Court of the Lord Lyon Genealogy,
Heraldry and Tartans
GENEALOGY, HERALDRY AND
TARTANS General Information
TRACING OF ANCESTRY, FAMILY HISTORIES ETC.
We have to explain that this Department does not
undertake to make researches, though the Public Registers and other
collections of the Lyon Office will be made available at Search Fees for
each particular search in the Register of Arms or in the Register of
Genealogies and in the Heraldic and Genealogical MSS, or other
collections of the Department. For this a searcher may require to be
employed at a professional fee.
NAME, SEPT, OR TARTAN
This Department does not undertake to supply
individual replies to questions regarding (a) Name (origins, etc.); (b)
Sept; or (c) Tartan; for which reference should be made to the
appropriate chapters of reliable books. Those undermentioned can usually
be consulted in any large public library.
"Heraldry in Scotland" by J. H. Stevenson (James
Maclehose & Sons, Glasgow, 1914).
"Scots Heraldry" by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney (Oliver
& Boyd, 1956 & Johnston & Bacon, 1978).
"Simple Heraldry" by Sir lain Moncreiffe of that Ilk
and Don Pottinger (Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., 1953).
Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands" by
Frank Adam, ed. Sir Thomas Innes of Learney (8th edition, Chapters
XIII, XV, XVI, and List of Septs, pp. 554-570, Johnston and Bacon,
"The Highland Clans" by Sir lain Moncreiffe of that Ilk
(Barrie & Rockliff, 1967).
"Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia" by George Way
of Plean and Romilly Squire (Harper Collins, 1994).
"Heraldic Standards and other Ensigns" by Robert Gayre
of Gayre and Nigg (Oliver & Boyd, 1959).
"Scottish Family History" by Margaret Stuart and Sir
James Balfour Paul (Oliver & Boyd, 1930). Introduction regarding
nature, form and sources for family histories, useful to both
inquirers and family historians, and Index of published Family
Histories to 1928.
"Scottish Family Histories" held in Scottish Libraries,
by Joan P. 5. Ferguson (Scottish Central Library, Edinburgh 1960,
and revised edition compiled by Joan P. 5. Ferguson assisted by
Dennis Smith and Peter Wellburn, National Library of Scotland,
"The Surnames of Scotland" by George F. Black (New York
Public Library, 1946).
Burkes Peerage and Burkes Landed Gentry give the
genealogies of many Chiefs and landed families.
The Court and Office of the Lord Lyon deals only with
tartans and Septs when these matters are brought up on Petition (or
steps incidental to Petitions) for judicial or official pronouncement,
on which the relative Government dues are exigible, and detailed
evidence and proof is required.
People normally wear only the tartan (if any) of
their surname, or a "district tartan" connected with their
residence or familys place of origin.
Armorial bearings, being for distinguishing persons
of, and within, a family, cannot descend to, or be used by, persons who
are not members of the family. The surname indicates the family to which
a person belongs. A person named Macdonald cannot bear a Ross coat of
arms, or any part of it.
The Chiefs coat of arms fulfils within the clan or
family the same purposes as the Royal Arms do in a Kingdom. There is no
such thing as a "family crest" or "family coat of
arms" which anyone can assume, or a whole family can use.
Armorial bearings, of which the Crest is a subsidiary part, are a
form of individual heritage property, devolving upon one person at a
time by succession from the grantee or confirmee, and thus descend
like a Peerage. They indicate the Chief of the Family or Clan, or the
Head of each subsidiary line or household descending from members who
have themselves established in the Public Register of All Arms and
Bearings in Scotland a right to a subsidiary version of the arms and
crest, containing a mark of difference indicating their position in the
Family or Clan. This is not a "new" coat of arms; it is the ancient
ancestral arms with a mark of cadency, usefully showing the cadets
place within the family.
The scheme shows a few of the variations only, but illustrates how
the undifferenced arms descend to, and demonstrate, the successive Chiefs
of the clan or family, and how subsidiary branch-arms descend to,
and represent, each head of a cadet-house. Hundreds of variations are
available, and use of the different shield on ones own book-plate
or silverware identifies where you, and your own heirs, belong within
the family. It is, as well as being beautiful, a valuable system of
The parts of the armorial bearings consist of:
(a) The Shield, bearing the basic device;
(b) The Helmet, with its Crest, which sits on top of the helmet;
(c) The Motto in a scroll;
(d) The Mantling or cape, which kept the sun off the wearers armour
in hot weather;
(e) Very rarely, two Supporters on either side of the shield, which are
external attributes of the arms of Peers, Chiefs and a very few
other persons of special importance, including Knights Grand Cross of
It is illegal to assume and purport to use your Chiefs arms
without a due and congruent recorded difference. Anyone who does so
merely publishes their own ignorance.
There is no such thing as a "Clan coat of arms". The arms
are those of the Chief, and clansmen have only the privilege of wearing
the strap-and-buckle crested badge to show they are such Chiefs
One cannot have a crest without first having a shield of arms,
because the crest was a later addition. Misuse of crests arises from
misunderstanding of the badge rule under which junior members of the
family may wear in specified manner their Chiefs crest as badge.
Crest of the Chief is worn by all members of the Clan and of
approved Septs and followers of the Clan, within a strap and buckle
surround bearing the Chiefs motto. This is for personal wear only,
to indicate that the wearer is a member of the Clan whose Chiefs
crest-badge is being worn. The badge or crest is not depicted on
personal or business stationery, signet rings or plate, because such use
would legally import that the tea-pot, etc., was the Chiefs property!
ACQUISITION OF GRANTS AND MATRICULATIONS OF ARMS
Those who wish to use arms in any personal sense must petition for a
Grant of Arms orif they can trace their ancestry back to a direct or,
in some cases collateral, ancestora "cadet matriculation"
showing their place within the family. Forms of Petition and sample
proof-sheets relative to such applications can be supplied if required.
When a grant, or matriculation, of arms is successfully obtained, an
illuminated parchment, narrating the pedigree as proved, is supplied to
the Petitioner, and a duplicate is recorded in the Public Register of
All Arms and Bearings in Scotland and/or the Public Register of
Genealogies and Birthbrieves.
Application for such a Confirmation, by Letters Patent or
Matriculation, from the Lord Lyon King of Arms is the only way to
obtain a genuine coat of arms.
British Commonwealth. Anyone domiciled in Her Majestys
overseas realms or in The Commonwealth (except those of English, Welsh
or Irish ancestry, who should approach Garter King of Arms in London or
The Chief Herald of Ireland in Dublin) can apply to the Lord Lyon King
of Arms of Scotland, H.M. New Register House, Edinburgh EH1 3YT, for a
grant or matriculation of arms.
Foreign Countries. Arms are not granted to non-British citizens
(though those of Scottish ancestry can apply to the Lord Lyon King of
Arms for cadet-matriculations, as above described). Moreover, even if
not of direct armigerous descent, foreigners of Scottish descent can
often arrange for a cousin in Scotland, or in one of Her Majestys
overseas realms, to get arms established by the Lord Lyon King of Arms,
and thereafter themselves to obtain a cadet-matriculation. Each party is
in such cases supplied with an illuminated parchment.
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