Initially the uprising was a staggering success; the Jacobite army rapidly broke out of the Highlands, captured Edinburgh, and advanced as far south as Derby in England. Unfortunately, the army lacked the necessary French support, and so retreated back to their stronghold in the Highlands, where it was finally defeated at Culloden Moor near Inverness in 1746.
Afterwards, the government decided to end once and for all the Jacobite military threat. Jacobites were rounded up, imprisoned or executed. Estates were snatched, the clan system dismantled, and their kilt and plaids, pipes, and weaponry outlawed (kilts, along with bagpipes, were considered by the British as instruments of war).
The specific act was 19 George II, Chap. 39, Sec. 17, 1746 for the "Abolition and Proscription of the Highland Dress" which stated:
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, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending ... For the first offence, shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.
This law was terribly galling, especially to those clans who had not gone out for the Stuarts, and even more so among those who had fought for the House of Hanover, afflicted with a gratuitous and unfair punishment. Without their kilts, they had to turn to wearing trousers and without their pipes (*) to sing puirt-à-beul (mouth music which originated as memory aids in learning tunes when music was not written on scores) as a means of remembering tunes and dancing with the rhythm of the words instead of pipe music.
(*) The pipes were not part of the Proscriptions and were never formally banned. In fact, there is not a word about them in the Disarming or Clothing Acts.
However, there may have been some pipers killed by the British who patrolled the Highlands following the 1745 Rising. Also, there was the case of an
unfortunate piper in the Jacobite army, James Reid, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of the fact that he wasn’t technically "under arms" as he was a piper.
However, the judge responded that “no Highland regiment ever marched without a piper and therefore his bagpipe, in the eyes of the law, was an instrument of warfare.”
James suffered death at York, on November 6th 1746. This incident may have given rise to the idea that the pipes were banned, when in fact it was the weapons
and tartan and Highland. In reality, the loss of Clan Chief power and their patronage as well as the clearances and emigration had more to do with the decline
than anything else. The MacCrimmon’s piping school for example closed down in the 1770’s in a dispute over rent with the Chief of the Macleod’s, not helped by
falling numbers as the Chiefs economically weakened struggled to afford to send pipers for the years it took to train. Not a very romantic end...
The disarming of the Highlands was both necessary and desirable, but the abolition of the Highland dress was an action of peculiar cruelty, being unjust in its incidence and deeply wounding to the pride of the whole country, besides dealing the home industry of cloth-making a blow from which it took long to recover. The application of the disclothing act made it often necessary for the Highlanders to adopt the most ludicrous garments (clothing themselves in “saddle-cloths”) in order to comply with its provisions, as in the remote parts of the country Lowland dress was of course quite unobtainable.
This humiliation was enforced for almost 36 years.
After some years had passed, the Highlanders had demonstrated their loyalty to the new regime by forming regiments
in the British service (such as Fraser’s Highlanders in the Seven Years War), and many of the formerly disgraced lords and clans had redeemed themselves
in the eyes of the Crown.
So the laws were repealed (in reality, motivations were also economic to allow spinning mills to produce more in answering the tartan fashion craze in London) and the Highlanders were allowed to return to their original dress.
Accordingly, an act repealing the Proscription was passed, and on 1 July 1782, Royal Assent was given to the "Repeal of the Act Prescribing the Wearing of Highland Dress" (22 George III, Cap. 63, 1782) and a proclamation issued in Gaelic and English announced:
"Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies."
Of course, by this time, the old habit of wearing the Highland dress as daily garb and the clan system itself were effectively gone.
A few older men went back to it, and some gentry who had read Scott’s romances and fancied themselves old Highland Chiefs, but it was largely irrelevant by 1782.
The dance can be traced back to at least 1745 (when it was not regarded as a Highland dance but as a country dance and performed in hard shoes and tartan trousers rather than plaid kilts). The many changes to the dance have now altered it beyond recognition. The Seann Triubhas originated as Sean Triubhas Willichan (Willie’s Auld Trousers) was danced to the tune of the same name. It was one of Scotland’s humorous, old 'dramatic' dances and known to have been regularly danced at the St.Michael’s Day Ball on South Uist, although the dance is considered to have originated in Perthshire.
After the 1745 Jacobite uprising, the Gaelic poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre (great bard of the Duke of Argyll) wrote the song Seann Triubhas,
subtitled Oran do ‘n Bhriogais [‘Song to the Breeches’], to the fiddle tune ‘Devil Stick the Minister’. The tune dates back at least to 1690 and had ribald words insulting to ministers.
