Royal family members are often seen wearing tartan when they are in Scotland. This is a tradition that dates back more than a century — especially at The Ghillies Ball, as depicted in The Crown Season 5. However, they don’t always wear the same plaid pattern. What tartan does the royal family wear? It’s kind of complicated…
The most well-known royal family tartan is the Royal Stewart
The most recognizable royal family tartan is the red Royal Stewart tartan, which dates back to at least 1800. Its origins are unknown, but the pattern definitely has a royal pedigree. King George IV wore the tartan during his tour of Scotland in 1822 — the first reigning monarch to visit in two centuries. His niece Queen Victoria would later officially adopt it as the tartan of the royal family.
According to Town & Country, King George V — the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II — attempted to make it illegal to wear the tartan without the monarch’s permission. However, the plaid was so popular and had so many variations that the rule was impossible to enforce. It was still the official tartan of the royal family during Elizabeth’s reign, but there were no restrictions on who could wear it.
“In the same way that clansmen wear the tartan of their chief, it is appropriate for all subjects of the Queen to wear the Royal Stewart tartan,” explains the Scottish Register of Tartans.
The origins of the Balmoral tartan are unknown
King George V, however, did manage to set aside the Balmoral tartan for the royal family. As a result, it is one of the most-restricted tartans, and anyone who wears that pattern must first have the sovereign’s permission.
Legend has it that the Balmoral tartan pattern was created by Prince Albert in 1853 after he and Queen Victoria bought the Balmoral estate in Scotland. However, the exact origins of the tartan are unknown. The Scottish Register of Tartans claims there is evidence of the tartan as early as 1850, so the Albert origin story is likely a myth.
Despite its unknown origins, the granite-colored Balmoral tartan was Queen Victoria’s favorite and she wore the pattern whenever she was in Scotland. It’s been worn by every monarch since. And today, it’s a favorite of King Charles. He has been spotted numerous times over the years wearing the pattern while on family holidays at the Balmoral estate.
The royal family has another plaid favorite from the Stewart Clan
In addition to Stewart Royal, the Stewart Hunting tartan is also a favorite of the royal family. This variation doesn’t have much history behind it, but it was designed with a camouflage color pattern featuring a strong base of green. Queen Elizabeth allegedly called it her “off duty” tartan.
In 1977, Alistair Buchan designed the Holyrood plaid to celebrate the silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth — an adaptation of the Royal Stewart tartan with a navy blue base. It was recolored for the queen’s golden and diamond jubilees, and currently has a purple base with stripes of gold, silver, and diamond white.
The Black Watch plaid is known as the Universal or Government Tartan, and it has been part of Kate Middleton’s wardrobe since 2012 via an Alexander McQueen coat. As the Countess of Strathearn — the Scottish title Kate received when she married Prince William — she wore the Strathearn Modern tartan during her first public appearance in Scotland.
To celebrate Kate and William’s engagement, the Royal Pride plaid was designed featuring a prominent blue stripe that referenced the dress Kate wore during the announcement.
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