HERALDRY AND SCOTLANDS LANDED FAMILIES
By Elizabeth Roads, Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records, Court of the Lord Lyon
In Scotland, the connection of families with the land owned by their forebears or their connection with the great clan houses has
provided a rich source of interest and information about the way in which those forebears lived. Indeed, many Scots today still look
with some pride to their connection with their clan chief, even if that connection cannot be genealogically proved by the production of appropriate Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates. The huge growth of interest in clans and clan histories and thereby in the history of Scotland has been particularly pronounced among the descendants of those who emigrated to those countries which were originally known as the New World, that is the United States of America and Canada in North America, and Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere. Genealogical research is one of the most rapidly growing leisure pursuits in those countries today. Making this 19th Edition of Burkes Landed Gentry available for searching on the Internet can only help its further and more effective growth.
Clan societies abound in these countries and it is particularly significant that so many people whose ancestors left Scotland many
decades, if not centuries, ago still in some profound way feel that Scotland is their home. Through their association with clan
societies, they are increasingly taking an interest in the way in which their forebears would have lived, and the landed families
with whom their forebears would have associated.
This association with their clan provides a long-lasting use of Scottish heraldry outside Scotland as well as with-in. Clansmen
wear, with pride, their clan crest badge. This badge, showing the chiefly crest within a strap and buckle bearing the chiefly
motto, is worn throughout the world by clanspeople to signify their allegiance to their clan chief, and thus a direct link between
Scotland and those clanspeople well furth of Scotland is maintained. They return, wearing their tartan, for periodic visits and
while much of their thoughts are romantic and nostalgic, their pride is real. They display their affection in a way that those
of us who have remained in Scotland throughout do not.
Family Records and Identity The late, and great, Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, later Albany Herald of Arms wrote in an introduction
to the 1952, 17th Edition of Burkes Landed Gentry: People often speak of old families. In fact, of course, no family is older than
any other. What is meant is that the particular families called old have managed to maintain their identity and retain records of
their past longer than the majority of other folk. Thus it is that over a period of time old families may lose their direct
connection with the land, although still be of important genealogical and historical interest, and new families will acquire the
land and in time become old landed families. The population is therefore ever shifting in this regard. It is, however, the case
that those families which have long maintained a high historical profile are likely to attract more genealogical interest than those
individuals who have relatively recently acquired their lands and have no direct links with other historically landed families. It is
the interconnection between the old landed houses which so often fascinates.While there are many new landed families listed here in
this 19th Edition, it is of significance that a few, such as the Swintons still hold the lands held by their ancestors long prior to
the arrival of those of Norman background.
The New Families in Scotland Interest amongst those who have not had direct ownership of land in the past, or who have made their
fortunes furth of Scotland, often provides the impetus for them to acquire land in Scotland as a symbol and recognition of their
historical links. The acquisition of land by others with no obvious connection with Scotland is more difficult to explain. It may well
be that the acquisition of a Scottish 'title' still attracts many people, even where in some cases those who acquire feudal baronies
have a long and distinguished pedigree in their own countries of origin.
Yet the acquisition of land and title is not, in itself, enough. It must surely be accompanied with and be followed by an active
interest in the peoples dependant on that land and in the wider society around that land. That is the true meaning of Landed Gentry.
Many of those who have more recently acquired a feudal barony in Scotland have begun to take a very active interest in the
communities around the lands comprising their feudal barony. In many cases the lands which now comprise the caput of the feudal
barony have become very small indeed and the individual does not therefore own a great degree of heritage in Scotland. That aside,
the new landed gentry can and should take their inbuilt opportunity for an active interest in promoting the welfare of the area with
which he has become connected.
This is, of course, much easier where the feudal barony lies at the heart of an estate, and there are individuals dependant on the
owner of that estate for employment. There is, however, no reason why somebody acquiring a relatively small piece of land should not
become actively involved in other aspects of the local community and provide the necessary support or impetus for that community to
further its own ends. This support may be in a relatively small manner such as a grant towards the refurbishment of a village hall,
a heritage museum or community centre. To become a respected member of the class of people commemorated in a work of reference such
as Burkes Landed Gentry there must be much more than mere ownership of the land and the subsequent 'title' which might flow from that. The defeudalisation of land tenure in Scotland in 2000 will quickly bring to the fore those who have a real and deep interest in Scotland and the area with which they have become connected and those for whom it was merely a vehicle towards the acquisition of a 'title'. The latter will quickly attract less than complimentary comment.
Heraldry and Armorial Bearings
One of the ways in which a long established family, or a family which aspires to become old and established, is recognised is through
the acquisition of Armorial Bearings. From at least Biblical times symbols are known to have been used to identify groups, and this
was particularly important when literacy was not widespread. In the western world this evolved to become an hereditary system of
personal identifying marks, and from this system arose our present system of heraldry. Heraldry in Scotland has evolved slowly over
the past 700 years. A Coat of Arms identifies one particular person or organisation. Since 1672, all such Armorial Bearings used in
Scotland must be recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland for their use to be lawful.
