German George’s Scottish Holiday

The 1822 visit of King George IV to Scotland was the first visit of a reigning King of England to Scotland since 1650

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The flattering ’Scottish’ portrait of the King George IV, with lighting chosen to tone down the brightness of his kilt and his knees shown bare, without the pink tights he actually wore with his kilt.

After a decade of ruling in London as Prince Regent (because his father, the king, was raving mad), George IV acceded to the throne of England and his coronation, on the 19th of July 1821, was celebrated by splendid traditional pageantry … much of it ‘invented’ for the occasion.

Sadly for England, ‘German George’ was fat and was widely unpopular … with many offended by the way he treated his wife.

George had also been struggling to manipulate the Parliament, which was seen as a corrupt oligarchy by Radicals whose increasing unrest following the revolutions which shook America and France culminated in the ‘Radical War’ of 1820 in Scotland … and the gentry were terrified.

George was invited to attend a Congress in Verona, but British government ministers wanting to keep Parliamentary control of foreign affairs pressed him to bring forward a proposed royal visit to Scotland … which it was hoped would calm unrest. Suffering from painful illness and pushed by opposing factions of diplomats and ministers, the king remained indecisive, but preparations for his visit to Scotland went ahead in the hope of his agreement.

Walter Scott, a Lowlander, was author of the novel ‘Waverly’ which popularised a romantic image of the Scottish Highlands. In 1815 this led to Walter being invited to dine with Prince George in London – as ‘German George’ was still at that stage the Prince Regent.

By 1822 Scott had become Sir Walter Scott (baronet), and he was well acquainted with both Highland and Lowland nobility. 

It was Sir Walter Scott’s organisation of the royal visit, with the inclusion of ‘tartan pageantry’, that was to have a remarkable and lasting influence … he achieved much of this by ‘inventing’ clan tartans and elevating the kilt to become part of Scotland’s national identity.

The general popularity of ‘tartan’ was greatly increased by the royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, which was the first visit to Scotland by a reigning monarch in 171 years. The festivities surrounding this event were originated by Sir Walter Scott, who founded the Celtic Society of Edinburgh in 1820.

Sir Walter and Celtic Society members urged other Scots to attend festivities “all plaided and plumed in their tartan array”. One contemporary writer sarcastically described the pomp that surrounded the celebrations as “Sir Walter's Celt-ified Pageantry”.

Following the royal visit, several books which documented ‘tartans’ added to this craze.

James Logan’s romanticised work The Scottish Gael, published in 1831, was one such publication which led the Lowland Scottish ‘tartan industry’ to invent clan tartans.

The first publication showing plates of ‘clan tartans’ was the Vestiarium Scoticum published in 1842. The Vestiarium was the work of two brothers: John Sobieski and Charles Allen Hay. The brothers, who called themselves John Sobieski Stolberg Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart, first appeared in Scotland in 1822. The two claimed to be grandsons of Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his wife Princess Louise of Stolberg, and consequence later became known as the ‘Sobieski Stuarts’. The Sobieski Stuarts claimed that the Vestiarium was based upon a copy of an ancient manuscript on ‘clan tartans’—a manuscript which they never managed to produce. The Vestiarium was followed by equally dubious The Costume of the Clans, two years later. The romantic enthusiasm that Logan and the Sobieski Stuarts generated with their publications led the way other ‘tartan books’ in the 19th century.

Just twenty years after her uncle’s visit to Scotland, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha made their first trip to the Scottish Highlands. The English queen and the German prince bought Balmoral Castle in 1848 and hired a local architect to re-model the estate in ‘Scots Baronial’ style.

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Balmoral Castle

German Prince ‘Bertie’ personally took care of the interior design, where he made great use of tartan. He utilised the red Royal Stewart and the green Hunting Stewart tartans for carpets, while using the Dress Stewart tartan for curtains and upholstery. Queen ‘Vicki’ designed the Victoria tartan, and Prince ‘Bertie’ was the designer of the Balmoral tartan (which still is used today as a royal tartan).

Victoria and Albert spent a considerable amount of time at their estate, and in doing so hosted many ‘Highland’ activities.

Victoria was attended by pipers and her children were attired in Highland dress.

Prince Albert loved watching the Highland games.

Ironically as the craze swept over Scotland, the Highland population suffered grievously from the Highland Clearances.  Thousands of Gaelic-speaking Scots from the Highlands and Western Isles were evicted by their landlords – in many cases by the very men who would have been their own clan chiefs – to make room for sheep !

