There are a number of tartans that have a longstanding relationship with the British Royal family. One that is perhaps most commonly seen worn by the Royal household is the aptly named Royal Stewart tartan.
As is the case with most tartans, there are several variations on the ‘Stewart’ tartan, all of which are thought to have originated from the Royal Stewart tartan.
Recognisable the world over, the Royal Stewart tartan has a very distinctive pattern and is seen on everything from biscuit tins and blankets to kilts and scarves and even the aptly named Sir Jackie Stewart’s race helmet.
We take a closer look at the history of one of the world's most beloved tartans and why it has become such an integral part of the heritage of the Royal family.
History of Royal Stewart Tartan
The Royal Stewart tartan takes its name from the Royal House of Stewart, who trace their roots back to the 11th century and are the distant ancestors of the current Royal family, the Windsor family.
Tartans have drifted in and out of British dress, especially in the mid 18th century when the Jacobite Rebellion nearly caused them to be discarded altogether.
Tartan survived though, largely through an enduring relationship with the British armed forces, who used the different patterns to distinguish between ranks and regiments.
The Royal Stewart tartan is now the official tartan of Queen Elizabeth II and, officially speaking, may only be worn with the express permission of the Queen herself.
It has always been a tradition that anybody without a tartan of their own may wear the Black Watch (The Universal or Government Tartan) or the Hunting Stewart, but not the Royal Stewart without the express permission of the Queen, as we’ve previously stated.
These rules have been somewhat blurred in part by a decline in formal traditions and by widespread commercialisation, with tartan being so popular. It is not uncommon to see many people sporting variations on the Stewart tartan, including the Royal Stewart.
There is still one tartan which can only be worn with the Queen's permission and that is the Balmoral.
For many years now, the Royal Stewart has been a very popular tartan with celebrities and fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood, who admire its striking pattern and versatility.
In the 1970s, it was adopted by the punk movement, and trousers and jackets in Royal Stewart became a common sight in London hotspots such as the King’s Road.
There are a number of variations on the Royal Stewart tartan, many of which are still worn by members of the Royal family on different occasions, these include:
This ‘off duty’ tartan is often worn by the Queen and during her leisure time. This is one of the most popular tartans, although little is known of its origins. What is known is that it was sometimes worn by HM King George VI and HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother when she was Queen.
This less-worn tartan has also been sported by the Queen when on holiday at Royal Deeside and is another tartan that HM Queen Mother also liked to wear. This is an instantly recognisable tartan which traces its origins back to the Stewart clan from the Western Highlands.
This tartan is essentially just the Dress version of the Royal Stewart. As is the case with the vast majority of dress tartans, the key colours are overlaid with white for a more formal look.
The Stewart Dress is often worn by the female members of the Royal family to black tie and evening occasions though HRH Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Edward are all known to have worn it as well.
Why did Queen Elizabeth II choose the Royal Stewart Tartan
Many people think that the Royal family are able to pick and choose exactly what they wear, but more often than not this simply isn’t the case.
The fact is that Queen Elizabeth didn’t actively choose the Royal Stewart tartan, it’s more that she is bound by the traditions set by her ancestors who no doubt chose it because of its attractive and distinctive pattern.
One of the reasons that tartan and the Royal family so often find their histories intertwined is down to customs and tradition and whilst the Queen is technically free to adopt a new set of tartans, the Royal Stewart has undeniably become an institution that is loved almost as much as the Royal family itself.