George IV's Visit to Edinburgh 1822

In 2019, an exhibition called "Wild and Majestic" was held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The theme was what Hugh Trevor Roper called 'The Invention of Scotland', the creation of a romantic history of Scotland and Scottishness. One of the most important events in this respect was the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. When his boat docked at Leith in August of that year, George IV was the first monarch to have set foot in Scotland since 1651. A fat and unpopular figure in England, his arrival in Scotland was eagerly anticipated, and the occasion used as an excuse for a huge statement of Scottish tradition, with a series of impressive pageants all fittingly organised by the man who did as much as anyone to establish a Scottish history, Sir Walter Scott.

Here is an eye-witness account of the event, by Krystyn Lach-Szyrma, a visitor from Poland:

When the present King made his entry into the Castle in 1822, the first peers of the country carried the regalia, discovered in the castle in 1818..... They were all on horseback in the ancient dress of the country. It was a splendid and even moving sight, for it made one realise to what extent the Scottish nation is devoted to its King. People came from the most distant parts of Scotland to get a glimpse of him and to greet him in the ancient capital of the Kings of Scotland....Everybody was dressed in the national attire and full of national feelings. The Guard in front of the Palace was composed of young men of the best Scottish families in the tartans of their clans. The kilts were then put on after a long interval; it was as if History was raised from the dead to greet the Monarch.

Turner recorded the event in a series of sketches. This is an engraving of his 'March of the Highlanders.'

This history had, of course, been hastily created during the months preceeding George's visit. Tartan was indeed the national costume, but it seems to have been from this moment that specific designs were ascribed to each clan. The pleasure-loving King seems to have entered into these festivities with great relish, happily donning the costume himself, having been convinced that he was somehow firmly in the line of Stuart descent.

The large medallion seen at the top of this page, over 4" in diameter, was struck to commemorate this visit. "Georgius Dei Gra. Princeps et Senesch Scotiae." George, by the Grace of God, Chief and Leader of the Scots.

I don't pretend to be able to match the National Museum of Scotland's collection that they put on display for their fine exhibition, but I would like to share some images from my collection (mainly from books) that reflect the desire to establish a Scottish tradition following the visit of King George IV. Books were written establishing the clan histories - elaborate, expensive publications, chief among which was James Logan's Clans of the Scottish Highlands. This was superbly illustrated by Robert McIan, the images of Highlabd men and women from each of the clans endlessly reproduced to this day.

A slightly less well-known work by Logan and McIan followed in 1848, titled Gaelic Gatherings, or The Highlanders at Home, on the Heath, the River, and the Loch. My copy is a 1900 reprint of the 1848 original, and the work provides useful information on Highland life as well as attractive illustrations of Highlanders at work and play.

Logan was a serious researcher, with much of his work derived from trips to the Highlands in the 1820s. Perhaps his most accomplished book is The Scottish Gael, or Celtic Manners as preserved among the Highlanders. These are the frontispieces of the two volumes. Below are items he saw or collected on his travels. The artwork is all by Logan.

Where Logan was a serious researcher, the brothers Sobieski seem to have been complete frauds. Born John and Charles Allan, they later adopted the surname Stuart, one calling himself John Sobieski, and the other Charles Edward. They then proceeded to claim that their father was the only legitimate son of Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his wife, Princess Louise. This seems to have given them the authority to publish two large volumes, Vestiarium Scoticum, and Costume of the Clans. There is little evidence of any truth or scholarship in what they have written, but the books have held some standing in the annals of Scottish tradition, partly because of the quality of the publications. These are beautifully produced books.

I recently obtained six prints from their Costume of the Clans. They are from the 1892 reprint, published by James Grant. Remarkable images, all extravagantly handcoloured - the word 'bling' springs to mind!

Top, left to right: Clan Kaye; Clan Nairn; Kenneth Sutherland.

Bottom, left to right: George, 2nd Earl Seaforth; John Campbell; Sir James MacDonald of Sleat.

The last series of images I would like to share with you come from a very scarce two-volume work, The Clans of the Highlands of Scotland, published in 1862 by J. Brydone & Sons. It boasts "Seventy-Two Full Length Figures in Authentic Tartans," but in fact only the frontispiece is coloured - by hand, of course. Whether the others were supposed to be I don't know, but the only other copy I have enquired about (only three libraries have copies listed on JISC Library Hub) is also uncoloured. Still, these are entertaining images worthy of reproduction here, illustrating all aspects of Highland life: