Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Scottish variation on the beret: the Balmoral

The Balmoral is a traditional Scottish bonnet, named after Balmoral Castle, a Royal residence in Scotland.

Dating back to at least the 16th century, it takes the form of a soft, knitted wool beret, originally with a voluminous, flat crown, traditionally blue in color, sometimes with a diced band (usually red-and-white check) around the lower edge and with a colored toorie (pompom) set in the middle of the crown.

Today the crown of the bonnet is smaller, made of finer cloth and tends to be blue or lovat green. Tapes in the band originally used to secure the bonnet tightly are sometimes worn hanging from the back of the cap. A clan or regimental badge is worn on the left hand side with the bonnet usually worn tilted to the right to display these emblems.

I have read that the balmoral actually originates from the Basque beret, brought to Scotland by Basque fishermen in the 15th century, sailing the North Sea. Scottish contacts I questioned on this have no time for this sort of nonsens, but to me - it seems quite plausible. The Basques travelled as far as New Foundland in those days...

So far I have found no clear evidence of this claim.

From Scotland, the Balmoral found it's way to the former colonies and dominions of the empire and is these days still used by Canadian and Australian Scottish regiments.

I bought my balmorals (the pictured traditional and the Canadian Army balmoral) from Great Highlandwear (custom made and good quality , but there was a 2 month gap between order and delivery...).


  1. The beret probably became the Scots bonnet (Balmoral, Tam O'Shanter) due to French influence, particularly during the time of Marie de Guise and Queen Mary. I can't find any reference to them previous to this period.

  2. I don't have the link handy, though i read it earlier today. but during the 15th cent, a type of hat called the Flat cap, had a brim whihc got smaller and smaller and smaller, till late inteh 16th cent it had disappeard all together. this is another likley souce of the balmoral.

  3. I think if you consider the words "bonnet" in English, "boneid" in scots Gallic, and "boina" in Spanish, you already have your connection. Another thing you might look at are the traditional hose and shoes the Basque wear in addition to the traditional dance of the Basque and compare the dance with Morris Dance. There I think you will see the connection even more clearly.

    1. Thanks, Dominic. It seems obvious, when I read this, but didn't get to it myself. Good work!