King Charles has always enjoyed a touch of tartan. There are photos of him wearing a kilt as a young boy, and he has since regularly sported the Scottish traditional dress during official visits to the country. Now, the King has his very own tartan which he has showcased in a new kilt. But what do we know about this Scottish tradition, and what is its connection to the Royal Family?
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Everything you need to know about Tartan
Tartan is a checked pattern textile commonly associated with Scotland and, though it is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, it has been around for a very long time. According to the Scottish Tartans Museum, the earliest known tartan in Scotland dates back to the third or fourth century!
You may have heard of Scottish ‘clans’, groups of people bound together by a common ancestry and shared history. Well, each clan has its own tartan, a bit like a uniform, and Scots still choose their clan’s pattern today when treating themselves to a tartan item.
This brings us to the famous kilt, the famous Scottish skirt worn by men and made of the same checked pattern. Traditionally, the kilt is worn with a sporran - the Scot’s answer to a clutch bag attached to the front of the kilt - and a Sgian Dubh - a small knife concealed under knee-high socks. Despite Scotland’s often inhospitable climate, tradition dictates that no underwear be worn under a kilt. Breezy!
The Tartans Authority
We spoke to John McLeish, Chair of The Scottish Tartans Authority, over email about the King’s tartan. The Scottish Tartans Authority designed the royal tartan in 2023 ‘to mark the occasion of the Coronation’ and McLeish explained that it has been registered, just as all tartans have to be. The Scottish Register of Tartans states that the King’s tartan is exclusively for the ‘private use of His Majesty King Charles III’ - so if you were hoping to match with the King, forget it.
The King’s tartan is based on the Balmoral tartan sett which dates from c.1850 and is said to have been designed by Prince Albert. It is still worn by The King and other members of The Royal Family today.
The significance of the King wearing Scottish tartan
The late Queen Elizabeth II was often seen wearing tartan, and her son has happily followed suit. This holds a certain significance as the reigning monarch, in wearing this pattern, is seen to be acknowledging the northern realms of the United Kingdom.
Indeed, the King had a second coronation on 5 July at St Gile’s Cathedral in Edinburgh.However, he was greeted by crowds of anti-monarchy protestors. It’s true that there is notably less support for the Royal Family in Scotland than in England. A poll carried out in April 2023 by market research firm Savanta found that 37% of adults in Scotland said they supported the monarchy compared to 54% in England. Bearing this in mind, King Charles’ decision to design and wear a personal tartan marks a significant acknowledgement of Scotland’s identity and place within the UK.
Indeed, the very next day, on 6 July, King Charles and Queen Camilla visited Lochcarron’s weaving mill. Lochcarron is the ‘world’s leading manufacturer of tartan’, and its Marketing and e-commerce Manager Leah Robertson, told Oh!MyMag that the team was:
very honoured and delighted to have had the privilege to weave The King Charles III tartan in [their] mill.
King Charles debuted the design in a kilt when he wore it to watch the Braemar Games - a sporting event that is fittingly Scottish, and involves original categories like ‘tossing the caber’ and ‘tug-of-war’. Robertson said that ‘it was wonderful to see the cloth being worn by His Majesty’ and King Charles and Queen Camilla seemed to have a great day out.
Just like his mother was, King Charles is a big fan of Scotland and often spends time at Balmoral, the royals’ Aberdeenshire residence. His new tartan design prompts the question:
Will Prince William carry this tradition on to the next generation of royals?
Prince William hasn’t been seen in a kilt since childhood, despite attending the Scottish University of St Andrews - he wore a suit to his graduation ceremony. Similarly, at his wedding to Kate Middleton, he opted for a red Irish Guards’ tunic. Maybe it’s the commando element that puts him off…
Whatever it is, hopefully he follows in his father’s footsteps soon and frees his royal knees in this traditional dress so beloved by his family.
In doing so, he would continue the tradition of those who came before him and, if he becomes King, wearing a kilt would show Scottish citizens that he is just as much a monarch to them as he is to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If you're having trouble picturing it, here's a helpful AI mockup from X user @WalesDefender:
Sky News: Prince William's apparent aversion to kilts noted by royal observers - so what do Scots think?