Meanwhile, back in ‘1822 Scotland’ kilts and tartans were only used for army uniforms … they were no longer ordinary Highland wear, having been outlawed by the Dress Act in the wake of the Jacobite Risings.

The ‘small’ kilt (as is worn today) was a relatively recent ‘invention’ in the Highlands, having been introduced in the 1720s and adopted as dress uniform by the Scottish regiments of the British army.  But the romance of the ‘ancient’ belted plaid still appealed to those wanting to preserve the Highland identity.

Soon after the Dress Act’s repeal in 1782, Highland aristocrats set up ‘Highland Societies’ in Edinburgh and other centres including London and Aberdeen. These were landowners’ clubs with aims including ‘Improvements’ (i.e. Highland Clearances), and the promotion of “general use of the ancient Highland dress” (and implemented this by obliging their members to wear Highland costume when attending society meetings). Numerous less exclusive associations – including the Celtic Society, of which Scott was enthusiastic chairman – had membership that included many lowlanders as well as chieftains of impeccable Highland ancestry … and they also promoted Highland culture, with all attending meetings and dances wearing “the garb of old Gaul”.

When his advice was sought, Sir Walter Scott seized the opportunity to invent a splendid pageant wherein ancient Scotland would be ‘reborn’, and the king – who was routinely parodied in cartoons as a fat debaucher – would be seen as “a portly handsome man looking and moving every inch a King”.

‘German George’ would be presented as a new Jacobite king, with the logic that he was by bloodline as much a Stuart as Bonnie Prince Charlie had ever been, and hopefully would win the affections of the Scots away from radical reforms.

A small organising committee for the royal visit was set up, with Scott’s principal assistant being his friend Major General David Stewart of Garth … who had made himself the undisputed ‘authority’ on Highlanders with his popular Sketches.

King George was easily persuaded by Sir Walter that he was not only a Stuart prince, but also a Jacobite Highlander, and could rightly and properly swathe himself in “the garb of old Gaul”.  And so, in July 1822, the King placed his order with George Hunter & Co. – outfitters of Tokenhouse Yard, London and Princes Street, Edinburgh – for ₤1,354 & 18 shillings (a sum equivalent to more than £100,000 today) worth of highland costume in bright red ‘Royal Tartan’ (later known as Royal Stuart), complete with gold chains and assorted weaponry including a dirk, a sword, and pistols.

Sir Walter then brought the Highland societies and the Clan chieftains into the royal visit organisation for the purpose of arranging ‘tartan pageantry’ on a grand scale.

Garth now drilled the younger members of the Celtic Society into four companies as honour guards. Their mix of lowlanders with highlanders had already offended Alasdair Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry, who was quick to demand that his Society of True Highlanders be given precedence, but his attempts to take over were generally disregarded.

Some chieftains took the event as a chance to show off impressive numbers of their followers and thus disprove allegations about the Highland Clearances, however the decimation of their tenantry rather undermined this. James Loch acting for the Countess of Sutherland solved the problem of finding kilts by borrowing army uniforms for the Sutherland Highlanders.

For the management of all events, Sir Walter Scott took the advice of his friend the young actor-manager William Henry Murray whose talents at theatrical scenery and costume were put to good use in creating the settings and the ‘revived ancient dresses’ for the pageants he arranged.

Holyrood Palace had to be readied for state occasions, but was not in fit condition as a royal residence and arrangements were made for the king to stay at Dalkeith House, 7 miles (11 km) from Edinburgh.

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Palace of Holyroodhouse

There was widespread concern about procedure and etiquette, not least amongst the touchy Highland chiefs (notably Glengarry), which Scott met by producing a shilling booklet called …

HINTS addressed to the INHABITANTS OF EDINBURGH AND OTHERS in prospect of HIS MAJESTY'S VISIT by an old citizen’ …

which gave an outline of planned events with detailed advice on behaviour and clothing.

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Dalkeith House, circa 1880

All gentlemen of the city were expected to attend public appearances in a uniform blue coat, white waistcoat and white or nankeen (yellowish) cotton trousers, and a low-crowned dark hat decorated with a cockade in the form a white St.Andrew’s saltire on a blue background.

Similarly detailed guidance was provided for those fortunate enough to attend functions or ‘levees’, with gentlemen instructed to wear a full dress suit, as well as a description of the dress of the Highland chiefs and their ‘tail’ of followers – who were expected to ‘add greatly to the variety, gracefulness and appropriate splendour of the scene’.

