An Outline of Scottish Heraldry
By James Dempster, FSA, Scot.
The Court of Lord Lyon
heraldry in Scotland is controlled by the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms,
commonly known as the Lyon Court, and located at New Register House in
Edinburgh. The origins of the Lyon Court are literally lost in the mists of time
as the office of Lord Lyon incorporates that of the Royal Sennachie or Bard whose duty it was to proclaim the lineage and deeds of the
ancestors of the King. From this Celtic start, the position has developed into a
judicial one, with the Lord Lyon sitting as a judge on armorial matters.
Older medieval heraldry in Scotland is extensive, but poorly documented, which
is hardly surprising given the course of Scottish history. Certainly, it can be
shown that heraldry existed by the last quarter of the twelfth century, but
records of heraldry from the time before the War of Independence went south with
King Edward and were like as not lost, whilst other early records appear to have
been treated very much as the personal property of the heralds and have thus
Better evidence exists from slightly later periods and this shows that the arms
of most of the great families of Scotland, and some which were not so great, had
certainly settled down by the fourteenth century, as can be seen from surviving
armorial rolls which show Scottish heraldry. The earliest surviving such roll
that the author knows of is the Balliol Roll which was the property of the late
Sir Anthony Wagner and which is believed to be an English manuscript of the
1330s. Other early rolls containing Scottish heraldry include the Armorial de Gelre (1369-88), the Armorial de Berry, the Armorial de l'Europe and the
earliest known locally produced roll of arms, the Scots Roll (1455-58), which
has recently been published by the Heraldry Society of Scotland. The situation
is much improved in the sixteenth century as there survives the Forman-Workman
Manuscript which dates from about 1510, Sir David Lindsay of the Mount's
Register of 1542, the Hamilton Armorial of 1561-64 and several others which
cover the period up to 1600.
Modern Scots heraldry , however, can be said to have started in 1672. In that
year a law was passed by the Scots parliament which set up the "Public
Register of All Armorial Bearings of Scotland" which is usually called the
Lyon Register. The idea behind this register was to enable the Lord Lyon to more
effectively administer heraldic law by ensuring that there was a central record
independent of the person of the office holder. Unless a coat of arms is
registered here, it has no legal standing in Scotland. In order to persuade
people to record the arms which they had been using, registration was free till
1677, and in the first volume are recorded many well known Scottish coats of
arms. Since 1677 fees must be paid in order to record arms in Lyon Register.
As the Lyon Register is a public register, it is perfectly possible for anyone
to inspect it in the same manner by which someone inspects a register of Births,
Marriages or Deaths - simply go to Lyon Office, pay the fee, and the appropriate
entry will be produced. However, unless the exact details of the grant are
required, it's cheaper to consult Balfour Paul's Ordinary and its supplement,
which together list arms granted from 1672 to 1973.
The Lord Lyon is currently assisted by three heralds and three pursuivants:
King of Arms : Sir Malcolm Innes of Edingight KCVO, WS, FSA Scot
•Albany Herald : J.A. Spens RD, WS
•Rothesay Herald : Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw Bt.
•Ross Herald : C.J. Burnett FSA Scot
•Kintyre Pursuivant : J.C.G. George FSA Scot
•Unicorn Pursuivant : Alistair Campbell of Airds FSA Scot
•Carrick Pursuivant & Lyon Clerk : Mrs C.G.W. Roads MVO, FSA Scot
are also occasional extraordinary appointments, the latest of which was the
appointment of John Malden as Linlithgow Pursuivant
Extraordinary for the investiture of Sir Fitzroy MacLean of Dunconnel as a
Knight of the Thistle in July 1994.
The Court of the Lord Lyon is in Edinburgh and can be contacted at:
The Court of
the Lord Lyon King of Arms
HM New Register House
Edinburgh EH1 3YT
also keeps up the ancient tradition of private officers of arms appointed by
noble houses which have recently included
Pursuivant (for the Earl of Erroll)
•Endure Pursuivant (for the Earl of Crawford & Balcarres)
•Garioch Pursuivant (for the Countess of Mar)
What Are My Arms?
you are Scots, or of Scots descent, then the answer is that unless you can prove
that you are heir to a properly matriculated Scots coat of arms, you have no
arms whatsoever until you matriculate a set at the Lyon Court in Edinburgh. If
you use the arms of someone else then you are usurping arms, if you make up your
own arms, then you are using bogus arms. In both cases you are committing an
offence and may be charged and tried at Lyon Court, which is an active court of
law. This makes Scottish heraldry one of the most tightly controlled in the
world, as it is one of the few countries where heraldry is protected by law, and
that law is still actively enforced. Even if you are the direct heir, it is
considered proper to re-matriculate every few generations in order that your due
title to the arms be kept up to date.
