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Buchanan tartan history

As many customers do ask, here's a little "potted history" and some background information on the Buchanan tartan, with apologies to all the better historians than me for the bits I've undoubtedly got wrong . . .

The Buchanan clan is one of the most ancient clans in Scotland history.  Their story begins with Swein the Fork Beard, a Danish king who took control of most of England and Ireland in 1013-1014


Swein's son Canute was to become King of England - and later became famous from the story of him facing the incoming tide - so Swein ordered celebrations to be held in Limerick and ordered that one thousand beautiful daughters of the Irish nobility be present.  Instead of 1,000 beautiful maidens, the Irish nobles sent 1,000 youths disguised in women’s habits with long Irish skeans (daggers) hidden below their cloaks.  The Danes discovered the subterfuge too late and were massacred


One of these youths was Anselan Buey Okyan or Ocahan or even O'Kyan (pronounced O'Kane), son of the King of Ulster.  The Danes send longships to Ireland to reinforce the Danish crown and to exact a revenge on the rebellious Irish nobles.  So, in 1016, as a result of his involvement in this exploit, Anselan fled Ireland and emigrated to Argyll ion the West coast of Scotland


In 1225 a grant of lands on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond was made by the Earl of Lennox to a clergyman called Sir Absalon of Buchanan and this appears to be the earliest recording of the name

The clan gained more lands around the shores of Loch Lomond after fighting alongside King Robert the Bruce during Scotland's Wars of Independence and a charter of 1353 exists which refers to “carucate of land called Buchquhaane”


Later, an Alexander Buchanan fought alongside the French against the English King Henry V.  Help was given to the French King after his defeat at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and it is claimed that Sir Alexander Buchanan killed the English Duke of Clarence at the Battle of Baugé in 1421.  It is because of this that the Buchanan clan crest and coat of arms (see above) shows a hand and arm holding aloft a Ducal cap.  Sir Alexander Buchanan however was later killed leading the clan against the English at the Battle of Verneuil in 1424


In the 15th century a feud broke out between the Clan Buchanan and the Clan MacLaren resulting in a full scale battle.  At first the Buchanans were faring better and drove the MacLarens back but legend has it that the Chief of the MacLarens saw one of his sons cut down and being suddenly seized with battle madness turned and shouted the MacLaren battle cry “Creag An Tuirc” - which means Boar's Rock, a rock near Balquhidder in the heart of Buchanan lands


Whirling his claymore above his head, the MacLaren chieftain rushed furiously at the enemy.  His clansmen followed him and the Buchanans were cut down like corn.  Only two escaped by swimming the River Balvaig but even they were followed.  One was killed at Gartnafuaran and the second was cut down at a place known ever since as Sron Laine

Through political marriages, the Buchanans were once the closest clan to the Royal House of Scotland and when King James I was beheaded in 1425, were all but set to take over the throne


A certain George Buchanan was a famous scholar, humanist and reformer and tutor to Mary Queen of Scots between 1536 and 1538, and to her son King James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of England in 1603 following the Union of the Crowns.  Under Buchanan's advice and tutorage, James VI & I authorised the translation of the Holy Bible from Latin into English


The clan's fortunes waned and all was eventually lost when the 22nd Laird died in 1681, leaving two daughters and huge gambling debts . . . he put it all on red and it came up black!


On the one hand, this unfortunate turn of events meant the Buchanans were no longer as influential at the heart of Scottish politics and royal life as they once had been.  They played little part in the massive political and constitutional changes that followed and so were unable to exert any influence or gain any power

On the other hand, it could be argued that exactly these same events ultimately saved the clan as the Buchanans - the original family or clan at least - avoided choosing the wrong side and were not perceived as a threat to the British Government

The Buchanan estates were latterly purchased by the Duke of Montrose, who built Buchanan Castle.  Montrose's allegiance was not to Bonnie Prince Charlie so the Buchanans fought on the side of the British Government against the Jacobites during the 1745 uprising - quite a shift in position from fighting alongside William Wallace over 500 years before

The Lord Provost of Glasgow at the time of the 1745 Uprising was an Andrew Buchanan, who refused to asist the forces of the Young Pretender when he arrived in the city.  A later Buchanan tobacco baron gave his name to Buchanan Street, which is now Glasgow's most famous shopping street

Although there has been no official clan chief since the 17th century, the clan has spread far and wide across the world and there are probably more descendants of the Buchanans than virtually any other Scottish clan which, in a way, proves the point above about the clan (in the broadest sense of clan family) being saved by a series of misfortunes suffered by the chieftain and his family

Of the tens of thousands of Buchanans who found themselves in the new world, one James Buchanan did pretty well for himself . . . he became the 15th president of the USA (1857-61).  So perhaps it's fair to say the Buchanan clan found themselves with a chieftain again, of sorts

The Buchanan tartan - the modern variant - remains one of the most recognisable of all Scottish tartans with its irregular, asymmetric weave pattern and bright, simple colours

Far from being a modern tartan (despite its name), the bright hues of Buchanan Modern attest to the clan's ancient history.  The Buchanan tartan has attracted an almost comedic reputation because of the bright colours, which is a shame as these are actually old colours which can be traced back to a time when the wool was dyed with a limited palette of plant pigments - although legends of specially bred sheep with Buchanan tartan coats still persist (see below)

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