Who Are The Black Watch?

The Black Watch were the most senior highland regiment in Scotland, but who were they and how did they get their name? 

First of all, no they're not in Game of Thrones, it's the Night's Watch who guard the wall from White Walkers and wildlings. 

Following the First Jacobite Rebellion in 1715, six independent military companies were created from loyalist Highland Clans to carry out policing and peacekeeping activities. And thus The Black Watch was created.

The Black Watch were the most senior Highland regiment in Scotland.

The original six companies were made up of Clan Munro, Clan Fraser of Lovat, Clan Grant and three companies from Clan Campbell. In 1739, the six companies became 10. 

The companies were known as 'Am Freiceadan Dubh' in Gaelic or 'The Black Watch', due to their unpopular nature and the dark colours of their government-issue tartan.  

Why WereThey Called The Black Watch?

It has never been confirmed for certain where they got their name from although there are a few theories:

  • The colour of the tartan is so dark and therefore gave them the name
  • The Black Watch were employed against the protection rackets at the time
  • It was suggested that as they worked for an unpopular government when they were created they were considered black-hearted
The Black Watch Uniform Early 19th Century. Credit The Black Watch Castle and Museum

The Tartan

  • The tartan is alternatively known as Grant Hunting or Government Tartan. 
  • Made up of dark blues and greens.
  • Produced by over 60 weavers in the Strathspey area of Scotland (home to Clan Grant)

The original uniform was made up of a 12-yard plaid of tartan, a scarlet jacket, a waistcoat with buff facings and a blue bonnet. The tartan was fastened at the waist and draped over the shoulder. The material was multi-purpose: it doubled as a blanket, and sheltered wearers from the rain and bad weather. 

Until the first year of World War Two, 1940, the Black Watch wore kilts as part of their combat uniform.         

The Black Watch Crimea Veterans. credit The Black Watch Castle and Museum

Brief Combat History Of The Black Watch

  • The Black Watch defeated George Washington at the Battle of Long Island in 1776, during the American War of Independence
  • They fought in Eygpt and Spain during the Napoleonic Wars
  • During the Crimean War 1854 - 1856
  • During the Indian Mutiny 1857 - 1859
  • They fought as part of the Boer War 1899 - 1902
  • The Black Watch raised 25 battalions to fight in World War One, where over 8,000 of their soldiers lost their lives
  • They served in North Africa, Italy, North West Europe and Burma during World War Two
  • The Black Watch were the final garrison unit in Hong Kong in 1997 when it was handed over to China

In the beginning (1747), they were given the numerical ranking of 43rd (Royal Highland) Regiment and two years later became the 42nd Regiment. In 1881, the 73rd Perthshire Regiment joined them, and they became the County Regiment of Fifeshire, Forfarshire and Perthshire. 

It wasn't until 2006 that all seven Army regiments in Scotland were merged together to make the Royal Regiment of Scotland (RRS) (now six as a result of 5SCOTS becoming a company as opposed to a battalion).

The Black Watch became 3SCOTS, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and are based in Fort George.

The Regimental Headquarters of the RRS are currently based in Edinburgh Castle, with battalions based in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Belfast and Catterick.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Cover image - Soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) and 3rd Battalion (The Black Watch) The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 Scots). Crown Copyright.

With thanks to The Black Watch Castle and Museum.