| Sir David Wilkie
's flattering portrait of the kilted King George IV, with lighting chosen to tone down the brightness of his kilt and his knees shown bare, without the pink tights he wore at the event.
The 1822 visit of King George IV to Scotland was the first visit of a reigning monarch to Scotland since 1650. Government ministers had pressed the King to bring forward a proposed visit to Scotland, to divert him King from diplomatic intrigue at the Congress of the Nations in Vienna. The visit increased his popularity in Scotland, turning his subjects away from the rebellious radicalism of the time. However, it was Sir Walter Scott's organization of the visit with the inclusion of tartan pageantry that was to have a lasting influence, by elevating the plaid kilt to a part of Scotland's national identity.
After a decade of ruling as Prince Regent, George IV acceded to the throne and his coronation on July 19, 1821, was celebrated by splendid traditional pageantry, much of it invented for the occasion. He was obese and was widely unpopular with many offended by his treatment of his wife. He had also been struggling to manipulate the government which was seen as a corrupt oligarchy by radicals who went as far as civil war following the revolutions which shook America and France. He was invited to attend a Congress of the Nations in Vienna, but government ministers wanting to keep Parliamentary control of foreign affairs pressed him to bring forward a proposed visit to Scotland. Suffering from painful illness and pushed by opposing factions of diplomats and ministers, the King remained indecisive, but preparations went ahead in the hope of his agreement.
Walter Scott was author of the novel Waverley which popularized a romantic image of the Scottish Highlands. This led to him being invited to dine with George, who was then the Prince Regent, in 1815. By 1822 Scott had become a baronet, and was well acquainted with both Highland and Lowland aristocracy.
Kilts and tartans were used for army uniforms but were no longer ordinary Highland wear, having been proscribed in the wake of the Jacobite Risings by the Dress Act. The "small" kilt as worn today was a relatively recent innovation in the Highlands, having been introduced around the 1720s and later adopted as dress uniform by the army, but the romance of the "ancient" Belted plaid still appealed to those wanting to preserve the Highland identity. Soon after the Act's repeal in 1782, Highland aristocrats set up Highland Societies in Edinburgh and other centres including London and Aberdeen, landowners' clubs with aims including "Improvements" (which others would call the Highland clearances) and promoting "the general use of the ancient Highland dress" by obliging members to wear this when attending meetings. Numerous less exclusive associations including the Celtic Society of Edinburgh, of which Scott was enthusiastic chairman, had membership including many lowlanders as well as chieftains of impeccable Highland ancestry, and also promoted Highland culture with all attending meetings and dances wearing "the garb of old Gaul".
Contemporary caricature of the kilted King George IV.
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 parodied in cartoons as a fat debaucher would be seen as "a portly handsome man looking and moving every inch a King". 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 been, and would win the affections of the Scots away from radical reform.
George was persuaded by Scott 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", 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 18s worth of highland outfit in bright red Royal Tartan, later known as Royal Stuart, complete with gold chains and assorted weaponry including dirk, sword and pistols.
Scott brought the Highland societies and the Clan chieftains into arranging for a plaided pageantry. Some chieftains took this as a chance to show impressive forces and thus disprove allegations about the Highland clearances, but the decimation of their tenantry rather undermined this and in one instance the problem of finding kilts was solved by borrowing army uniforms.
Holyrood palace 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.
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 "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. All gentlemen of the city were expected to attend public appearances in a uniform blue coat, white waistcoat and white jean 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 given for those fortunate enough to attend functions or levees, with gentlemen 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: Scott's "Hints" called this a "Highland Ball", reminded readers that the King had 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 been thought of as the primitive dress of mountain thieves became the national dress of the whole of Scotland.
The King's ship arrived in the Firth of Forth about noon on Wednesday August 14, 1822, but his landing was postponed due to torrential rain, and on the Thursday August 15, the King in naval uniform arrived in sunshine at the quayside of The Shore, Leith. A procession including lowland regiments and Highland clan regiments with pipe bands escorted the King's open carriage the 3 miles (5 km) up to Edinburgh past cheering Scots crowding every possible viewpoint eager to show a welcome to their monarch.
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 of many that the King spent away from the public at Dalkeith.
On Saturday afternoon, August 17, 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.
On Thursday, August 22, heavy rain returned for a Grand Procession from Holyrood to Edinburgh castle. The procession and the King's closed carriage went up a Royal Mile 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, August 23, a review of 3,000 volunteer cavalrymen was held on Portobello sands. The King was also to honour the Clans including a contingent from the Celtic Society of Edinburgh, and although disappointed not to be reviewed they took part in the Grand March Past then were cheered by the crowds as they marched back to Edinburgh. That evening, George appeared at the Peers' Ball wearing a field marshal's uniform as earlier in the day rather than the anticipated kilt, and sat to enjoy watching the Scottish country dancing and the splendour of the belted plaids worn by the men.
The King went in state to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland Sunday service at St. Giles Cathedral, then the next day made a private visit to the Holyrood Palace apartments of his ancestor Mary, Queen of Scots. On the Tuesday, August 27, George made his last and least formal public appearance at a theatre performance of Scott's Rob Roy to his evident pleasure. His visit closed on Thursday August 29 with a visit to Hopetoun House before joining his ship and departing.
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 event 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 check in the progress of the Highland clearances.
- The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth and the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the Present. - book reviews (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2082/is_n2_v55/ai_13508030)
- Scottish Kilts - Historical Development (http://histclo.hispeed.com/style/skirted/kilt/kilts-hist.html)