of the tartan

The Black Watch tartan, associated with the British infantry regiment of the same name, has a long and interesting history. Alternatively known as Grant Hunting or Government tartan, Black Watch tartan was worn first by the six “watch” companies that once patrolled the Highlands. General George Wade, with authorisation from George I, formed these six companies in 1725 following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. The Black Watch, as they would come to be known, were employed to rid the Highlands of criminals, rebels and to deter fighting between rival clans.

The original six companies consisted of three from Clan Campbell and one from each of Clan Munro, Clan Fraser of Lovatand Clan Grant. The tartan itself was produced by over 60 weavers in the Strathspey area which was home to Clan Grant. The dark blue, black and green plaid that we know today as Black Watch is believed to have been a tartan of Clan Grant originally, hence the alternative name Grant Hunting. Given that half of the six original companies were Campbells though, the origin of the plaid may belong to this Clan. The companies of the Black Watch were later expanded to ten and then merged into a single regiment.

The uniform at that time consisted of a 12 yard plaid of tartan, a scarlet jacket and waistcoat with buff facings and a blue bonnet. The plaid was a garment fastened at the waist and draped over the shoulder which doubled as a blanket and sheltered the soldiers from the rain. Even as the 43rd regiment, they were known colloquially as the Black Watch, a name that’s origins are in dispute. One of the most popular theories is that they were named because of the dark tartan of their uniform, the Black Watch tartan we know today.

Who Can Wear Black Watch Tartan?

Tradition has it that those who have no Tartan of their own can wear the Black Watch (The Universal or Government Tartan) or the Hunting Stewart, but not the Royal Stewart without the express authority of the Queen. However, commercialisation in recent times has rather blurred this.

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