Visit of King George IV To Scotland - Preparations


When his advice was sought, Sir Walter Scott seized the opportunity to invent a splendid pageant wherein ancient Scotland would be reborn, and the king parodied in cartoons as a fat debaucher would be seen as "a portly handsome man looking and moving every inch a King". George would be presented as a new Jacobite king, with the logic that he was by bloodline as much a Stuart as Bonnie Prince Charlie had been, and would win the affections of the Scots away from radical reform. A small committee was set up, with Scott's principal assistant being his friend Major General David Stewart of Garth who had made himself the undisputed authority on Highlanders with his Sketches.

George had been persuaded by Scott that he was not only a Stuart prince, but also a Jacobite Highlander, and could rightly and properly swathe himself in "the garb of old Gaul ", so in July 1822 the King placed his order with George Hunter & Co., outfitters of Tokenhouse Yard, London and Princes Street, Edinburgh, for £1,354 18s (a sum equivalent to £110,000 today) worth of highland outfit in bright red Royal Tartan, later known as Royal Stuart, complete with gold chains and assorted weaponry including dirk, sword and pistols.

Scott brought the Highland societies and the Clan chieftains into arranging for a plaided pageantry. Garth now drilled the younger members of the Celtic Society into four companies as honour guards. Their mix of lowlanders and highlanders had already offended Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry, who was quick to demand that his Society of True Highlanders be given precedence, but his attempts to take over were generally disregarded. Some chieftains took the event as a chance to show impressive forces and thus disprove allegations about the Highland Clearances, but the decimation of their tenantry rather undermined this. James Loch acting for the Countess of Sutherland solved the problem of finding kilts by borrowing army uniforms from the Sutherland Highlanders.

For the management of all events, Scott took the advice of his friend the young actor-manager William Henry Murray whose talents at theatrical scenery and costume were put to good use in creating the settings and the "revived ancient dresses" for the pageants he arranged. Holyrood Palace had to be readied for state occasions, but was not in fit condition as a royal residence and arrangements were made for the king to stay at Dalkeith House, 7 miles (11 km) from Edinburgh.

There was widespread concern about procedure and etiquette, not least amongst the touchy Highland chiefs (notably Glengarry), which Scott met by producing a shilling booklet "HINTS addressed to the INHABITANTS OF EDINBURGH AND OTHERS in prospect of HIS MAJESTY'S VISIT by an old citizen" which gave an outline of planned events with detailed advice on behaviour and clothing. All gentlemen of the city were expected to attend public appearances in a uniform blue coat, white waistcoat and white or nankeen (yellowish) cotton trousers, and a low-crowned dark hat decorated with a cockade in the form a white St. Andrew's saltire on a blue background. Similarly detailed guidance was given for those fortunate enough to attend functions or levees, with gentlemen to wear a full dress suit, as well as a description of the dress of the Highland chiefs and their "tail" of followers who were expected to "add greatly to the variety, gracefulness and appropriate splendour of the scene".

The exception was the "Grand Ball" held by the peers of Scotland to entertain the king: Scott's "Hints" called this a "Highland Ball", reminded readers that the king had ordered a kilt and set the condition that, unless in uniform, "no Gentleman is to be allowed to appear in any thing but the ancient Highland costume". At this, lowland gentlemen suddenly embarked on a desperate search for Highland ancestry (however remote) and a suitable tartan kilt from the Edinburgh tailors, who responded inventively. This can be seen as the pivotal event when what had been thought of as the primitive dress of mountain thieves became the national dress of the whole of Scotland.

The catering contract was won by Ebenezer Scroggie, who would become the posthumous inspiration for Charles Dickens' character Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

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