The exception was the ‘Grand Ball’ held by the peers of Scotland to entertain the king:  Sir Walter’s ‘Hints’ booklet called this a ‘Highland Ball’, and reminded readers the king had himself ordered a kilt and set the condition that, unless in uniform, “no gentleman is to be allowed to appear in any thing but the ancient Highland costume”.

At this, lowland gentlemen suddenly embarked on a desperate search for Highland ancestry (however remote) and a suitable tartan kilt from the Edinburgh tailors, who responded ‘inventively’. This can be seen as the pivotal event when what had once been thought of as the primitive dress of a despised race of mountain thieves and Irish-speaking wild men became the national costume of the whole of Scotland … with the English-speaking Presbyterian Lowlanders clambering to dress-up in the costume of the Gaelic-speaking, and predominantly Catholic, Highlanders.

The catering contract for all of Sir Walter’s royal events was won by Ebenezer Scroggie, who would become the posthumous inspiration for Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’.

The first of Sir Walter’s pageants took place on the King’s birthday;  Monday, the 12th of August 1822.

In procession, the Midlothian Yeomanry and companies of Highlanders escorted coaches carrying the ‘Honours of Scotland’ (the Scottish crown jewels), as well as a bunch of dignitaries, from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. The procession assembled on The Mound in the centre of Edinburgh before going up to the Castle, and within minutes of setting off was halted by the arrival on horseback of the flamboyantly-dressed Lord Glengarry who announced that it was his rightful place to ride at the head of the procession. After a somewhat awkward pause, a Captain Ewan MacDougall was able to persuade the hot-tempered Glengarry to go away.

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‘the Honours of Scotland’

Watched by packed crowds, the procession formally received the Honours of Scotland and returned back down to The Mound – and then went down The Mound to Princes Street, and then on by Calton Hill to Holyroodhouse.

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The ‘Royal George’ at Leith

The King’s ship the Royal George arrived in the Firth of Forth about noon on Wednesday the 14th of August, but King George’s landing was postponed due to torrential rain.

On Thursday the 15th of August, the king – in naval uniform – arrived in sunshine at the quayside of The Shore in Leith, and stepped ashore onto a red carpet strewn with flowers to greet the waiting crowds.

After fifteen minutes of the usual ritual salutations that are traditional at a royal entry in a State Visit, George got into his carriage. A quiet pause was rudely interrupted by Lord Glengarry on horseback, who galloped up beside the King, sweeping off his bonnet and loudly announcing “Your Majesty is welcome to Scotland!”.  

The king, in good humour, bowed graciously at this unplanned intrusion as his carriage moved off.

A procession, including Lowland regiments and Highland-clan regiments, with bag-pipe bands, escorted the king’s open carriage the 3 miles up to Edinburgh past cheering crowds of mostly Lowland Scots – who were crowding every possible viewpoint, eager to show a welcome to their ‘English’ King. At a theatrical ‘medieval’ gateway the king was presented with the keys to the city and ‘the hearts and persons’ of its people.

Much of the pageantry for the visit would be medieval rather than Highland, but the exotic outfits of the ‘gathering of the Gael’ were to attract most attention.

The next day was one that the king spent away from the public, staying at Dalkeith House.

Edinburgh was full of visitors for the occasion, and that evening they walked round enjoying ‘illuminations’ with illustrated tributes hung on public buildings, businesses and houses, “Everywhere crowded to excess, but in civility and quiet”, before being escorted to their rest around midnight by bands of boys carrying flaming torches to light their way.

On Saturday afternoon, the 17th of August, the king attended a short Levee at Holyrood Palace, where ‘the great and good’ queued to be greeted by George in his Highland outfit (complete with pink pantaloons to conceal his bloated legs) – which was described as “buff coloured trowsers like flesh to imitate his Royal knees”.

When someone complained that George’s kilt had been too short for modesty, Lady Hamilton-Dalrymple wittily responded “Since he is to be among us for so short a time, the more we see of him the better.”

The king would not be seen again by the public until Monday afternoon, when a medium-sized crowd caught a brief glimpse of him as he went in to Holyroodhouse to hear long repetitive addresses from the ‘Church of Scotland’ (Anglican/ Episcopalian), the universities, burghs, counties and the Highland Society – and give his short formal responses.

The King's Drawing Room on Tuesday, the 20th of August, was attended by 457 ladies … and custom required that he kiss each one on the cheek.