The legal position is quite simple - arms belong to the person who records them
and the heirs of that person according to the limitations of the grant or of tailzie. However, whereas in England, the right to a coat of arms passes to all
male descendents of the grantee, in Scotland a coat of arms is considered to be
heritable property and thus can only belong to one person at a time. This means
that the younger sons of a grantee have no direct right to inherit the arms
until elder branches of the family have died out. All younger sons must
matriculate the arms with a difference in order to posess legal arms.
This of course means that all those people who offer to sell you "Your Coat
of Arms" or "Your family's Coat of Arms" are wrong. If you are
lucky, you might get a cheaply produced version of the arms of your chief, but
there is every chance that the arms will simply be those of the first person of
your surname that they can find.
There is a perfectly acceptable way for those of Scots descent who do not have
their own coat of arms to have some heraldic display. This is in the wearing of
the crest from the full coat of arms of your chief in the form of a badge
surrounded by a belt and buckle containing the motto of the chief. This is akin
to a military cap badge and like it, is not the personal posession of the
wearer, but a badge which proclaims that person to be a member of a particular
group. In highland dress, the belt and buckle badge is worn as a cap badge, and
it can also be seen on kilt pins and as sporran ornamentation. All of these are
acceptable forms of display - what is not acceptable is to pass the badge of
your chief off as your own.
If you have a coat of arms, this badge is replaced with your own crest and you
are also entitled to wear a feather in your cap (Clan Chiefs get to wear two,
and the Sovereign has three).
To Matriculate Arms of
you do not possess arms and are not descended from someone who possessed arms,
you must petition for a grant of arms. Though this is a legal process, it is
actually quite simple and a lawyer is not necessarily required. The procedure
was made much simpler by the publication of templates of the "prayer" to the
Lord Lyon for the matriculation of arms in 'Scots Heraldry' by Lord Lyon Sir
Thomas Innes of Learney.
The information required is fairly simple. The person explains who they are,
gives some personal details and as much or as little genealogical information as
they wish. It must be remembered, though, that the application is a legal
process and any genealogical claims must be proved by documentary evidence
sufficient for a court of law. The prayer closes with a request that the Lord
Lyon devise a coat of arms for you. Provided that you are a person considered
reputable and "deserving", a coat of arms will normally be granted.
Once arms have been granted, you can be as disreputable as you like!
The Lord Lyon has full discretion to devise any coat of arms he likes for you,
but the process is a conversation rather than an imposition, and an applicant's
desires will be taken into consideration. Generally, if you bear the surname of
an armigerous Scottish family, your arms will be devised to reflect in some way
the arms of the head of that family. This is due to the 'clannish' nature of
Scots society where it is considered that by bearing a particular surname you
are proclaiming yourself a follower of the chief of that name. This means that a
person with the surname Gordon is likely to receive arms which in some way
reflect those of the Marquis of Huntly, but which are sufficiently different so
that the applicant's descent from (or lack of proven blood connection with) the
chiefly house is obvious. If you can prove descent from someone who has arms
recorded in Lyon Register then the process you should follow is to apply not for
a grant of arms, but for a rematriculation, of which more details below.
Once the arms have been devised, they are painted onto vellum together with the
accepted details of personal and family history. The arms are recorded in the
Lyon Register, the arms come under the protection of the laws of Scotland, and
the armiger is confirmed as one of the noblesse of Scotland.
In Scotland, arms can also be applied for in memory of a person, so persons of
Scots descent who are no longer citizens of Scotland may apply for arms in
memory of a Scots ancestor and once these arms have been granted, may
re-matriculate as a descendent. The ability to apply for arms in memory of an
ancestor can be particularly useful when there is a group of cousins who wish to
obtain arms. The cost of a new grant is more than the cost of re-matriculation
and it can work out much cheaper if the cost of the grant to an ancestor is
shared out by a group and each individual then re-matriculates. Such a procedure
also means that the group can be treated as a family unit whereas a series of
individual grants or re-matriculations may not make this clear.
is a similar process to a grant of arms, but the prayer to the Lord Lyon must
deal specifically with the proof of descent from someone who has recorded arms
in the Lyon Register. If sufficient evidence (good enough to stand up in a court
of law) is available, the prayer petitions Lyon to re-matriculate the arms with
suitable differences to make plain the relationship of the petitioner within the
family. Again, a template for the prayer is shown in Innes of Learney's Scots Heraldry.
