Tartan Ribbon

MacBeth Tartan History

H I S T O R Y

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

. . . one of the most famous (infamous?) names in Scottish history, MacBeth is one Scottish king almost anyone could name. However, MacBeth was unfairly treated by Shakespeare and subsequent popular culture. He was in fact an excellent King between 1040 and 1057 and it was he who largely succeeded in uniting a divided Scotland.

Mac Bethad mac Findlaích was of ancient Irish descent, translating to modern Gaelic as MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh and then anglicised to MacBeth. He was the son of Findlaech mac Ruaidri, the Mormaer or Moray - a "Mormaer" was a minor kingdom-within-a-kingdom and the Mormaerdom of Moray was a vast tract of Scotland from Speyside to Ross (prior to being destroyed by King David I in 1130). MacBeth therefore was certainly of royal stock and his mother is often said to have been a daughter of King Malcolm II, although historians now believe she was more probably a grandaughter. It is worth remembering that the King of Norway ruled Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides and most of Sutherland on the the Scottish mainland at this time, so MacBeth's inheritance bordered hotly disputed territory.

Although claiming royal Irish descent through the early Scots kingdom of Dalriada (Dal Riata), MacBeth was really King of Moray and not as Scotland, as we now recognise it. He defeated King Duncan I in battle (there was no dagger in the night and his wife had no trouble washing her hands of the blood) in 1040 and became King of Scots... a high king, in the ancient Irish tradition. His experience ruling Moray helped ensure no further Scandinavian penetration South into Scotland and his pedigree succeeded in helping bring together the separate kingdoms of Alba, Moray and Dalriada, centralising much of the executive and, thereby, strengthening the office of King of Scots - a position Scotland would never move back from.

Far from being the ambition-driven brute of fiction, MacBeth was responsible for introducing laws which were the equivalent to modern-day Human Rights legislation... certainly the first in the British Isles (long before Magna Carta in England) and among the first anywhere in Europe. He was an educated man who enjoyed music and literature and he positively encouraged the the arts in Scotland and helped establish universities and churches. He was a "protector of the monks" and the first Scottish king to appear in ecclesiastical records as a benefactor of the Church. MacBeth is buried among the kings on the magical island of Iona.

MacBeth was a personal name, as opposed to a clan or family name and one suggested root in the original Gaelic "Macc bethad" means "son of life".

So much has been written about the original MacBeth that there's little point in me prattling on, so a word about the tartan... for such an ancient clan, the tartan is fairly modern. Most tartans were catalogued and revised during the late 19th century thanks to Queen Victoria's love of all things Scottish, just at the same time as Sir Walter Scott's novels were establishing themselves as the bestsellers of the day... this combination sparked a massive increase in people visiting Scotland, exploring our culture and a revival of interest in tartan.

After 1703 when the Campbell family were elevated to the Dukedom, one branch of the family became the Campbells of Cawdor; effectively taking over those ancient lands from the MacBeth clan. The check/pattern is more-or-less the same as Scotland's royal tartan: the Royal Stewart (hinting at MacBeth's ancient royal heritage), except woven on a blue background rather than the red background of the Royal Stewart. It is even referred to in some sources as the "Blue Stewart" and, as such, is a true royal tartan.

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