The dance may have been composed to this tune originally. Duncan was a Highlander who fought for the Government at Falkirk (apparently much against his will as he expressed
his feelings in several poems in which he swore that never again would he be seen in the camp of King George, and praised the Jacobite clans).
The song protested the law banning Highland dress, as it did not distinguish rebel Highlanders from loyalists such as Duncan himself.
The dance was associated with the bard's song and inherited of its name ("Seann Triubhas" instead of "Seann Triubhas Uillichan") with a new choreography to match with the Highland dress proscription song theme. However, it was always accompanied by the violin to the tune of "The devil sticks the minister" that eventually, too, being amalgamated with the name of the so popular dance.
For the competitions (by 1853, the Braemar Games had included Seann Triubhas in the solo dance competition), the tune was changed to one more accommodating to the pipes: "Whistle o’er the Lave o’t". This new air did not escape the fate of previous and also inherited the name "Seann triubhas" as he became the indispensable support of the dance of the same name. The change of tune and instrument may have altered the style and tempo of the dance. The association of the dance with the tune to the Gaelic song Seann Triubhas may have given rise to the interpretation of the kicking movements in the dance as kicking off trousers in celebration of the end of the act of proscription against Highland dress. However, the step most identified with this manoeuvre was composed by D. G. MacLennan with no such intention in mind. He was a prominent Highland dancer in the early twentieth century and a leading teacher in Edinburgh. His older brother William MacLennan was a piper and celebrated dancer who studied ballet and introduced balletic features into the competition Highland dances. His innovations for the Seann Triubhas included high cutting, side cutting, double beats back and front, and entrechat. The elegance in the modern form of the dance has largely suppressed the comic undertones that came out in earlier times when it was danced with much more acting.
(*) not to be confused with the tartan triubhas worn by the gentry (which were tight garments more like leotards) part of the Highland wardrobe for chieftains and gentlemen
whilst on horseback from the early 17th century onward. It is more likely that the 'Triubhas' in the dance represent English-style plain trousers (breeches).
Breeches are an item of clothing covering the body from the waist down, with separate coverings for each leg, usually stopping just below the knee (which required a slit at the knee to permit passage of the foot), though in some cases reaching to the ankles. The breeches were normally closed and fastened about the leg, along its open seams at varied lengths, and to the knee, by either buttons (that might be hidden or on view, something presumably influenced by a garment’s quality) or by a draw-string, or by one or more straps and buckle or brooches. Waist adjustment was via a laced slit in the small of the back. More expensive breeches might have pockets, with the higher quality versions perhaps having a watch pocket to the front of the waistband. Formerly a standard item of Western men’s clothing, they had fallen out of use by the early 19th century in favor of pantaloons and then trousers.
They were always made of tartan and great ingenuity was used in their manufature. They were cut on the bias - on the cross - so that they had a certain amount of elasticity and clung to the legs. The sett of the tartan was usually smaller than seen on the kilt and the hose was carefully crafted to match on the seams which ran up the back of the leg on the outside. Having no pockets, the wearer would often wear a sporran - usually hanging from the belt rather than on the front - and a plaid would also be worn. In 1637 it was reported that "In the sharp winter weather, the Highlandmen wear close trowzes which cover the thighs, legs and feet. To fence their feet they put on tan leather shoes." The practicality of the trews became very evident when it came to riding a pony - not something that a kiltwearer would volunteer to do in a hurry - and since ponies and horses were usually the privilege of rank, trews came to be regarded as the domain of the rich.
A letter published in the Edinburgh Magazine in March 1785 by one Ivan Baillie argued that the garment people would today recognize as a kilt was invented around the 1720s by Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire. Rawlinson was claimed to have designed it for the Highlanders who worked in his new charcoal production facility in the woods of northern Scotland (after the Jacobite campaign of 1715 the government was "opening" the Highlands to outside exploitation and Rawlinson was one of the businessmen who took advantage of the situation). He thought that the traditional "belted plaid" which consisted of a large cloak, was inconvenient for tree cutters. He supposedly brought the Highland garment to a tailor, intent on making it more practical. The tailor responded by cutting it in two. Rawlinson took this back and then introduced the new kilt. Rawlinson liked the new creation so much that he began to wear it (because more convenient as it was possible to remove the top half when it became soaking wet with rain, without having to take the bottom part off as well). The Chief of Glengarry - Iain MacDonell - saw this, thought it a great idea and copied it. He was soon imitated by his Scottish colleagues, the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry.
