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Scottish Clans

In mountainous territories there is a tendency for communities to develop with a strong sense of local patriotism for their valleys. This is true of Scotland where the clan system probably developed in about the sixth century, as the Scots spread over the land of the Picts and claimed territories for themselves. The head of each community became a chief and received a voluntary and willing allegiance from his clansmen. This led to rivalries between clans as their chiefs sought to extend their territories, and clan warfare became a feature of Scottish life. Clan chiefs began to take on the titles of kings as their kingdoms grew, and, by the fifteenth century, large areas had become the domains of the MacDonalds in the west, the Gordons in the north-east, the Mackenzies in the north Highlands and the Campbell's in the south-west.

By this time maintaining the independence of Scotland against the English had become more important. A sense of nationhood had emerged which led to various treaties and finally the marriage of a Scottish King to an English princess, Margaret Tudor. The Statutes of Iona in 1609 tried to stop clan rivalry, and more or less succeeded, though the last clan battle was at Keppochin 1688.

The Highland clans had developed a distinctive dress which came to be known as a plaid. At first the plaid was a one-piece mantle, woven into a pattern of stripes and blocks of muted vegetable dyes, which was wrapped and pleated around the body. Later this was cut in several pieces and held together with a broad belt. Distinctive patterns, or setts, of colours came to be adopted by individual clans, giving rise to the tartans which have become such a feature of Scottish dress. Other distinctive features were the sporran and the skean dhu, a dagger inserted in the sock.

With the defeat of the last Jacobite rebellion at Culloden the clan traditions began to fade, though they were revived by the later Hanoverians, especially George IV and Queen Victoria. They believed it would provide a sense of national identity in Scotland, and were well aware of the fighting prowess of the tartan-clad Scottish regiments that became such a valuable part of British armies from the latter part of the eighteenth century.

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