This brief occasion took him away from Dalkeith House for two hours, and the presentation of the ladies lasted from 2.15pm to 3.30pm. In the rush some ladies received no ‘buss’ on the cheek, or in their nervousness scarcely felt the kiss at all. All were dressed in rich gowns with sweeping trains, and most had coloured ostrich plumes above their elaborately curled hair. The king was courteous and smiling, and paid particular attention to “the lady on whose account so many Highlanders went down to Elgin two years ago” when election passions led to Lady Anne Margaret Grant, daughter of the late Sir James Grant (baronet), and her sisters who had also supported the Tories, being besieged by a ‘democratic mob’ of Whig supporting townsfolk … until a rescue party of her clansmen was “summoned by the fiery cross” and released them without coming to blows.

The story of ‘The Raid to Elgin’ had amused the king, and he remarked “Truly she is an object fit to raise the chivalry of a clan”, echoing Sir Walter’s romanticism.

George spent the next day at Dalkeith House, and that evening Sir Walter dined with him.

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the king waves his hat from the castle battlements

Heavy rain returned on Thursday, the 22nd of August, as a Grand Procession went from Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle. The procession and the king's closed carriage went up Edinburgh’s ‘Royal Mile’ (the main street) flanked by colourful bunting and densely packed cheering crowds obscured by their umbrellas.

At the castle, the king climbed out onto the battlements of the Half Moon Battery to wave his cocked hat to continuing ‘huzzas’ from the crowd for fifteen minutes, reportedly saying “Good God! What a fine sight. I had no conception there was such a fine scene in the world; and to find it in my own dominions; and the people are as beautiful and as extraordinary as the scene.” and “Rain? I feel no rain. Never mind, I must cheer the people.” He had not been used to this kind of reception.

On Friday, the 23rd of August, a review of 3,000 volunteer cavalry was held on Portobello Sands.

The king was also to honour the clans including a contingent from the Celtic Society of Edinburgh. Disappointingly, his review ended before reaching them.  The Highlanders then took part in the Grand March Past and were cheered by the crowds as they marched back to Edinburgh.

That evening, George appeared at the Peers’ Grand Ball wearing a Field Marshal’s uniform rather than the anticipated kilt, and sat to enjoy watching the Scottish country dancing and the splendour of the belted tartan worn by the men.

George left before midnight, but the ball continued with increasing spirit until past one o’clock in the morning. The assembly rooms had been theatrically transformed by William Henry Murray, and the occasion was hailed as a triumph for him.

Saturday morning was marked by a small ceremony and procession, including a Clan MacGregor Guard of Honour (truly amazing when you consider the English had proscribed the MacGregors as an outlawed race under a general ‘death penalty’ for 200 years) … and, with such an ‘incredible’ escort of MacGregors, the ‘Honours of Scotland’ (the Scottish crown jewels) were then duly returned from Holyroodhouse up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle.

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the 1818 ‘rediscovery’ by Sir Walter Scott of the Scottish crown jewels – also known as the ‘Honours of Scotland’
just another happy coincidence during the planning for the Royal Visit?
drawing by David Wilkie

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Edinburgh Castle

That evening the King attended a tumultuous civic banquet in the great Hall of Parliament House which Murray had splendidly decorated..

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Parliament House, Edinburgh

Next day the king went in state to the ‘Church of Scotland’ Sunday service at St. Giles Cathedral.

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St. Giles’ Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) Cathedral

On the Monday George made a private visit to the Holyrood Palace apartments of his ancestor Mary, Queen of Scots, then in the evening attended the Caledonian Hunt Ball in a Guards regiment uniform. Again many of the dancers were kilted, and the king was excited by the reels and strathspeys. Once more his wish was met, that while he was in Scotland all music would be “purely national and characteristic”.

On the Tuesday, the 27th of August, George made his last and least formal public appearance, showing his evident pleasure at a theatre performance of Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy adapted and produced by William Henry Murray.

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The king arrives at Hopetoun House

George’s visit was finalised on Thursday, the 29th of August with a brief visit to Hopetoun House 12 miles (19 km) west of Edinburgh. Elaborate arrangements had been made and crowds waited for him in the rain.

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Hopetoun House traditional residence of the Earl of Hopetoun - later Marquess of Linlithgow

George then boarded his ship at nearby South Queensferry and departed.

Cope tried to rally his men, but could only lead about two hundred stragglers up a side lane (Johnnie Cope's Road) to reorganize in an adjacent field, where they refused further engagement. Cope and his aide-de-camp had no choice but to travel southwards to Lauder and Coldstream and then on to the safety of Berwick-upon-Tweed, 50 miles (80 kilometres) away. The following day, Brigadier Fowke caused a scandal by arriving ahead of the troops. Out of the 2,300 men in the British army, only 170 troops managed to escape, including Cope himself who led the few straggling soldiers to Berwick Castle. General Lord Mark Kerr is said to have met him there, taunting him that he must be the first general in history to personally bring news of his own defeat. Popular songs poked fun at Cope's failure, such as "Hey Johnnie Cope, are Ye Waking Yet?"

