The Society of Scottish Armgers

























Arms of The Society of Scottish Armigers


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Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is heraldry?
Heraldry is the science of coats of arms and armorial bearings. These “heraldic achievements” were originally designed to help identify knights in armor, on the battlefield or during medieval sporting events known as tournaments. In Scotland arms are recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings, which is kept in the offices of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms.

2. Is heraldry just a relic of the medieval past?
Certainly not. New grants of arms are still made by the Lord Lyon. Besides, whenever schools or sports teams pick a motto, an emblem, and colors, they are practicing heraldry, even if these are never officially granted or recorded.

3. What is an armiger? An armiger is an individual who has been granted or has inherited the right to a specific heraldic achievement (shield, crest, mottos, supporters etc.). Only one individual has the right to his or her arms, undifferenced, though others may show their loyalty to a particular armiger (say, a clan chief) by wearing their crest surrounded by a strap and buckle. In addition to individual armigers, however, there are some corporate grants, to cities, universities and so on. The Use of Corporate Arms

4. What are the orders of the peerage? In order of precedence there are five orders of peerage in Scotland: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Lord of Parliament. The Lords of Parliament are called Barons in England. Confusingly there are also people called barons in Scotland, but they are not (at least by virtue of their baronies) peers. (See leaflet no. 21, Titles, a Primer.)

5. What other people may be armigers in Scotland? In addition to peers and feudal barons, there are other men and women who hold Scottish arms. One category is people with a Territorial Designation (See leaflet 20). Others may simply inherit their arms. People can also apply for arms themselves to the Lord Lyon.

6. How can I become an armiger? Detailed information on how to apply for arms may be found in the attached leaflet (See leaflet 4). Grants are not typically made to people who are not citizens of the United Kingdom (General Colin Powell was a notable exception), but non-citizens may apply for a cadet-matriculation, if they can show, for instance, that they descend from a Scottish armiger. (See leaflet no.8)

7. What is a “laird”? Is it the same as a Lord? No, it is not the same at all. Most often the word “laird” is used very broadly to indicate a landowner, who may also be (but is frequently not) a member of the peerage. As could be inferred from the fact that companies market holdings as small as a square foot of land by saying that ownership would entitle the purchaser to call themselves “laird,” calling oneself “laird” in no way makes one a member of the peerage or entitles one to become an armiger. Territorial designations will only be considered for holdings on which a proper house has been built. See leaflet 20 and note on lairds on Lyon Court Website.

8. Can I become a Lord by buying a square foot of Scottish soil? No.

9. What allows some women to be called “lady”? Traditionally the title “lady” is used for one of three categories of woman: a peeress in her own right, the wife of a peer and the wife of a knight. The wife of a chief, if not also a peer or knight, should be addressed as “Madam.”

10. What are the flags of Scotland that it is OK for me to fly? The national flag of Scotland is the Saltire, a white St Andrew’s cross on a blue background. This also forms part of the composite flag known as the Union Jack, which is the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of which Scotland is a constituent part. Similarly, the United Kingdom is part of the European Union, whose flag may also, therefore, be flown in Scotland. A common mistake is for people to fly the Lion Rampant (a red lion on a yellow background). This is not a national flag. It is the personal flag of Her Majesty the Queen in her capacity as Queen of Scotland. Only her special representatives may do this.

11. Who can wear a feather in their cap, and how many? This is not a matter of law but of convention. The simple rule would be that only a chief of the name may wear three feathers and other armigers, even peers, may only wear one. If you are not an armiger, you should not wear any at all. A very few armigers may wear two feathers. To wear two they would need to be either the head of a branch of a clan, so recognized by their chief, or the chairman of a society like the Society of Scottish Armigers, where that privilege was recognized by the Lord Lyon.

12. How do I address a Duke, an Earl or other peer? (See Leaflet 21)

13. Who can fly a banner? Banners are governed by the rules of heraldry, whether personal or corporate. See leaflet 3.

14. Can I get my family or clan coat of arms? In general terms (there are a few “armigerous clans or families”) only individual armigers have coats of arms. Displaying another person’s arms is considered akin to identity theft and can be prosecuted by and before the Lyon court. As mentioned above, however, it is acceptable for a member of a clan to display their chief’s crest surrounded by a strap and buckle.

15. What makes some extended families a “clan”? In the past the word “clan” was used only about extended family groups from the Gaidhealtachd, the traditionally Celtic, Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Islands. Families from the East of Scotland (like the Leslies) or from the south (the Scotts or Elliots, say,) many of whom had a Norman or Anglo-Saxon origin, did not use the term. This distinction has now largely disappeared to be replaced with another. In simple terms, and with a few exceptions, to be considered a clan you must have a chief so recognized as chief of the name by the Lord Lyon and eligible to sit on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

16. Who is the Lord Lyon? The Lord Lyon, King of Arms, is one of the Great Officers of State in Scotland, and the person responsible for regulating heraldry in Scotland. He issues new grants of arms and presides over the oldest heraldic court in daily operation anywhere in the world. (See Lyon Court Website)

17. How do you get to be a chief? Most often you inherit the position. In Scotland this can happen through the maternal line. If a clan or family has no chief, because the line has died out, a derbhfine of leading clansmen can be instituted to elect one of their number. See leaflet 12. Their choice would still need to be ratified by the Lord Lyon as chief of the name, at which point he or she might expect to be invited to join the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. Certain individuals have attempted to short-circuit this process, simply proclaiming themselves chief, but their doing so carries no weight in the wider Scottish community. The title “chief” – like the wearing of three feathers – is understood to be the preserve of the Standing Council, and should not be used loosely by others in the Scottish community.

18. What is the difference between a plaid and a tartan? Originally a plaid was a garment, something like a great cloak, which one could wrap around oneself or lay on the ground to sleep on. Tartan is the name for the pattern with which such garments were woven. (See leaflet no 20)

19. Can I wear whatever tartan I like or are there rules? Tartans are not part of heraldry as such. They are not the personal property of a chief in the way other “clan” insignia typically are. While most tartans are identified with certain specific clans or families, or sometimes regiments or regions, there is no law against wearing whatever one likes.

20. What is the relationship between Scotland, England and the United Kingdom? Who are the British? Scotland today is a country which forms part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In turn the UK forms a part of the European Union. Sovereignty is shared within and between these three layers of power and government. England is by far the largest part of the United Kingdom. Scotland accounts for about one twelfth of the population of the UK, roughly the same ratio that Texas represents within the United States. Unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England does not have its own government and is governed only by the UK and EU Governments. Originally the term British referred to a specific ethnic and linguistic group in these islands, who spoke P-Celtic or Brythonic Celtic dialects. Today these are mostly identified with Welsh and Breton. There was a large British kingdom in the land which came to be known as Scotland, around the area of Strathclyde and with its capital at Dumbarton, which means “fort of the Britons.” After England and Scotland signed their Act of Union the term was revived to indicate the people of the combined area, including England, Scotland and Wales. The term “Great Britain” is a translation of the French “Grande Bretagne,” which the French used to distinguish the area from the region known as Bretagne or Brittany in their own country. It is as absurd to distinguish between Scots and “Brits” as between Texans and Americans. If Scotland left the United Kingdom, those remaining would probably revert to the name “English” and the term “British” would disappear from the political lexicon the way “Yugoslav” or “Czechoslovak” have done.

21. An explanation of Territorial Designations is to be found in Hot News. The Hot News button is found in the Website navigation bar on the left hand side of all pages.


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