Fees for Matriculation
are a range of fees payable for the matriculation of arms. The list below was
accurate as at 1st April 1995
of Armorial Bearings; shield alone; £786
•New Grant of Armorial Bearings; shield and crest; £1,225
•New Grant of Armorial Bearings; shield crest, motto and supporters; £1,706
•Rematriculation of previously recorded Armorial Bearings including shield and
with a Grant of new supporters; £843
•Rematriculation of previously recorded Armorial Bearings; shield, crest and
•Rematriculation of previously recorded Armorial Bearings; shield and crest;
charges may be made for extra painting work and for postage.
situation in Scotland as regards bastardy is unlike
the situation in England in two ways. The first is that subsequent marriage of
the parents will legitimate a child so long as the parents were free to marry at
the time of that child's birth. The most famous example of this is the
"MacDonald Peerage Case" where the Irish Barony of MacDonald was
inherited by the descendents of the first child son after the marriage of 3rd
Lord MacDonald and the Scots Baronetcy passed to the descendents of the eldest
son (born previous to the marriage). The second is that an illegitimate child in
Scotland is not "filius nullius " but is considered a full member of
the family or clan. This means that all an illegitimate child (male or female)
needs to do is to apply for a re-matriculation of arms suitably differenced to
reflect his or her status. This principle would also apply (though an opinion
has not been sought from Lyon court for this) to children where the father is
unknown since in such a situation the child would become part of the mother's
family or clan and application could be made for suitably differenced arms of
It is even possible for illegitimate children to inherit undifferenced arms if
they are the "assignees" of the armiger. This comes from the old
Celtic inheritance principle of there being a group of potential heirs (usually
all those sharing a particular great-grandparent) from whom the heir could be
chosen. To quote Sir Iain Moncreiffe:
meeting of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs,..., the present author
pointed out that illegitimacy did not necessarily in Scotland exclude a son from
succession even to a chiefship, if covered by a parental nomination accepted by
the Crown - and that this applied in fact to a fellow chief present. After the
meeting two other chiefs (neither of them the one I had in mind) came up to me
separately and protested 'I've never been called a bastard in public before'.
may seem to have everything to do with the inheritance of clan chiefdoms rather
than arms, but the two are intimately liked as a clan chief is the posessor of the undifferenced arms of the clan.
In general, bastard arms in Scotland are differenced with a bordure compony, but
this is not always the case, especially with ancient coats of arms and royal
bastards and it is possible to find batons sinister (Dempster of Careston -
bastards of Malcolm Canmore) or no obvious bastardy difference at all (Stewart,
Earl of Mar - bastards of the Wolf of Badenoch).
was said in the section on matriculation, only one person may rightfully use a
coat of arms at any particular time. All other persons must bear arms with some
form of difference - either temporary or permanent.
The main temporary difference used with any frequency in Scotland is the label
which is used by the nearest heir to a coat of arms. In Scottish practice this
includes presumptive heirs as well as apparent heirs, so an only daughter would
be heraldically correct in using a label - though as a daughter she could also
use her father's coat undifferenced. The rule also applies to more distant
relatives - so long as they are the nearest heir to the coat of arms. It must,
however, be remembered that the label is only temporary, so should a nearer heir
be born, the previous nearest heir must drop the label and matriculate an
appropriate cadet difference (which would be best practice anyway).
In general, Scottish differencing is worked out according to a standard set of
rules which are best described pictorially. Good examples of how this system
works are given in Innes of Learney's Scots Heraldry, Boutell, and Moncreiffe
and Pottinger's Simple Heraldry.
In most cases, differencing involves the use of a bordure which is tinctured,
charged and generally devised to denote the position of the person in the
A Typical Scottish
Grant of Arms
arms are those granted to Captain Stuart Crawford MacBride of Aberdeen in 1993 and this section is written with his permission.
The grant is recorded in Lyon Register volume lxxvii,39,1993.
Stuart bears the arms of a Scottish gentleman which consist of four parts:
this case containing arms which are blazoned : Vert
a garb within an orle of eight cinqfoils or. The shield is the basic
minumum for a Scots coat of arms. Its shape is immaterial, but in recent years a
plain shape has been preferred.
