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Douglas tartan history

As many customers do ask, here's a little potted history with sincere apologies to better historians than me for the bits I've undoubtedly got wrong (!)

The Douglas clan is one of Scotland's oldest clans... the first recorded Douglas was William de Dufglas, who lived between 1174 and 1199

Sir William "le Hardi" Douglas fought alongside Sir William Wallace during Scotland's wars of independence and his son known as "the good Sir James" became the first of the "Black Douglases" and, famously, was a close companion of King Robert the Bruce; dying in Spain in 1330 while fighting the Moors during the crusades and en route to the Holy Land

King Robert Bruce died in 1329 and, according to legend (and many historians), had asked that Sir James, as his closest friend and lieutenant, should carry his heart to the Holy Land and present it at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as a mark of penance and as a token of his unfulfilled ambition to go on crusade

Bruce's heart was cut from his body and placed in a silver and enamelled casket which Sir James placed around his neck.  Early in 1330, Douglas set sail from Berwick upon Tweed, accompanied by seven other knights with twenty six squires and gentlemen

King Alfonso XI of Castille was preparing to march to recapture the city of Granada from the Moors and Sir William Douglas joined the campaign.  After much fierce fighting the enemy army retreated and, according to John Barbour's description of Douglas' last battle, Sir James and his companions followed hard behind

Having outstripped most of his men in the pursuit, Douglas suddenly found himself far out in front with only a few of his followers around him.  As he rode back to rejoin the main body, he saw Sir William St. Clair of Rosslyn surrounded by a body of Moors.  With the few knights who were with him, Douglas turned aside to attempt a rescue but, outnumbered twenty to one, the group was over-run

The legend is that Douglas then took the silver casket containing the heart of Bruce from his neck and threw it before him among the enemy saying, "Now pass thou onward as thou wert wont, and Douglas will follow thee or die".  This action is commemorated in the Douglas family coat of arms, which shows the heart of King Robert Bruce

Sir William's nephew (another Sir William) inherited the estates and became Earl of Home and later, through marriage, Earl of Mar.  One grandson led to a line of the family who became Marquises of Queensberry; giving their name to the rules of boxing.  Another (illegitimate) grandson called Archibald "The Grim" became the 3rd Earl and married his son to Princess Margaret, daughter of King Robert III.  This marriage strengthened the Douglases' position but this, in itself, became a problem and led to political power-struggles and national instability... the 6th Earl (who was married to the widowed Queen Margaret Tudor) was assassinated along with his brother, in 1440.  The 9th Earl escaped the same fate but died in 1491 without an heir, bringing the line of the "Black Douglases" to an end

Then began the line of the "Red Douglases" with George, 11th Earl of Angus and 1st Marquis of Douglas.  He married a House of Stewart princess and brought the clan back into ascendance.  The Douglas clan gained importance through more strategic marriages and in 1660 the 2nd Marquis became the Duke of Hamilton through marriage.  The Duke of Hamilton remains the most senior of all the Scottish nobility - being senior to even the Duke of Argyll.  Through this marriage several other titles including the Earl of Angus also passed into the family along with substantial holdings of land throughout the country.  To this day the oldest son of the Duke of Hamilton is always known as the Marquis of Douglas and Clydesdale

The Douglas tartan is one of the many military tartans based on the Black Watch tartan, or Government tartan.  The wearing of tartan was banned after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and was slowly reintroduced into the Scottish regiments of the British army - many of them newly formed to act as a form of militia to police the highlands and also, the British government thought, as a way to take advantage of the highland warriors' courage and skill while fighting on behalf of the crown in British colonies worldwide, rather than against it at home

The Modern Douglas tartan became even more famous as the regimental tartan of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).  Formed in 1881, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was the only rifle regiment in the Scottish regiments of infantry. As a lowland (Lanarkshire) regiment The Cameronians wore tartan trews  - not kilts!

The Cameronians' origins lie in the turbulent period of religious and political strife of the 1680's. The original Cameronians were Covenanters - signatories to the National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), which meant that they would even do battle to defend their freedom to worship as they chose.  When their ministers were ejected from their parishes the Covenanters followed them to the hills and worshipped at open air services... "conventicles"

As the threat from government forces increased, the Covenanters began to carry weapons to their conventicles and post armed pickets to keep a lookout.  The regiment was formed on 14th May 1689, on the banks of the Douglas Water in South Lanarkshire.  Their first colonel was the 19 year old Earl of Angus, son of the Marquis of Douglas.  The Earl's statue overlooks the spot in Douglas to this day

The regiment took its name from Richard Cameron, 'The Lion of The Covenant'.  Cameron was a field preacher but was killed at the battle of Airds Moss in 1680

From 1750 they, like all of the regiments of the line, were given a number and were thereafter known as the 26th Regiment of Foot, The Cameronians

Towards the end of the 18th century with Britain facing war with France, the government raised new regiments including, in 1794, the 90th (Perthshire Light Infantry) who were eventually brought together with the 26th of Foot in 1881 to form The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).  The regiment (before and after this amalgamation) served in the Napoleonic wars, in the Crimea, in India (winning six Victoria Crosses at the relief of Lucknow in 1857), in South Africa duling the Zulu Wars and, of course, in the Great War

During the second world war, the 1st battalion served in the Far East as part of the famous Chindits while the 2nd battalion were part of the British Expeditionary Force, eventally evacuated at Dunkirk. They fought in the Middle East and then as part of Montgomery's 8th Army in the fight to capture Italy

After the war the regiment was reduced to one battalion, seeing service in Malaysia against the communist terrorists, in Germany (as part of BAOR), in the Middle East (Oman and Jordan), Kenya (Mau Mau uprising), Germany again, and finally, on counter-terrorist operations in Aden in 1966-1967.  With the third major round of cuts in 1967 it was announced that the 1st Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was to disband, ending nearly three hundred years of service to the Crown.  The disbandment parade, in the form of a Conventicle, took place at Douglas on 14th May 1968

The salute was taken by the then Earl of Angus, the 14th Duke of Hamilton (1903-1973), honouring the regiment's historical links to the Douglas family

In his sermon the Reverend Donald MacDonald, a former Chaplain to both regular battalions, said:

    " … so put pride in your step Cameronians! As you march out of the Army List, you are marching into history, and from your proud place there, no man can remove your name, and no man can snatch a rose from the chaplet of your honour."


The Modern Douglas tartan is a very smart, darker tartan based on the Black Watch tartan, or Government tartan, with single white overcheck.  The Ancient Douglas tartan is a lighter version of the same tartan but the nature of ribbon manufacture means it is also brighter in colour. The Ancient Douglas is virtually identical to the Hamilton tartan - for obvious historical reasons


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