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.

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor

Dash/Keurig
Dash/Keurig

If you're looking for deals on items like Keurigs, BISSELL vacuums, and essential oil diffusers, it's usually pretty slim pickings until the holiday sales roll around. Thankfully, Amazon is starting these deals a little earlier with their Big Fall Sale, where customers can get up to 20 percent off everything from home decor to WFH essentials and kitchen gadgets. Now you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for the deal you need. Make sure to see all the deals that the sale has to offer here and check out our favorites below.

Electronics

Dash/Amazon

- BISSELL Lightweight Upright Vacuum Cleaner $170 (save $60)

- Dash Deluxe Air Fryer $80 (save $20)

- Dash Rapid 6-Egg Cooker $17 (save $3)

- Keurig K-Café Single Coffee Maker $169 (save $30)

- COMFEE Toaster Oven $29 (save $9)

- AmazonBasics 1500W Oscillating Ceramic Heater $31 (save $4)

Home office Essentials

HP/Amazon

- HP Neverstop Laser Printer $250 (save $30)

- HP ScanJet Pro 2500 f1 Flatbed OCR Scanner $274 (save $25)

- HP Printer Paper (500 Sheets) $5 (save $2)

- Mead Composition Books Pack of 5 Ruled Notebooks $11 (save $2)

- Swingline Desktop Hole Punch $7 (save $17)

- Officemate OIC Achieva Side Load Letter Tray $15 (save $7)

- PILOT G2 Premium Rolling Ball Gel Pens 12-Pack $10 (save $3)

Toys and games

Selieve/Amazon

- Selieve Toys Old Children's Walkie Talkies $17 (save $7)

- Yard Games Giant Tumbling Timbers $59 (save $21)

- Duckura Jump Rocket Launchers $11 (save $17)

- EXERCISE N PLAY Automatic Launcher Baseball Bat $14 (save $29)

- Holy Stone HS165 GPS Drones with 2K HD Camera $95 (save $40)

Home Improvement

DEWALT/Amazon

- DEWALT 20V MAX LED Hand Held Work Light $54 (save $65)

- Duck EZ Packing Tape with Dispenser, 6 Rolls $11 (save $6)

- Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Garage Auto Vacuum $111 (save $39)

- Full Circle Sinksational Sink Strainer with Stopper $5 (save $2)

Home Décor

NECA/Amazon

- A Christmas Story 20-Inch Leg Lamp Prop Replica by NECA $41 save $5

- SYLVANIA 100 LED Warm White Mini Lights $8 (save 2)

- Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle Vanilla Cupcake $17 (save $12)

- Malden 8-Opening Matted Collage Picture Frame $20 (save $8)

- Lush Decor Blue and Gray Flower Curtains Pair $57 (save $55)

- LEVOIT Essential Oil Diffuser $25 (save $5)

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Did the Northern Lights Play a Role in the Sinking of the Titanic? A New Paper Says It’s Possible

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912, is the most famous maritime disaster in history. The story has been retold countless times, but experts are still uncovering new details about what happened that night more than a century later. The latest development in our understanding of the event has to do with the northern lights. As Smithsonian reports, the same solar storm that produced an aurora over the North Atlantic waters where the Titanic sank may have caused equipment malfunctions that led to its demise.

Independent Titanic researcher Mila Zinkova outlines the new theory in a study published in the journal Weather. Survivors and eyewitnesses from the night of the Titanic's sinking reported seeing the aurora borealis light up the dark sky. James Bisset, second officer of the ship that responded to the Titanic's distress calls, the RMS Carpathia, wrote in his log: "There was no moon, but the aurora borealis glimmered like moonbeams shooting up from the northern horizon."

Zinkova argues that while the lights themselves didn't lead the Titanic on a crash course with the iceberg, a solar storm that night might have. The northern lights are the product of solar particles colliding and reacting with gas molecules in Earth's atmosphere. A vivid aurora is the result of a solar storm expelling energy from the sun's surface. In addition to causing colorful lights to appear in the sky, solar storms can also interfere with magnetic equipment on Earth.

Compasses are susceptible to electromagnetic pulses from the sun. Zinkova writes that the storm would have only had to shift the ship's compass by 0.5 degrees to guide it off a safe course and toward the iceberg. Radio signals that night may have also been affected by solar activity. The ship La Provence never received the Titanic's distress call, despite its proximity. The nearby SS Mount Temple picked it up, but their response to the Titanic went unheard. Amateur radio enthusiasts were initially blamed for jamming the airwaves used by professional ships that night, but the study posits that electromagnetic waves may have played a larger role in the interference.

If a solar storm did hinder the ship's equipment that night, it was only one condition that led to the Titanic's sinking. A cocktail of factors—including the state of the sea, the design of the ship, and the warnings that were ignored—ultimately sealed the vessel's fate.

[h/t Smithsonian]