History of the Shepherd Tartan
In the 15th century shepherds herding their sheep and performing other menial tasks in the
brutal weather of Great Britain, be they in Scotland, England,  Ireland, or Wales often wore
long pieces of cloth, called plaid, which they wrapped around their waists and shoulders to
protect them from the elements.  Sometimes they used the large cloth as a blanket when 
sleeping in the fields. The shepherds made the fabric from the material which was most
accessible to them: the undyed wool from black and white sheep. 

Textile historians believe that the Shepherd's check, as it was then known, is the first plaid
fabric ever designed. The Shepherd surname, derived from the task it so pointedly describes, (and from its earliest use in scripture when speaking about the 'shepherds in the field' and those 'attending to their flocks') is prevalent in Great Britain, and particularly in Scotland and northern England where the wearing of the large cloth is believed to have found its origins.

While the earliest of shepherd's wearing the 'Shepherd Check' (tartan), took ownership of the
'Shepherd' surname and made it their birth right, many other 'sheep herders' in Great Britain also wore this same tartan and have since claimed it as a symbol of their family's as well.

In 1538, James V of Scotland called for an order of "tertane" which was likely the basic
black and white or brown and cream checks that Lowland shepherds wove from the pure
wool of their sheep.  The Highland clans claim to have invented the tartan, but they merely
stole the patterned fabric that the Lowland shepherds used to keep warm. In fact, when
Lowland shepherds moved to the north after the Highland clearances, their tartans were
adapted by states which added single colors to the basic black and white check. The simple
state tartans were precursors to the clan tartans. By the late 17th century brigades of
Highland soldiers were wearing identical tartans as part of their uniforms. The Jacobite
uprising clans had also adopted the use of the checked tartan pattern as their symbol of family
pride, identification and honor. It wasn't until the higher society Highland clans were stripped
of their names and tartans, that the romantic tartan significance we know today evolved.

By 1760 the Duke of Northumberland's piper adopted the Shepherd's Check as his official
tartan.  Northumberland pipers traditionally wear the plaid today.  Often the tartan is referred
to as the Northumberland Tartan.  Other names for Our Shepherd Family Tartan are: 
The Border Tartan or Check, and The Border Reivers Tartan


Tartans & Scottish Registry

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