Tartans and Jutland/Gotland

Clan Carruthers LLC


Ancient and Honorable Carruthers Clan Society International


Tartans and Jutland/Gotland

History of the Tartan


According to the textile historian E. J. W. Barber, the Hallstatt culture of Central Europe, which is linked with ancient Celtic populations and flourished between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, produced tartan-like textiles. Some of them were discovered in 2004, remarkably preserved, in the Hallstatt salt mines near Salzburg, Austria. Textile analysis of fabric from the Tarim mummies in Xinjiang, northwestern China has also shown it to be similar to that of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture. Tartan-like leggings were found on the “Chechen Man”, a 3,000-year-old mummy found in the Taklamakan Desert. Similar finds have been made in central Europe and Scandinavia. The earliest documented tartan in Britain, known as the “Falkirk” tartan, dates from the 3rd century AD. It was uncovered at Falkirk in Stirlingshire, Scotland, about 400 meters north-west of the Antonine Wall. The fragment was stuffed into the mouth of an earthenware pot containing almost 2,000 Roman coins. The Falkirk tartan has a simple check design, of natural light and dark wool. Early forms of tartan like this are thought to have been invented in pre-Roman times, and would have been popular among the inhabitants of the northern Roman provinces as well as in other parts of Northern Europe such as Jutland, where the same pattern was prevalent.

If someone says that tartans were not around until the 1400’s or 1600’s, you know this is wrong. They are most likely reading off of a merchandizers website, who wants to sell you something.

Our Jutland/ Gotland ancestors wore tartans as early as 8BC.


Wearing A Tartan

As each century passed, and the development of clothing evolved you will see a continuing change in the checks and designs of each tartan.  Martin Martin, in A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, published in 1703, wrote that Scottish tartans could be used to distinguish the inhabitants of different regions. He expressly wrote that the inhabitants of various islands and the mainland of the Highlands were not necessarily all dressed alike, but that the setts and colors of the various tartans did varied from isle to isle.

For many centuries, the patterns were loosely associated with the weavers of a particular area This might have been the start of families wearing the same cloth. A 1587 charter granted to Hector Maclean of Duart requires feu duty on land paid as 60 ells of cloth of white, black and green colours. A witness of the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie describes “McDonnell’s men in their triple stripes.

Many setts were given fancy names for their tartans, such as the Robin Hood tartan, but did not use their name to describe a tartan.     Regimental or Military tartans started 1730.

There was always a distinction to each color and pattern of a tartan, depending on where you lived, what sett you were in, and even what regimental tartan you agreed on adopting.


Color of Your Tartan.

Most of what is recorded about tartans, has to do with battles, and the tartan that was worn for a particular battle.  Men wore tartans as a regiment, a distinguishable sign of your “team”.  Similar to wearing the same t-shirts for competitions today.

As we know from the last blog, our ancestors liked to fight in the buff!   Scary thought.

When our group of ancestors went off to battle, approximately 1080, during the times of the crusades, William the Conqueror was the King, and he gave the colors of red and yellow to our ancestors.  They would use these colors on their clothing, amour, flags and such.  Some interpret the color red was used as “battle tartans”, designed so they would not show blood.  The yellow color might be that of gold, a sign of royalty, since it is said that William the Conqueror was a bastard king, and his biological mother was a Carruthers named Mary Margaret, whose father was a tanner in the local town. Some will say that various colors associated with families is a modern idea, but I do not agree.

The colors of red and yellow (gold), have been carried through centuries associated with the Carruthers Family.


Popularity the Bruce Clan

At one time it was proposed that Robert de Brix, fought with our ancestors and William the Conqueror.

There is no evidence to support a claim that a member of the family, Robert de Brix, served under William the Conqueror during the Norman Conquest of England. This notion is now believed to have originated in unreliable lists, derived from the later Middle Ages, of people who supposedly fought at the Battle of Hastings.( Emma Cownie (2004). Brus , Robert de (supp. d. 1094). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.)  This means they do not have claim to using the colors of red and yellow, supposedly given to them by William the Conqueror.

This is a picture of William Wallace Tartan




No where do you see the colors of red and yellow being used.

The Bruce Clan does not have claim to the red and yellow, and William Wallace did not have red and yellow in their tartan either.


Today you can get a tartan in various dyes.

The shades of color in tartan can be altered to produce variations of the same tartan. The resulting variations are termed: modern, ancient, and muted. These terms refer to color only.

 Modern represents a tartan that is colored using chemical dye, as opposed to natural dye. In the mid-19th century natural dyes began to be replaced by chemical dyes which were easier to use and were more economic for the booming tartan industry. Chemical dyes tended to produce a very strong, dark color compared to the natural dyes. In modern colors, setts made up of blue, black and green tend to be obscured.

Ancient refers to a lighter shade of tartan. These shades are meant to represent the colors that would result from fabric aging over time.

Muted refers to tartan which is shade between modern and ancient. This type of tartan is very modern, dating only from the early 1970s. This shade is said to be the closest match to the shades attained by natural dyes used before the mid-19th century.



In 2003, many of the oldest records were destroyed in a fire in Scotland.  The Tartan Museum in Franklin, North Carolina USA, holds more records than anyone right now. Because of this fire, I do believe that merchandizers feel they can and will say whatever they need to, in order to sell their product.  In reality, you can wear whatever you wish. Military and Regimental tartans.  Sections of Scotland have territorial tartans.   Some parts of Canada have adopted territorial tartans.

Anyone can go and have a tartan designed and call it what they want.  They can list it, and register it (similar to a patent) and collect money from it.  Tartans can be marketed in any way they wish, to get you to buy it.

I would recommend if you are considering a tartan that you talk to other family members and agree on one.

You come from an ancient and honorable family and possibly the traditional red and yellow is right for you.



Tip for The Ladies

Ladies if you are wearing a tartan sash, it goes from the left shoulder to the right hip.  NOT the right shoulder to the left hip which looks like a beauty pageant queen.


Ancient and Honorable Carruthers Clan Society International


1 thought on “Tartans and Jutland/Gotland”

  1. I love this article and it’s thoroughness of information. Recently I read more and more that clans didn’t have tartans and it was an invention of the 1800’s. I am pleased to hear that they originated much earlier. It sounds as if we are overdue for a new” Red and Gold”.


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