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What Are My Arms?

If 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.

Reproduced from Heraldry in Scotland by James Dempster FSA Scot and published on The British Heraldic Archive.

Use of Tartans & Crests

From the "Court of the Lord Lyon, H.M. New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT, Scotland".

 "The Chief's coat of arms fulfills 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 heritable property, devolving on 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 or 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 cadet's place within the family.

 "It is not only illegal, but a social crime and error of the most grave character, to assume and purport to use your Chief's arms without a due and congruent difference. Anyone who does so merely publishes their own ignorance, and lapse into bad manners, and use of such on seal or notepaper will close the doors of all the best families against the presumptuous upstart."

 "There is no such thing as a "Clan coat of arms". The arms are those of the Chief and the clansmen have only the privilege of wearing the strap and buckle crested badge to show they are the Chief's clansmen."

 "You 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 Chief's crest as badge."

 "The 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 surrounding the Chief's motto. This is for personal wear only, to
indicate that the wearer is a member of the Clan whose Chief's 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 Chief's property."

Wearing of Tartan

1. A lady of Scottish family, married to someone not entitled to a Clan, Family, or District Tartan, shall continue to wear her own tartan in skirt etc., but wears her sash over the right shoulder and tied in a bow over the left hip.

 Unless her child or children, or one of the children takes their mother's name, these children have no right to wear their mother's tartan at all. They are not members of their mother's clan.

2. Those not entitled to wear a Clan or Family Tartan have no right to wear any Royal Tartan, and particularly not the so called "Royal Stuart Tartan", which is the tartan of the Royal House, and accorded the pipers of the Sovereign's Royal Regiments.

 Those of Scottish descent with no Clan, Family or District Tartan wear one of the  following:-

(a) the now so-called "Hunting Stewart", which was originally a general Scottish hunting tartan, and only named "Stewart" about 1888;

(b) Caledonian Tartan;

(c) Jacobite Tartan - for those with ancestors of Jacobite proclivities;

(d) Black Watch or "Government" Tartan in its exact regimental form, or one of the modified forms for those of Hanoverian or Whig proclivities.

3. There are a number of District Tartans which are worn, or wearable, by persons belonging to, or descended from ancestors belonging to these districts. These districts, only cover certain small areas of Scotland.

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Copyright 1999 Clifford P. Bethune 

The material, images and information contained in these pages is copyright of Clifford. P. Bethune 

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