Flower of Scotland tartan history

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

Flower of Scotland tartan is a modern, commercial tartan with no real 'history' of its own but the story of how it came about is nevertheless fascinating, intimately linked to the song of the same name and the resurgence of Scottish national pride in recent decades

Officially, Scotland has no national anthem of its own, as 'God Save the Queen' is the only official national anthem of all the nations of the United Kingdom.  A source of irritation for Scots, Welsh and the Northern Irish has always been that the 'national' anthem is played for English sportsmen and women and for the England national sports teams - even when they play against another of the home nations.  This confusion has led to many people assuming (incorrectly) that 'God Save the Queen' is the English national anthem . . . it's not!

Scotland's official-unofficial-national-anthem is 'Scotland the Brave' - written by Cliff Hanley.  The unofficial-unofficial-national-anthem 'Flower of Scotland' was written by Roy Williamson in 1967 and has become the nation's favourite, polling 42% of the vote in 2006 when the Royal Scottish National Orchestra put the question of what should be our national anthem to the Scottish public

Sung at international football and rugby matches, and other national events, there's no doubt that more Scots know the words (at least the first verse) to 'Flower of Scotland' than to either 'Scotland the Brave' or Robert Burns' 'Scots Wha' Hae'

Flower of Scotland, like many nationalistic songs, centres around the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and King Robert the Bruce's victory against King Edward II of England. . .

. . . and stood against him,
Proud Edward's Army,
And sent him homeward,
Tae think again.

. . . drawing parallels between this period of our emerging nation's history and the modern day, when national pride may prove the catalyst to take the younger, vibrant Scotland with its own government forward to find its place within Europe and the wider world

The third verse tries to make it clear that . . .

Those days are past now,
And in the past
They must remain,
But we can still rise now,
And be the nation again . . .

. . . in other words, Scots patriotism does not equal anti-English sentiment; it's too simplistic an argument and in our recent past we've been too quick to blame all of Scotland's ills on our Southern neighbours.  This was understood and commented on by the song's author and composer, Roy Williamson, half of the folk duo The Corries

The Corries were an immensely successful folk group but Williamson was sadly lost to Scottish music in 1990, some 15 years before his song was universally adopted by Scotland's national sports fans

With its new role as our unofficial anthem, Flower of Scotland demands to played on the bagpipes (of course) but this poses a purely musical problem - here's some trivia for the musicians among you . . .

Scottish bagpipes (the Great Pipes) rely on a special set of fingering and this, coupled with the fixed pitches of the three drones, limits the notes which can be played.  The third last note of Flower of Scotland is a flattened seventh, which is not considered to be part of the standard pipe scale

In order to hit the correct note, a 'forked fingering' must be used which less experienced players are unlikely to be familiar with, and it's a piping technique not widely used outside Scotland so pipe bands in Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere often miss the infamous flattened seventh

The tune was originally composed on the Northumbrian smallpipes, which have the benefit of keys on the chanter to achieve a greater range of notes

Then again, it's unlikely that whenever you hear Flower of Scotland being played that you'll be able to pick out that odd sounding flattened seventh, as the voices of tens of thousands of Scots are more likely to be drowning it out!

Exactly what was the 'flower' of Scotland has sparked some debate . . . the flower is not, as many assume, a thistle although this is Scotland's national flower.  Most people agree that the 'flower' is wild white briar rose - the flower used by the Jacobites during the 1745 uprising - after all, the House of Stewart was related to the English House of Tudor.  Legend has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie picked a wild rose from a bush and pinned it to his bonnet when he raised the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan and Jacobites took to wearing a white cockade of ribbon to resemble the rose

Wild white briar roses still grow here today, around the Glenfinnan monument

Williamson never confirmed the exact meaning, prefering to point to a more abstract meaning - once suggesting that it perhaps meant the youth of Scotland - young men lost in battle fighting for their homeland and, in later generations, lost to Scotland through the highland clearances.  Some have suggested it refers to Bonnie Prince Charlie in person, but this is doubtful considering the song centres on Bannockburn, some 400+ years earlier

Others suggest that the 'Flower of Scotland' is not a physical thing at all, but is symbol to represent the spirit of a nation - pride and patriotism, if you prefer - just as the Jacobite rose was once such a symbol

The Flower of Scotland tartan itself was designed as a tribute to Roy Williamson and remains a firm favourite among the UK's highland wear hire companies.  Registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority in 1990, the year Williamson died, and the design rights belong to the tartan weavers The House of Edgar

Flower of Scotland is a hugely popular tartan - partly because of its back-story but largely also because its subtle hues mean it is very similar to the Ancient and Hunting variants of many other tartans, not themselves produced in ribbon.  These tartans include MacLean, Morrison, Grant, MacMillan, Sinclair, Robertson, MacRae, Hunting Stewart / Stuart, MacLaren, Davidson, MacLennan, MacDonald of the Isles, MacEwan, MacInnes, MacKellar, MacKay, MacIntosh Hunting, MacThomas, Armstrong, Marshall, MacTaggart, MacKenzie Ancient, MacNeil of Barra, Malcolm, Mitchell, Murray of Atholl, Kennedy, Watson, Lauder, Inglis, Campbell of Cawdor, Baillie, Weir, Bisset, Davidson of Tulloch (Ancient), Blair, Ferguson, Brodie, Galbraith, Fletcher, Hunter, Forbes, Gordon Old (Ancient)  . . . the list runs to hundreds more

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