The formal tartans of Clan Gregor
There are numerous so-called MacGregor tartans on the market, available in shops and on the Internet. Most of them have no connection with clan history. There are just four recognised MacGregor clan tartans, which have a persuasive historical association with the clan as follows:
MacGregor Red & Black
Mistakenly styled ‘Rob Roy’ for reasons to do with Highland romanticism and marketing, some have questioned the MacGregors claim to this tartan as there are portraits of Norman Macleod of Macleod, and the 7th Earl of Wemyss dressed in it. Both were painted by Allan Ramsay in about 1748. Less well known, are two further paintings of Lord Ogilvie and and Prince Charles Edward Stuart in the same tartan painted in about 1745. The tartan can be dated back to the late 17th century with certainty. Given its simple design, it satisfied some sort of generic function, before tartans became associated with clan names in about 1790. Sir John Murray MacGregor, the clan Chief, would have signed and sealed it as MacGregor tartan in 1816 with the Highland Society of London, for good historical reasons.
One of those reasons, could be that the tartan appears to be directly associated with the Jacobites, given the number of prominent portraits, including the Prince. Sir John’s father was ADC to the Prince and his uncles served in the MacGregor Regiment within the Jacobite Army. The other reason may be associated with a painting by Jeremiah Davidson dated c.1740-1750, of Gregor Glun Dhu, 7th Chieftain of Glengyle, and nephew of Rob Roy. He is dressed in the Red and Black. He commanded the MacGregor Regiment in the 1745 uprising.
Whatever the case, the Red and Black has long been accepted as MacGregor tartan, without dispute. It erroneously became known as ‘Rob Roy’, possibly coinciding with the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s book, ‘Rob Roy’ in 1817. Whilst this tartan has been worn over the years by the chief’s family, it should not be regarded as the chief’s tartan. The Red and Black tartan may be worn by any MacGregor.
Portrait of Rear Admiral Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor wearing the Red and Black tartan (1878).
MacGregor Red & Green
This tartan was registered with the Highland Society of London, for dress or court wear in about 1810. The Red and Green came to prominence during the 1822 visit of King George IV to Edinburgh, a time when tartan was in vogue and becoming associated with the clans.
Sir Evan MacGregor, the chief, was painted three times in the Red and Green. By Sir Henry Raeburn as a boy, by George Watson as clan chief (along with his wife, Lady Elizabeth) and, most dramatically, by Denis Dighton in his painting of the 1822 MacGregor Guard of Honour. Encouraged by Sir Walter Scott, Sir Evan made sure all his clansmen wore it. It was quite a spectacle, as Clan Gregor was the biggest clan at the event.
Portrait of Sir Evan MacGregor wearing the Red and Green tartan. Painted by George Watson in 1822.
Compared to the Black and Red, this tartan was relatively ‘new’ and fresh, not having any symbolic connection with Jacobitism. The tartan is worn by many MacGregors around the world today.
Portrait of Lady Elizabeth MacGregor wearing the Red and Green tartan with her eldest son, John Atholl. She was Sir Evan's wife (1822).
MacGregor of Glengyle
This intriguing tartan is a two coloured red and dark blue decorated check in which double stripes of one colour are centred on a square of the opposite one. A sample, dating from 1750, is held by Kinloch Anderson, tailor and kiltmakers in Edinburgh. A swatch is held by the current chief, which came from a woman in Nairn whose family hailed from Glengyle.
Although the wearing of tartan and highland dress was banned for men and boys after 1745 (apart from the military) it may be that as an act of silent rebellion, highlanders wove tartans associated with their names and glens. Glengyle was one of the prominent MacGregor glens on Loch Katrine where Rob Roy was born and grew up. His father, Donald Glas, was the 5th chieftain of Glengyle. Given the prominence of the Macgregors of Glengyle, throughout MacGregor history, there is no reason why they should not have their own tartan. MacGregors who believe they come from the Glengyle branch of the clan can wear this tartan if they wish.
MacGregor of Cardney
This tartan was designed by Alasdair MacGregor of Cardney, the 22nd chief’s younger brother in about 1930. He wanted a family tartan and used his own vegetable dyes and wool from his sheep to produce a variation of the Red and Green, but in the same sett. After numerous attempts, a burgundy shade of red seemed to work.
Technically speaking it should only be worn by the MacGregors of Cardney. However it has been sold erroneously for many years as ‘MacGregor Hunting’ and MacGregor's who have bought it, should wear it.