King George IV visited Scotland from the 12th-29th of August 1822. Two years prior, the country had seen a Radical uprising, the figureheads of which demanded various reforms and supposedly the ultimate establishment of a Provisional Government. King George’s visit brought about two standout effects. Firstly, at least from the documents I examined, there appeared to be a resurgence of loyalist sentiment, in contrast to the dissenting climate that imbued Central Scotland in the onset of the 1820s. Yet simultaneously (and not necessarily paradoxically), there was also a more definitive sense of national identity that began to emerge as a result of the King’s visit.

I recognise that my research on King George’s visit is inherently lopsided because of the nature of the sources that I viewed. These were largely letters sent by Scottish universities that were addressed to the King upon his arrival in Scotland. Although they evidently reflect loyalist passion towards the Crown, this is not necessarily representative of the true breadth of such a feeling. University provosts and those in similar forms of office likely remained sympathetic to the Crown throughout the Radical developments post-1815 and thus are unable to reflect the full extent of loyalist emotion felt by the Scottish people at this time. However, I do not think that this completely undermines their views expressed within their respective letters and, indeed, warrants a greater focus on what they say. The very fact that those in the high echelons of Scottish society – such as university masters – were able to express their deep allegiance to the Crown and shore it up as a prevailing rather than diminishing institution underscores that the King’s visit was placed in a highly significant time of tussle between separatist and loyalist factions. Hence, although I did not examine sources that remained true to Radicalism and continued to propagate a sectarian line of thought, the abundance and availability of pro-Crown sources symbolises a conscious (and successful) push for a change in perspective. The eventual complete failure of post-Waterloo Radical campaigns presented those in government and in positions of high societal power with an opportunity to swing the momentum in their favour; through the royal visit, loyalist rhetoric was more easily and less-divisively disseminated than it had been previously. In turn, although discordant voices certainly remained, loyalism had at least established a foothold in the Scottish political arena after the summer of 1822.

Both the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh drafted and issued letters addressed to the King in anticipation of his visit. Interestingly, both seem to be rather similar in terms of their content (and also mimic other forms of literature produced for the royal visit), suggesting that they were intentionally standardised prior to their distribution through official guidelines or by corresponding with each other. For instance, they both emphasise the importance of “the moral and intellectual cultivation of the people” which they claim to be “the most solid basis of a nation’s prosperity” . Glasgow in particular recognizes the responsibility that they purport to possess as a university – namely, that they must instill into the minds of the youth “those principles which shall lead [them] to support the Constitution, adorn the literature and advance the prosperity of their country” – thus exhorting the value of loyalism to their students. Moreover, both schools express their “strongest feelings of national pride and gratitude” and “devoted loyalty and attachment” towards King George, alongside the “most gratifying proofs of the advantages” that Scotland derives from being under British monarchical rule.

This final aspect of their addresses hints at a related effect of the King’s visit. Not only did his tour of Scotland evoke loyalist sentiment, but it also elicited reflections of national pride that were tied up not with movements of independence but a feeling of Scotland as a participant within the wider conglomerate of the United Kingdom unified by the monarchy. This sense of the Scottish nation as a coalescent body with the monarchy is reflected in other documents regarding the occasion; for example, the Highland Society of Scotland issued a letter addressed to the King upon his arrival and speaks on behalf of all Scottish people to assure King George of their “unalterable loyalty” and “faithful attachment” . The remarks of the Highland Society are significant for two reasons. Firstly, not only did it begin as a society in reaction to an inherently Scottish issue – namely the subsistence crises of the early 1780s – but, unlike the university addresses which spoke for a small minority of high-ranking officials, the Highland Society also represented a diverse (and evolving) range of Scottish inhabitants and their interests. For instance, although one of its main objectives was the “preservation of the language, poetry and music of the Highlands” , this was something to be accessible and relatable to the entire Scottish nation, with them holding a show in Edinburgh a matter of months after the King’s visit in which sixty to seventy-five breeds of Highland cattle were displayed . Moreover, by 1834 it had changed its name to ‘The Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland’ as it had moved away from promoting the sole concerns of the Highlanders and instead focused on agricultural matters that pertained more to the nation as a whole. Hence, by acting on the behalf of an ever-growing body of people, the loyalist remarks of the Highland Society underscore this affinity between Scottish national identity and the monarchy.

Secondly, the assertions of the Highland Society also connect to the Highlands as a marker of cultural representation and a body of national significance. Their comments hold additional weighting because of the choice made by the organiser of the royal visit, Walter Scott (who, perhaps not coincidentally, was an active member of the Society) to include various manifestations of tartan throughout the occasion. Perhaps most famous of these was the inclusion of tartan kilts, with David Wilkie’s official portrait of the King (commissioned specially for the royal visit) displaying the King adorned not just with a tartan kilt but in full Highland dress. Wilkie’s depiction of King George thus exemplifies how tartan in turn became less of a solely ‘Highlandised’ feature and instead was adopted as an emblem of national identity. But this cultural evolution of symbols such as tartan and kilts was not something that merely occurred within the reign of King George IV but was indeed catalysed by the King himself. The unification of the Highlands and Lowlands through their shared acceptance and celebration of previously culturally-guarded markers such as tartan was only possible by monarchical intervention, therefore reinforcing the sense of Scotland as a country intrinsically and necessarily connected with a higher power.