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contemporary caricature of ‘kilted’ George IV

While the King’s one kilted appearance was to be ruthlessly caricatured creating a memorable image of “our fat friend” being hoisted onto a horse, the effect of the royal visit wryly described as “one and twenty daft days” was an increase in goodwill and a new-found Scottish national identity uniting Highlander and Lowlander in sharing the iconic symbolism of kilts and tartans.

The pride of the Clan chieftains in their heritage was reinvigorated, but there was no slowing in the progress of the Highland Clearances.

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Alasdair Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry

MacDonell was a haughty and flamboyant man whose character and behaviour gave Sir Walter Scott the model for the wild Highland chieftain Fergus Mac-Ivor in the pioneering historical novel ‘Waverley’ of 1810. As was customary for the chieftain of a clan, he was often called simply ‘Glengarry’.  Glengarry considered himself the last genuine specimen of a Highland chief, always wore the Highland dress (kilt or trews) and in the style of his ancestors seldom travelled without being followed by his ‘tail’, servants in full Highland dress with weaponry who had traditional duties like carrying his sword and shield, standing sentinel, acting as bard and carrying him dry across streams.  In June 1815 he formed his own Society of True Highlanders, subsequently leaving the Celtic Society and complaining that "their general appearance is assumed and fictitious, and they have no right to burlesque the national character or dress of Highlands".  Under his authority the timber on his estates was felled for sale, the cleared land was leased to sheep farmers and many of his clansmen were forced from the land by increasing rents and evictions. The continued evictions to make way for sheep farmers – which his mother began when his father was chieftain – meant that most of the clan was forced to go to British North America (Canada) in part of what was later known as the Highland Clearances.

Robert Burns wrote a satirical poem about him in the ‘Address of Beelzebub’:-

Long life, my Lord, an' health be yours,
Unskaithed by hunger'd Highland boors;
Lord grant me nae duddie, desperate beggar,
Wi' dirk, claymore, and rusty trigger,
May twin auld Scotland o' a life
She likes-as butchers like a knife.

Faith you and Applecross were right
To keep the Highland hounds in sight:
I doubt na! they wad bid nae better,
Than let them ance out owre the water,
Then up among thae lakes and seas,
They'll mak what rules and laws they please:
Some daring Hancocke, or a Franklin,
May set their Highland bluid a-ranklin;
Some Washington again may head them,
Or some Montgomery, fearless, lead them,
Till God knows what may be effected
When by such heads and hearts directed,
Poor dunghill sons of dirt and mire
May to Patrician rights aspire!
Nae sage North now, nor sager Sackville,
To watch and premier o'er the pack vile, -
An' whare will ye get Howes and Clintons
To bring them to a right repentance-
To cowe the rebel generation,
An' save the honour o' the nation?
They, an' be d-d! what right hae they
To meat, or sleep, or light o' day?
Far less-to riches, pow'r, or freedom,
But what your lordship likes to gie them?

But hear, my lord! Glengarry, hear!
Your hand's owre light to them, I fear;
Your factors, grieves, trustees, and bailies,
I canna say but they do gaylies;
They lay aside a' tender mercies,
An' tirl the hallions to the birses;
Yet while they're only poind't and herriet,
They'll keep their stubborn Highland spirit:
But smash them! crash them a' to spails,
An' rot the dyvors i' the jails!
The young dogs, swinge them to the labour;
Let wark an' hunger mak them sober!
The hizzies, if they're aughtlins fawsont,
Let them in Drury-lane be lesson'd!
An' if the wives an' dirty brats
Come thiggin at your doors an' yetts,
Flaffin wi' duds, an' grey wi' beas',
Frightin away your ducks an' geese;
Get out a horsewhip or a jowler,
The langest thong, the fiercest growler,
An' gar the tatter'd gypsies pack
Wi' a' their bastards on their back!
Go on, my Lord! I lang to meet you,
An' in my house at hame to greet you;
Wi' common lords ye shanna mingle,
The benmost neuk beside the ingle,
At my right han' assigned your seat,
'Tween Herod's hip an' Polycrate:
Or if you on your station tarrow,
Between Almagro and Pizarro,
A seat, I'm sure ye're well deservin't;
An' till ye come-your humble servant,