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Cameron tartan history

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


The Cameron clan has its home in the Western highlands and is one of the noblest clans of Scotland - famous as the first to rally to the call of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 Jacobite uprising.  Some scholars believe they were originally descended from the son of Camroch, a King of Denmark, who assisted the restoration of King Fergus around 780, and that their progenitor was called Cameron because of his crooked nose. In Gaelic, Cameron means crooked, or hooked nose


An Allen MacOrchtry, son of Uchtred, is mentioned by tradition as the chief of Camerons during the reign of King Robert II (1316-1390).  Others believe the first true chief was a Donald Dubh born around 1400 in Fife.  During the 13th and 14th centuries, the most important tribes in Lochaber (the area around modern day Fort William) were Clan Donald, the Chattan Confederation and the Mael-anfhaidh.  Traditionally, the Mael-anfhaidh consisted of three main tribes; the MacMartins, the MacGillonies and the MacSorlies of Glennevis.  The Chattan Confederation was a group of clans or tribes, who joined by blood bonds for mutual protection, centred around Clan MacKintosh, traditional enemies of Clan Cameron


The MacMartins are said to have provided the chief of this confederation of tribes.  Donald Dubh Cameron, already mentioned, married the daughter of the MacMartin chief and through this strategic marriage assumed the leadership of the Mael-anfhaidh clans which later formed the Clan Cameron, first officially recognized by that name in a charter of 1472.  Donald proved a natural and astute leader, uniting several tribes to form Clan Cameron.  The clan's influence and land-holdings spread West and in 1528 Ewen Macallan took the title Cameron of Lochiel, the chief's title to this day

In the 14th Century, during the Wars of Scottish Independence, Clan Cameron fought for King Robert the Bruce, led by John de Cameron against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  Thereafter, Clan Cameron extended its influence and land holdings, being intimately involved in the turbulent political life of the Scottish highlands, fighting many clan battles mostly against Clan MacKintosh with whom they had an extensive feud which lasted some 360 years

The Camerons fought as Jacobites at the Battle of Sheriffmuir during the 1715 Jacobite uprising.  They later fought fought at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719.  Their chief, John Cameron of Lochiel, after hiding for a time in the Highlands, made his way back to exile in France


In 1745 Donald (the 19th chief) was the first to support Bonnie Prince Charlie and helped raise the standard at Glenfinnan. His standing and authority among the highland clans helped unite the clans behind the Jacobite cause.  It is fair to say that without Lochiel, the 1745 uprising would never have got off the ground. Lochiel was Prince Charlie's most trusted advisor and on the retreat from Derby, it was Lochiel who prohibited the highlanders from sacking Glasgow.  To this day whenever Cameron of Lochiel enters Glasgow, tradition demands the city's church bells ring out in gratitude


Clan Cameron fought on the front line at the Battle of Culloden and after the Jacobites' disastrous defeat, Donald Cameron, also known as 'Gentle Lochiel', took refuge in France, where he died in October 1748

After the '45 uprising, the British Government introduced a series of measures designed to exterminate the highland clan way of life - what we would nowadays call ethnic cleansing.  The speaking Gaelic, the bearing of arms, the playing of bagpipes and the wearing of tartan were all banned

The Cameron titles and land were restored in return for Cameron of Lochiel swearing loyalty to the British crown.  To demonstrate this loyalty, the clan raised the Cameron Highlanders regiment in 1793.  During the Battle of Waterloo, the Cameron Highlanders (79th of foot) were attacked by French cavalry and formed the famous defensive square


Piper Kenneth MacKay stepped out of the protective square to play the traditional rallying tune "Cogadh no Sith".  Piper MacKay's courage was an inspiration to the men and with the sound of the highland pipes in their ears, the regiment succesfully repelled wave after wave of ferocious cavalry charges.  Piper MacKay's personal courage was one reason why the Cameron Highlanders were one of only four regiments to be specifically named by the Duke of Wellington in his Waterloo despatches.  Piper MacKay received a set of silver bagpipes from the King, for individual bravery in battle.  In 1873 Queen Victoria stated the regiment should be known from then on as the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders


When the very first regiment of Cameron Highlanders was raised, it was decided that the red-based Clan Cameron tartan would not be used, and instead a new design was devised.  The Cameron of Erracht tartan was based on the MacDonald sett with the addition of a gold overcheck from the Cameron tartan, and the omission of three red lines found in that of MacDonald.  This was unique among Scottish regiments at the time, whose tartans were based on the Government Tartan, The Black Watch

The regiment fought throughout the Napoleonic Wars and served in India, Egypt, South Africa, the Crimea and in the Great War.  During World War II the 1st Battalion fought in Burma, while the 2nd Battalion formed part of Montogomery's Eighth Army, fighting in North Africa and, later, in Italy.  Notably, the regiment was the last to wear the kilt in battle, due to the purposeful delaying of orders by commanding officers in the battalions (no one wanted to give up the kilt) and a surprise attack by the Germans.  The attack was successfully repelled by the highlanders and, for this, they earned the nick-name of 'ladies from hell'


In 1961 the regiment merged with the Seaforth Highlanders to form the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons).  The 1st Battalion Queen's Own Highlanders was further amalgamated with 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders in 1994 to form 1st Battalion The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons).  The regiment's lineage is continued by The Highlanders, now as 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland


Clan Cameron's seat is at Achnacarry, near Fort William, and it was here during World War II that the commandos were trained, amidist the wild splendour of the Nevis mountain range.  When Churchill authorised the forming of special commando units, the men (all volunteers) were sent to this isolated part of Scotland to learn their craft.  Commando raids were extremely hazardous and Hitler's infamous "commando order" meant that any captured commandos were treated as spies and not as prisoners of war.  Many, many commandos lost their lives throughout the war and especially after D-Day and the Normandy landings.  Near to Achnacarry, at Spean Bridge, is the Commando Memorial - one of the most evocative military monuments in the world with three bronze commandos facing towards the rising sun, across the Nevis mountains

The Clan Cameron was affected more than most by the Highland clearances - the forceful eviction of crofting families from highland glens by ruthless landlords to make way for more profitable sheep.  The result of this is that Camerons can now be found throughout Canada and the USA, as well as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa


As this picture below shows - it's good to see that even the American Camerons know that a true highlander doesn't wear anything under the kilt(!)


We stock both the Clan Cameron tartan ribbon - its red and gold reflecting the colours of the clan coat of arms and famous all over the world, and also the Cameron of Erracht tartan ribbon with its illustrious military history.  We also have a tiny amount of Cameron of Lochiel (Hunting) tartan ribbon which is no longer is production and now very rare indeed


See our full range of Cameron (clan) tartan ribbon

See our full range of Cameron of Erracht tartan ribbon

See our full range of Cameron of Lochiel tartan ribbon

See our full range of tartan / plaid ribbon