What are Tartans?
Tartans are historically associated with Highland clans. You can wear a Highland clan tartan if you are a member of the clan or of a related family, known as a sept. There is, however, limited historical evidence as to the authenticity of the so-called “ancient” tartans, most of which were adopted in the 18th and 19th centuries following the repeal of the Disarming Act of 1782. This Act had prohibited the wearing of Highland dress after the Jacobite uprising, when the wearing of the tartan was a symbol of Scotland’s struggle for freedom. A book entitled “Vestiarium Scoticum”, published in 1842, included illustrations of a number of Highland clan tartans which were subsequently adopted by most of the clans.
Tartans worn by lowland families are of more modern design. Many of these date from the 20th century and form a miscellany of clan and family tartans, district (or specific) tartans, and trade designs, which are registered by the Scottish Tartans Society. They are sub-classified according to whether or not the tartan has been in use for 40 years or more.
Why was there no Wishart Tartan?
Members of the Wishart family had from time to time expressed disappointment that there is neither a Wishart tartan nor any obvious connection with a Highland clan. The reason for this is straightforward. The Wisharts of Pitarrow and Logie Wishart were not a Highland clan but a Lowland family dating from around the 12th Century in north-east Scotland.
Barrow’s account of Robert Bruce states that it was an old east-country family whose seat was at Conveth in Mearns, an estate which is now the parish of Laurencekirk. He says that the family’s origins are unknown, but the name Guiscard, Wiscard, Wishart, meaning “cunning” is Norman-French. If you look at a clan map of Scotland, there is a small area located at Laurencekirk which is designated “Wishart”. It is clear, therefore, that Wishart is neither a Highland clan in its own right, nor a sept of one. The closest we could claim is that during the height of the family’s power and influence, the Pitarrow estates included lands close to the river Dee which are now designated as Highland.
In designing the Wishart tartan we therefore looked for historical links with the Highland clans and the cause of Scottish independence. The first recorded family member was a John Wischard, Sheriff of the Mearns (or Kincardineshire) in the reign of Alexander II, 1214-49. His eldest son, William became Bishop of Glasgow in 1270 and Bishop of St. Andrews in 1272. His Seal of office is displayed at the Cathedral in St. Andrews. In 1274 he was consecrated in Scone in the presence of King Alexander III. John Wiscard’s third son Adam obtained lands by charter in the county of Forfar in 1272 and 1279, and founded the Logie Wishart branch.
The Struggle for Freedom
Probably the most important member of the family during the 13th Century was Adam’s second son Robert Wishart, who followed his uncle as Bishop of Glasgow in 1273, a post he was to hold for 43 years. Robert was a Privy Councillor of Alexander III and, following the king’s death in 1286, he was appointed one of six Guardians of Scotland. After the English occupation of Scotland under Edward I which followed, Bishop Robert Wishart attached himself to the patriotic party and in 1297 he joined the Standard of Wallace.
In the same year, he was imprisoned in Roxburgh Castle by the English, but was freed following a siege by Wallace’s men, and went on to become one of the leading statesmen on the side of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in the war of independence. At King Robert’s coronation at Scone on 27 March 1306, Bishop Wishart is said to have supplied the robes from his own wardrobe in which King Robert was crowned. Robert Wishart was again captured following the Battle of Methven in 1306 and was imprisoned in irons in Wessex Dungeons. In 1314 he was exchanged for the Earl of Hereford after the Scots won the Battle of Bannockburn. But by then he was frail and nearly blind, and he died on 26 November 1316. He is buried in Glasgow Cathedral.
Barrow sums up Robert Wishart as “indisputably one of the great figures in the struggle for Scottish independence, the statesman of the period 1286-91, the patron and friend of Wallace and Bruce, the persistent opponent of Plantagenet pretensions, an unheroic hero of the long war”.
In the 1996 film “The Bruce” by Cromwell Productions and Lamancha Pictures, the part of Robert Wishart was played by the actor Oliver Reed. Using their “artistic” licence, the film’s director combined the roles of Bishop Robert Wishart and Bishop William Lamberton, who both presided at Bruce’s 1306 coronation, in the single fictitious character they called “Bishop Wisharton”.