Mr. Deasy's mantelpiece in Nestor boasts a picture
of "the shapely bulk of a man in tartan filibegs:
Albert Edward, prince of Wales." Filibeg transliterates the
Scots Gaelic féileadhbeag, from the words féileadh
(kilt) and beag (small). The Prince of Wales, who
became King Edward VII in 1901 (though his coronation occurred in
1902), often dressed in such a get-up.
What hangs over Deasy's mantel is most likely a photographic
image, since many photographs were taken of this royal
personage in Highlands garb, and art prints of them were sold
widely. Edward's dress conformed to a tradition that began
when King George IV became the first Hanoverian monarch of Great Britain to visit
Scotland. The visit had been encouraged by Sir Walter Scott,
who oversaw elaborate preparations that included thousands of
Lowlanders outfitted in Highland dress.
In How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001),
Arthur Herman notes that the king had said, "I dislike seeing
anything in Scotland that is not purely national and
characteristic" (312). In 1822 that meant clothes, weapons,
and bagpipes consistent with the romantic depictions of
Highland life in Scott's novels. When the king arrived in
Edinburgh his flabby body was stuffed into the full outfit: a
kilt in the Royal Stewart tartan plaid with a sporran
pouch in front, flesh-colored plaid tights, the green sash of
the Order of the Thistle, and a bonnet with a jaunty feather.
Actual Highlanders usually wore the voluminous breacan an
féileadh or great kilt which wrapped around the entire
body, keeping people warm in the harsh climate. The Edinburgh
organizers opted instead for the sportier féileadh-beag,
which covered only the upper legs and sometimes attached
a short piece of plaid at one shoulder. The king's visit made
"filibegs" the expected thing in the popular imagination.
Something similar happened with plaid patterns. Most
Highlanders had never associated a particular tartan with
their clan; they wore whatever cloth was available, and
expressed their clan allegiance in battle with things like a
sprig of heather, thistle, or juniper. In the 18th century
Highlander regiments in the British army had opted for more
regularity, and after the king's visit in the 1820s people in
both the Highlands and the Lowlands became convinced that they
must have tartans that declared their familial descent. The
rest is familiar, and almost entirely bogus, history.
When Prince Albert purchased the Balmoral estate in
Aberdeenshire in 1852, Queen Victoria decided that the royal
family must wear tartan plaids whenever they retreated to
Scotland. Her son Bertie became one more fat Hanoverian
stuffed into a Highland warrior's kit.