Menzies tartan history

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

The name 'Menzies' is actually derived from the English surname 'Manners', who were the ancestors of the Duke of Rutland.  Both names are likely to be derived from 'Mesnieres', a Norman surname.  The 'z' is Menzies is never pronounced as in zebra, as the old Scottish letter meant a guttural sound, somewhere between 'y' and 'g'. . . so the pronunciation is something like 'Ming-is' with a soft 'g'

The name Menzies appears in early Scottish history with a Sir Robert de Meneris mentioned at the court of King Alexander II (around 1124) and in 1149 he was made Chamberlain of Scotland.  The original home of the clan appears to be Atholl and Rannoch, and later in Aberfeldy and Tay

'Meneris' became 'Mengues' and a Sir Robert de Mengues was companion-in-arms to King Robert the Bruce, and so began an illustrious line of military-Menzies descendants.  In the 14th century during the Scottish Wars of Independence, Clan Menzies supported Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn

The clan motto Vil God I Zal is auld Scots - showing the language's Germanic roots.  It means something like 'In God I shall' / 'With God's will, I shall' / 'God willing I shall' / 'God wills it and I shall do it'

The motto comes from the famous incident when, following King Robert the Bruce's death, Lord James Douglas (the Black Douglas) fulfilled Bruce's dying wish by taking his heart on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land

En route, Douglas and his party were diverted to help in a battle against the Moors at Teba, near Granada

In the midst of an attack by the Moors, Douglas threw the casket containing Bruce's heart into the enemy and one of his accompanying knights - a Menzies - responded to the call with "Vil God I Zal" and then entered the fray.  The outnumbered Scottish knights fought off the Moors but Sir James Douglas was killed. The surviving knights recovered Bruce's heart, which was eventually returned to Scotland and interred at Melrose abbey 

The name Menzies appears in early Scottish history with a Sir Robert de Meneris mentioned at the court of King Alexander II (around 1124) and in 1149 he was made Chamberlain of Scotland.  The original home of the clan appears to be Atholl and Rannoch, and later in Aberfeldy and Tay

'Meneris' became 'Mengues' and a Sir Robert de Mengues was companion-in-arms to King Robert the Bruce, and so began an illustrious line of military-Menzies descendants.  In the 14th century during the Scottish Wars of Independence, Clan Menzies supported Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn

In the 16th century, King James IV of Scots granted a charter converting all Menzies lands into a barony.  By now the clan was Gaelic speaking and the chief became known as 'Am Mainnearach' meaning 'The Menzies'

During the English / Scottish Civil War the main part of the Menzies from Weems joined forces with Clan Campbell in support of the Scottish Argyll government.  Despite both their Stewart and royal links, the Menzies chiefs opposed King Charles I.  By 1651 the Scottish Covenantor Government had become disillusioned with the English parliament and decided to join the royalists instead

In 1665 a Sir Alexander Menzies was created Baronet of Nova Scotia and his brother, Colonel James Menzies of Culdares (from whom the current family line descends) received no fewer than nine arrow wounds in his legs battling the marauding MacDonalds of Glencoe

Menzies of Culdares rallied to the Jacobite cause in 1715 and, again, when Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland in 1745.  Culdares was too old to attend the prince in person so he sent the prince his finest horse.  During both the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite uprisings the main part of Clan Menzies remained neutral, however branches of the clan such as Menzies of Shian and Menzies of Pitfodel fought on the side of the Jacobites

Scotland is indebted to the Menzies for the introduction of the larch tree which now flourishes all over the Highlands.  Menzies of Culdares, who had been pardoned for his participation in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, brought the first larches from the Austrian Tyrol in 1737and presented them to the Duke of Atholl.  Two of the original saplings, now grown to a great size, can be seen besides Dunkeld Cathedral.  In the nineteenth century Sir Neil Menzies of Menzies, 6th Baronet, actively promoted tree planting and agricultural improvements which were continued by his son Sir Robert. 

Menzies Castle was the seat of the Chiefs of Clan Menzies for over 400 years.  Situated in an important strategic location, the castle was involved in much of the turbulent history of the highlands

During the 1745 Jacobite rising the castle hosted both Bonnie Prince Charlie, who rested on his way to Culloden in 1746 and, just four days later, the Duke of Cumberland, son of the British Monarch and commander of the Government forces

Rescued as a ruin in 1957 by the then recently re-formed Menzies Clan Society, the castle has been lovingly restored by generations of society members and was placed into a charitable trust in 1993.  It is open to all as a visitor attraction, museum, clan centre for the Menzies Clan and a stunning venue for concerts and weddings - see the picture below of

Architecturally fascinating, it is a splendid Renaissance example of the transition in Scottish castles from earlier rugged highland fortresses and keeps to later fortified mansion houses

The roots of Scots Baronial style, so much favoured by later Victorian architects, can clearly be seen in buildings like Castle Menzies

Find out more about Castle Menzies

The 'Red Menzies' tartan is probably the oldest Scottish tartan of all, a simple weave of two base colours using natural plant dyes.  The clan war cry is 'Gael 'us Dearg a suas!' which means 'Up with the white and the red!'

A number of variants have appeared over the years, mainly because of the tartan's simplicity, although many still argue about whether it is red-on-white or white-on-red / black-on-white or white-on-black.   The monotone design meant it was easy to simply substitute the red for another colour.  These colourful variants of the Menzies tartan are often seen worn by highland dancers and have been used in countless fashion and soft furnishing products

The 'Black Menzies' version was originally used in mourning, and then at other important events including, quite possibly, at weddings

The tartan shown here is the 'Black Menzies', which is also an excellent substitute for the St Piran Dress / Cornish Dress tartan, as the St Piran tartan not produced in a ribbon (see pic below right)


See our full range of Menzies tartan ribbon

See our full range of tartan / plaid ribbon

Top