The Princess and the Cape

In this period of official “days” of celebration for saint this and family that, we get excited about 6 April which is the internationally recognized Tartan Day.  We decided a few years ago to celebrate throughout the month of April. Why should we care? For Queens County Heritage it is pretty significant as the stewards of the tartan production by the Loomcrofters Studio. For everyone, it is an opportunity to celebrate that an easily recognized symbol of New Brunswick – the NB Tartan – was designed right here. Not only the NB Tartan was designed by the Loomcrofters, but the Royal Canadian Air Force Tartan, City of Fredericton, Town of Oromocto, the Lions Club, Fredericton Kinsmen, Highlands of Haliburton Ontario, Victoria County Ontario, Gagetown School and potentially more that we are discovering. And on top of all that, the Studio produced dozens of family tartans from other historical and contemporary designs.

The Princess Anne Cape, Parlor of Roseneath, Patricia Jenkins and Helena (Biddescombe) Johnson, 1973

The Princess Anne Cape, Parlor of Roseneath, Patricia Jenkins and Helena (Biddescombe) Johnson, 1973

Centuries ago tartans were used as symbols of loyalty to a particular family or clan. Some of the earliest tartan-like materials date to ancient Europe and even China. Tartans in the modern sense were revived by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert after the purchase of land in Scotland in the 1840s and the construction of Balmoral Castle. Drawn to the romanticism of all things Scottish in the mid-19th century, the royal couple popularized the wearing of tartan after it had fallen into disrepute following the defeat of Scottish Bonnie Prince Charlie in the mid-18th century.

Tartan fabric is made up of a series of threads and multiple colours intersecting at right angles across the material. Larger blocks of colour in one direction often overlap threads and colours going in the opposite direction to create variations. While the official patterns have a particular thread count and colour palette, it is also fun to increase or reduce the number of threads to fit a specific weaving project. Colour is more particular and the official palette is always sought, but can be varied as well depending on what is available. Opportunities for custom and unique products is thus almost limitless.

The Loomcrofters were famous for using tartan in the creation of official gifts presented to visiting members of the Royal Family by the province of New Brunswick and others. The first such gift were two finely woven motor rugs in the RCAF Tartan given to then Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1951. In 1967 a City of Fredericton Tartan shawl in mohair and metallic threads was presented to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Reproductions (we think they were also spares) were made and displayed in the Loomcrofters Studio for many years and are now part of the QC Heritage collection.

HRH The Princess Anne, Royal Winter Fair, Toronto, November 1974

HRH The Princess Anne, Royal Winter Fair, Toronto, November 1974

Then in 1973 a cape was made for Princess Anne in the colours of the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s). The 8th Hussars was created in 1848 and since that time has undergone a few redesignations. The name also derives from the regiment’s patron, HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; Queen Victoria’s daughter and wife of Canadian Governor General in the 1870s and 1880s. Anne, Princess Royal is the current Colonel-in-Chief. And so it was that in 1973, prior to the Princess’s marriage to Captain Mark Phillips, the Loomcrofters were commissioned to make an article of clothing as a gift.  Only photographs and cuttings remain of the actual cape. For some reason an official repro, like the other royal gifts, was not produced. In the colours of navy blue, red and gold the resulting material resembles a tartan with its blocks of colour and geometric lines. It is also trimmed with vibrant red clasps.

The cape has been worn by the Princess Royal at least twice that we know of. Once, at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto in November 1974. Known for her thrift when it comes to her clothing, the Princess wore the cape again over 40 years later in May 2017 for the 70th birthday celebrations of King Harold of Norway.

HRH The Princess Royal and Earl of Wessex attend 70th Birthday Celebrations for King Harold of Norway, 2017

HRH The Princess Royal (wearing 8th Hussars Cape) and Earl of Wessex attend 70th Birthday Celebrations for King Harold of Norway, 2017

Now, we at Queens County Heritage aren’t much on ghosts or conspiracy theories. Ghosts are fun for the fall walk but to date we haven’t met one at any of our sites. As for conspiracies, we haven’t found many of those historically either. That said, isn’t it interesting that since we acquired the Loomcrofters Studio, completed the restoration and reopened, two of the royal gifts have resurfaced in two very prominent ways? Firstly, the Queen was photographed for the cover of Vanity Fair in 2016 seated on the RCAF Tartan. Then, last spring the Princess Royal wore the cape in Norway. Are these subtle replies to our queries to the Palace regarding the fate of the royal gifts? Does HM follow our Facebook and Blog pages?

For more information about tartans or the Princess Anne cape, contact

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