There are two different branches of heraldry, one personal and the other corporate, but the ethos of identification is the same.
In the case of personal heraldry Armorial Bearings descend from the original grantee to the heir in each generation for all time
coming. As Arms are inseparable from name, the heir must always bear the same surname as the original grantee. The descent of the
Arms is governed by a destination contained in the original Letters Patent, that destination being analogous to that contained in
the Letters Patent creating a peerage. A Coat of Arms is a piece of heritable property and as such, the control of heraldry is
strictly preserved in the law of Scotland.
This control rests with the Lord Lyon King of Arms to whom the heraldic prerogative has been assigned by sundry statutes. The Lord
Lyon may either act administratively when granting new Letters Patent or judicially when determining the right to succeed to a coat,
either without difference, or in the case of a junior cadet, with appropriate difference. When acting judicially the Lord Lyon King
of Arms sits in the Court of the Lord Lyon, one of the minor Courts of Scotland, with appeal from that Court to the Court of Session,
and ultimately to the House of Lords.
The acquisition of a Coat of Arms has a very relevant place to play in associating those of the same name within their wider family
group. In Scotland, with the strength of the clan system, this takes on a very definite character. In heraldry the shield contains
the identifying charges, some of which will be common for those of the same surname since Arms are based on those of the chief of
the name or head of the clan. The display of these Armorial Bearings shows to the wider world the place of that individual within
the larger family or clan group. For those who do not have a clan connection, and indeed whose surname may not be of Scots origin
or common in Scotland, it is for the Lord Lyon to specify charges which will identify that particular individual. Where the incoming
individual has acquired an association with a particular area of Scotland, it may well be that some charge associated with that
area will appear in the Arms to link for all time the association of that incoming individual with that particular area of Scotland.
Similar considerations apply to the Arms of organisations, although in those circumstances, the Arms may well bear charges which
relate to the activities of the particular organisation.
Contemporary Significance and Usage
The display and use of heraldry might, seem a rather archaic visual form at the dawn of the 21st century. It is very much still
the case that the very essence of heraldry - being to identify - is still widely used, although many may not appreciate that what
they see is the heraldic tradition. The most obvious contemporary use of heraldry today is on the numerous flags flown throughout
the world, to demonstrate nationality, corporate or personal identity. It is clear to any spectator that the flag identifies either
the country or the enterprise or the owner of the house. The use of the Royal Arms, not only by The Sovereign Herself, but also as
an Ensign of Public Authority on Government documents and Acts of Parliament, shows to one and all that that document has official
authority through Parliament from the Crown.
That use to signify the authority of the legislative process is not confined to the Scotland and the United Kingdom. Ensigns of
Public Authority are used throughout the world, both in monarchies and republics. A more personal use of Armorial Bearings is by
the individual to signify their ownership or association with a building or artefact. Armorial stones very regularly appeared in
the past on buildings to commemorate the owner responsible for the erection of the building, or major alterations there-to, and
the use of armorial stones is still seen today, both by companies and individuals responsible for buildings, both new and restored.
Heraldry also appears very widely on items to show that they should be thought of as items of high and warranted quality. The use
of heraldic labels on bottles, engravings on silver cups and medallions, and on presentation addresses is widespread. Indeed there
are many companies which use what purport to be Armorial Bearings, but are in fact of their own invention, to suggest to would-be
clients that that firm is one of stability and reliability. It is, of course, only those companies that have lawfully sought their
Armorial Bearings which can actually assert that they have taken the test of whether they are stable and reliable.
Many companies in receipt of lawful Armorial Bearings in practice only use those Arms on their premier ranges or on items with high
quality associations, such as fine wines.
It is, however, surely the case that heraldry should be used and seen widely, and thus it is that the use by schools and clubs is
much to be encouraged in contemporary society. A visiting football or rugger team is instantly recognisable by its use of heraldry
or its livery colours on the strip. This modern use is perhaps the present-day equivalent of the medieval knight in shining armour!
To conclude however, we should never forget a most significant way in which the linkage between land and families is so often
demonstrated by heraldry. To be associated with the land gives a sense and feeling of permanence that little else can match.
Those families long connected with the land have faced and met the challenges presented by responsible land ownership. The new
families with, and without, formal landed title included in this 19th Edition, including the current generations of Scotlands
feudal barons, must also be expected to take up that challenge of community responsibility.
Reprinted by kind permission of Burkes Peerage and Gentry. http://www.burkes-scotland.com
For more information on the Court of the Lord Lyon contact:
H.M. New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT, Scotland, UK.