The Blue Blanket is the name of the Edinburgh Tradesmen’s Banner. Its early history is bound up in so much mythology that it is difficult to sift the actual facts from the fiction. Legend has it that it was given to the tradesmen and craftsmen of Edinburgh by James III in 1482, but there is no authentic document of the period that records the supposed event. It is also said to have been carried as the battle flag of the Edinburgh Trades at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, when a large number of craftsmen died defending it and their king. The tattered remains of the Banner are reputed to have been brought back to Edinburgh the next day by Randolph Murray, captain of the Guard, and handed over, with the dreadful tidings of the defeat of the Scottish army and the death of the king.
The first definite reference to the Blue Blanket in a historical document occurs in 1543, at the beginning of the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. In that year is was raised in the Council Chamber by the Deacons of the Incorporated Trades, who were protesting against encroachments on their privileges and deprivation of their ancient rights.
James VI mentions it in his idiosyncratic book, The Basilikon Doron. In the first edition, published in 1599, he wrote:
“And the Craftes-men thinke wee should bee content with their worke, howe bad and deare so ever it bee; and (if they in anie thing bee controlled) up must the blewe-blanket goe.”
Subsequent editions alter the wording to read:
“And the Craftes-men thinke we should be content with their worke, howe bad and deare so ever it be: & if they in any thing be controlled, up goeth the blew-blanket.”
Just as regimental colours are renewed from time to time when they become worn and tattered, so the Blue Blanket has been renewed several times. The version that survives at the present time appears to date from just after the restoration of Charles II to his throne in 1660, probably sometime in 1661. It is in the form of a large swallow-tailed gonfalon hanging vertically from a horizontal pole and it is about ten feet high and more than six feet across. In its top left canton it bears a saltire, between the arms of which are a royal Crown and a Scottish Thistle. The main feature of the banner, however is the inscription, which is contained in two ribbons and which reads:
“FEAR ∙ GOD ∙ AND ∙ HONOR ∙ THE ∙ KING ∙ WITH ∙ A ∙ LONG/
LYFFE ∙ AND ∙ A ∙ PROSPEROUS REIGNE/
AND/ WE ∙ THAT ∙ IS ∙ TRADDS ∙ SHALL ∙ EVER ∙ PRAY ∙ TO ∙ BE ∙ FAITHFULL/
FOR ∙ THE ∙ DEFENCE ∙ OF HIS SACRED MAIESTIES ∙ ROYAL ∙ PERSONE ∙ TILL ∙ DEATH”
This saying has resonances with other Covenanting war-cries of the post-Restoration period and it may not have appeared in the earlier versions.
The Blue Blanket is too fragile to be removed from its case and it is no longer blue; over the centuries it has faded to a non-descript pale greyish brown. In 2012 a new version was made for ceremonial use and it has appeared in Edinburgh on several occasions. It is waved from the platform of the Mercat Cross every year at the Riding of the Marches and it is carried in solemn procession at the Kirking of the Deacons. In 2014 it was carried from the Church of the Greyfriars at the head of the procession which went to the spot where Mary Erskine lies buried, for the Incorporated Trades to pay respect to her memory as their principal benefactor.