Helm (with Mantling & Wreath)
rules for helms in Scotland are similar to those in England, but they are
generally accorded less importance. Certainly, the English rules about which way
a helm should face are ignored - the helm will normally face whichever way is
appropriate for the best and most natural display of the crest. The helm types
- A gold helm with grilles
•Peers - A silver helm garnished with gold and with gold grilles, usually five
•Knights & Baronets - A steel helm garnished in gold with an open visor
a tilting helm may be used)
•Feudal Barons - A steel tilting helm garnished in gold
a steel helm with one or three grilles)
•Esquires - A steel pot helm garnished in gold, or a helm with a closed visor
•Gentleman - An ungarnished steel pot helm or helm with closed visor
Scots heraldry there can be a tendency to "go downmarket" in the use of helms so people should not be surprised to see
say, the arms of a Duke with a simple form of helm such as a tilting helm.
The mantling and wreath are of the main colour and metal of the coat of arms, in
Stuart's case, Vert doubled Or. This arrangement has been the rule since 1891,
but there can be exceptions. The mantling of a peer is gules doubled ermine, and
that of the sovereign or doubled ermine.
Stuart's case an Oystercatcher proper charged
with a cinqfoil or. There are no specific rules about Scots crests, except
that they should be wearable were a 3-D model of them made and fixed to a helm.
The "stern of a man o'war upon waves" of poor Lord Nelson would not be
motto is Bi Glic which is Gaelic and
means Be Wise. The motto is an integral part of a Scots coat of arms and cannot
be altered without re-matriculation. This is different from the situation in
England where mottoes are a matter of personal choice and can in theory be
changed daily if the armiger so desired.
Unlike arms, mottoes are not necessarily unique to one person, but certain of
them are likely to be restricted by the Lord Lyon as they are seen as
historically associated with a clan or title. A good example of this is the Clan Chattan motto "Touch not the cat bot a glove". The general principle
is that a cadet's motto should answer that of his chief in some way.
This is the form of a typical grant to a gentleman, which is the status of most
There are however various other additions to arms which can be seen, and applied
for, in the arms of persons of a certain status.
Chapeau (or Cap of Maintenance)
Feudal Baron (who is not a Lord and should not be styled as such) is entitled to
a chapeau of maintenance which is the fur cap worn inside the coronet by a peer.
A feudal baron also may wear a mantle (and display it in his heraldry in a
similar way to those of European heraldry) . The colour of the chapeau may be altered to denote the status of the baron but it is
usually Gules doubled ermine.
Chapeau are also allowed to representatives of old baronial families. These are
those families who were in posession of feudal baronies before 1427, which was
the last time that all feudal barons were summoned to sit in the Scots
parliament. Given that many of these families no longer possess the original
barony, the chapeau is usually tinctured Azure to denote this, following ancient
practice dating back to at least the fifteenth century (see the Garter Stall
Plate of James, 9th Earl of Douglas).
chief of a family may use a coronet of four strawberry leaves (one plus two half
leaves visible in a typical drawing) tinctured to indicate whether or not the
chief is still in possession of the former estates. If the chief is also a
feudal baron (which many are/were) then his chapeau could be placed inside the
coronet making it similar in style to the coronet of a peer.
The chiefly coronet and baronial chapeau are indicators of rank rather than part
of the crest. Thus it is perfectly proper to show the crest on an normal wreath
in the same way in which a peer may decide to use or not use his or her coronet
in their arms and a knight may decide whether or not to surround his arms with
the collar of his order. The chiefly coronet in particular is often shown on top
of the shield with the helm on top of it to make sure that there is no confusion
with the crest coronet, which is an individible part of the crest and not an
indicator of rank.
Supporters & Compartment
ranks in Scotland - more than in England - are entitled to supporters.
Generally, the rules are:
Peer - Hereditary supporters (which descend with the title)
•Life Peer (including law lords) - Supporters for life
•Knights of the Thistle & Knights Grand Cross - Supporters for life
•Clan Chief - Hereditary supporters (which descend with the chiefly dignity)
•Feudal Barons whose barony pre-dates 1587 - Hereditary Suporters
•Chieftains of Considerable Cadet Branches - maybe
Supporters are shown on a
compartment (an area of ground) which - for chiefs - is usually depicted planted
with the plants which make up the clan's plant badge.
Normally a Scots coat of arms will have two supporters, but occasionally only
one is found, and there is at least one case of three! Single supporters include
the eagle (City of Perth), a tree with the shield suspended from its branches
(Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March & Dunbar), and a lymphad (the Scots heraldic
galley) with the shield suspended from its mast (Campbell of Inverneill). The
three supporters appear in the arms of Dundas of that Ilk which has two
conventional supporters in the form of red lions but also rests on the back of a
salamander in flames.
Heraldry in Scotland
By James Dempster FSA Scot and published on