How Scotland's 35-Year Kilt Ban Backfired in Spectacular Fashion

Photo illustration: Mental Floss. Images: iStock.
Photo illustration: Mental Floss. Images: iStock.

At the behest of England's national Anglican church, 1688's Glorious Revolution—also called the Bloodless Revolution—deposed the country's last Catholic king. It is widely considered Britain's first step toward parliamentary democracy. It is less known, however, for setting the table for a kingdom-wide kilt ban decades later.

That year, King James II (he was also James VII of Scotland) became the proud poppa of a baby boy—and England's parliament was not happy about it. James was Roman Catholic, a deeply unpopular religion, and the birth of his son secured a Catholic lineage that, in the opinion of England's Anglican parliament, guaranteed a future of religious tyranny. To stop this, the establishment pushed James off the throne and handed the seat to his Protestant daughter and son-in-law, Mary and William of Orange (who ruled jointly as William and Mary). Over the next 60 years, a series of bloody uprisings ensued as James's supporters, called Jacobites, attempted to restore their anointed Catholic king back to the big chair. Many of these supporters were Scottish.

Scottish Jacobite armies regularly went to battle wearing tartan kilts. A staple of Highland dress dating to the early 16th century, these outfits didn't resemble the skirt-like kilts we're familiar with today; rather, these kilts were 12-yard swaths of cloth that could be draped around the body. The garment, which could be looped and knotted to create different outfits to accommodate the fickle Highland weather, was part of a practical workman's wardrobe. As the politician Duncan Forbes wrote in 1746, "The garb is certainly very loose, and fits men inured to it to go through great fatigues, to make very quick marches, to bear out against the inclemency of the weather, to wade through rivers, and shelter in huts, woods, and rocks upon occasion; which men dressed in the low country garb could not possibly endure."

Because the kilt was widely used as a battle uniform, the garment soon acquired a new function—as a symbol of Scottish dissent. So shortly after the Jacobites lost their nearly 60-year-long rebellion at the decisive Battle of Culloden in 1746, England instituted an act that made tartan and kilts illegal.

"That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty's Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats."

Punishment was severe: For the first offense, a kilt-wearer could be imprisoned for six months without bail. On the second offense, he was "to be transported to any of His Majesty's plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the spaces of seven years."

The law worked … mostly. The tartan faded from everyday use, but its significance as a symbol of Scottish identity increased. During the ban, it became fashionable for resistors to wear kilts in protest. As Colonel David Stewart recounted in his 1822 book, many of them worked around the law by wearing non-plaid kilts. Some found another loophole, noting that the law never "specified on what part of the body the breeches were to be worn" and "often suspended [kilts] over their shoulders upon their sticks." Others sewed the center of their kilt between their thighs, creating a baggy trouser that must have resembled an olde tyme predecessor to Hammer pants.

According to Sir John Scott Keltie's 1875 book A History of the Scottish Highlands, "Instead of eradicating their national spirit, and assimilating them in all respects with the Lowland population, it rather intensified that spirit and their determination to preserve themselves a separate and peculiar people, besides throwing in their way an additional and unnecessary temptation to break the laws."

By 1782, any fear of a Scottish uprising had fallen and the British government lifted the 35-year-old ban. Delivering a royal assent, a representative of parliament declared: "You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander."

But by that point, kilts and tartan were no longer staples of an ordinary Scottish laborer's wardrobe. In that sense, the law had done its job. But it also had an unintended consequence: It turned the tartan into a potent symbol of Scottish individuality and patriotism. So when the law was lifted, an embrace of kilts and tartan blossomed—not as everyday work clothes, but as the symbolic ceremonial dress that we know today. The law, which was intended to kill the kilt, very well might have helped saved it.

Soon You'll Be Able to Book a Night Inside the Palace of Versailles

The exterior of the Palace of Versailles
The exterior of the Palace of Versailles
mtnmichelle/iStock via Getty Images

Beginning next spring, interested tourists can say au revoir to more traditional lodging in favor of spending the night inside the Palace of Versailles, as Thrillist reports.

Back in 2015, the palace’s management announced it was looking for an outside partner to convert three of the palace’s buildings into guest accommodations. That outside partner turned out to be Airelles, a luxury hospitality group with three other properties in France.

In 2020, the company will begin accepting bookings for Le Grand Contrôle, a 14-room hotel located in the palace’s south wing. The hotel will also feature a new restaurant from famed French chef Alain Ducasse, the second-most decorated Michelin star chef in the world.

Tourists beware, though: A single night at the company’s other properties generally cost upwards of $500 per night, so a stay at Le Grand Contrôle is unlikely to be cheap. But visitors who want to shell out the money for a room can look forward to an unbeatable location, first-class dining, and the joy of relaxing while telling others to “let them eat cake” (which Marie Antoinette never said, but it's befitting nonetheless).

[h/t Thrillist]

Further Reading: Books About (And By) Theodore Roosevelt

Alexander Lambert // Library of Congress
Alexander Lambert // Library of Congress

If you're enjoying what you're learning on History Vs. Theodore Roosevelt, we suggest checking out these books about—and a few of them by—our 26th president. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast here!

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The first book in Morris’s trilogy covers TR’s years from birth to the vice presidency.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

The second book in Morris’s trilogy covers TR’s seven years in the White House.

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The final book in the trilogy focuses on Roosevelt’s post-presidential years.

Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life by Kathleen Dalton

A fascinating one-volume biography of Roosevelt.

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family by William J. Mann

In addition to covering the big three Roosevelts—TR, FDR, and Eleanor—this must-read book features the Roosevelt siblings and cousins, revealing secrets and feuds within this famous family.

Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost: The History and Memory of an American Icon by Michael Cullinane

An analysis of Roosevelt’s legacy.

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley

A look at TR’s life from a naturalist perspective.

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks

A look at TR’s time as police commissioner of New York.

Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy by Dan Abrams and David Fisher

This book covers when Roosevelt was accused of libel, and took the stand in his own defense.

Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis

An account of the lives of Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington, and their relationship—including their dinner, which made history.

Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician's Quest for Recovery in the American West by Roger L. Di Silvestro

Di Silvestro’s book covers TR’s time as a rancher in the Dakotas, where he retreated after the deaths of his wife and mother and a rough end to his career as an assemblyman.

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough

This National Book Award–winning biography takes on TR’s early years.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

An account of Roosevelt’s journey down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon—during which he almost died.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

A look at the relationship between Roosevelt and his successor, Taft, a one-time friend who became an enemy.

A Passion to Lead: Theodore Roosevelt in His Own Words by Edited by Laura Ross

Selections from Roosevelt’s writings accompanied by gorgeous photographs.

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt on hunting.

Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt on his time as a rancher in the Dakotas.

Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt

This book, published in 1913, is Roosevelt's life in his own words.

Theodore Roosevelt: Letters and Speeches

This book features four famous speeches and more than 350 letters written by TR to family, friends, and diplomats between 1881 and 1919.

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