The Royal Celtic Society has records dating back to its inception nearly 200 years ago and recent searches in our archive have revealed many long-forgotten details.
The Society was founded at a meeting on 4th January 1820 in Oman's Tavern in Edinburgh, a public house standing more or less on the site now occupied by New Register House. The meeting was convened by one William Mackenzie, a young army officer, who declared himself to be the grandson of an imprisoned Jacobite who had fought at Culloden. The idea caught on immediately and membership grew rapidly. Less than three weeks after that initial meeting, Sir Walter Scott was admitted to the membership and elected Chairman.
Then called 'The Celtic Society,' the prominent role our forebears played in George IV's historic visit to Edinburgh two years later is widely documented. What is less well known, however, is that the magnificent statue of the king which stands at the crossroads of Edinburgh's George Street and Hanover Street was funded by The Celtic Society.
Many of us have long been rather hazy on how and when we were granted the 'Royal' title, accepting the prevailing view that Queen Victoria had granted us a Royal Charter at some unspecified date. One of the more interesting dcouments to emerge is the letter from the Home Secretary to our then President, the eighth Duke of Argyll. which makes this clear.
The duke (pictured right) was one of the leading Liberal politicians of his day and, by 1873, one of the most powerful men in the land. He was a senior member of the cabinet as Secretary of State for India, and had recently become father-in-law to one of Queen Victoria's daughters, Princess Louise, the first time in more than a century that a member of the royal family had married a commoner. It seems likely that this most capable of presidents exercised his influence on our behalf.
The handwritten letter is dated 19th May 1873, from Home Secretary Henry Austin Bruce, later first Lord Aberdare, to his cabinet colleague and The Celtic Society's president. Bruce says that he 'has had the honour to put before the Queen' the duke's request that 'the Celtic Society, of which your grace is president, assume the title of 'Royal', before going on to confirm that 'Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to accede to the request and to command that the Society shall be styled The Royal Celtic Society.'