The Belted Plaid appears to have been the characteristic dress of the Highlander from the late sixteenth century onwards and had probably been worn for quite some time before that over the saffron tunic. It was a loose garment made up of around 18 feet/5 metres of double tartan - Highland looms could only weave a maximum width of 25 to 30 inches (65 - 75 cms) so two lengths had to be sewn together down their long edge to make the plaid (from 'pladjer' - the Gaelic for blanket).
The belted plaid had many advantages in the Highland climate and terrain. It allowed freedom of movement, it was warm, the upper half could provide a voluminous cloak against the weather, it dried out quickly and with much less discomfort than trousers and if required it could, by the mere undoing of the belt, provide a very adequate overnight blanketing. The tightly woven wool proved almost completely waterproof, something the lose woven wool of today -- is not. When complete freedom of action was required in battle it was easily discarded.
It was reported that in very bad weather - high winds, frost or snow -the Highlander would dip his plaid in water and then lie down in it.
We're told that wetting it like that made the wool swell so that the plaid would give better protection against the wind and cold air.
In sub-zero temperatures, it's said that the dipping would result in a thin glaze of ice on the outside surface which would further insulate the occupant. Wrapped up like this with his head under the blanket, the Highlander's breath would then create a warm and moist atmosphere around him which would keep him cosy during the night!
As you can imagine, if the poorer Highlanders worked and slept in their plaids they must have been pretty smelly as reported in 1726 in a letter from Captain Burt, an English engineer. " …the plaid serves the ordinary people for a cloak by day and bedding at night… it imbibes so much perspiration that no-one can free it from the filthy smell…"
First when Maggie was my care,
Heav’n, I thought, was in her air;
Now we’re married—spier nae mair—
But—whistle o’er the lave o ’t!
Meg was meek, and Meg was mild,
Sweet and harmless as a child:
Wiser men than me’s beguil’d—
Whistle o’er the lave o ’t!
How we live, my Meg and me,
How we love, and how we gree,
I care na by how few may see-
Whistle o’er the lave o’t!
Wha I wish were maggots’ meat,
Dish’d up in her winding-sheet,
I could write—but Meg wad see ’t—
Whistle o’er the lave o ’t!
Lorsque Maggie était l’objet de toutes mes attentions,
Je croyais être au paradis avec elle ;
Maintenant nous sommes mariés – ne m’en parlez plus -
Mais, sifflotez sur ce qu’il en reste !
Maggie était docile et tendre,
Douce et inoffensive comme une enfant :
Hommes plus avisés que moi auraient aussi été charmés
Je sifflote au-dessus de ce qu’il en reste !
Tel que nous vivons, ma Maggie et moi,
Tel que nous nous aimons et avons mûri,
Je ne me soucie plus du regard des autres
Je sifflote au-dessus de ce qu’il en reste !
Je souhaiterais que les asticots dévorent ses restes,
Offerts dans son linceul,
Je pourrais l’écrire - mais Maggie risquerait de le lire
Je sifflote au-dessus de ce qu’il en reste !
And since the light-grey breeches
Ill is our fate, that the young Prince
And it’s the King who’s not our own
And since we put the trousers on
Methinks this is a poor reward
At one time in my earthly life
Unlucky this new dress of ours,
We’ll get hats of dark-grey hue
And ne’er will we be pleased with it
And every one in Parliament
And they were brave and active too,
And now ’tis we who surely know
There’s anger too and misery
C’est donc le port de la culotte
Pourquoi fallait-il que la guigne
Et c’est ce roi de contrebande
Quiconque essaya ce costume
C’est donc là le sort lamentable
Jamais je n’eus en ce bas monde
Fi donc de ces nouvelles fripes
Pour recouvrir nos pauvres têtes
Qui de nous peut se satisfaire
Ces Messieurs les Parlementaires,
Et c’est avec zèle et courage
Oui, c’est à notre tour d’apprendre
Plus d’un, réduit à la misère,
’S o tha a’bhriogais liath-ghlas
Is olc an seôl duinn, am Prionns’ ôg
’S è’n Righ sin nach buineadh dhuinn,
’S o’n a chuir sinn suas a’ bhriogais
’S ar leam gur h-olc an duais è
Us bha uair-éigin’san t-saoghal
’S neo-sheannsar a’chulaidh i,
Gheibh sinn adan ciar-dhubh
Cha taitinn e gu bràth ruinn
’S bha h-uile h-aon de’n Phàrlamaid
’S bu cheannsalach, duineil iad
Is ann a nis tha fios againn
Tha angar agus duilichinn
Seann Triubhas by a world champion
Seann Triubhas - 6 steps
Curriculum of the Seann Triubhas
How to put on a great kilt