We’re all well aware of logos, trademarks, advertising gimmicks and slogans used to promote companies, organisations and goods. We’re bombarded with them wherever we look. Some are trusted household names, a few may carry disliked baggage, others may be brash new kids on the block. But life without them is difficult to imagine.
A few writers and actors have even been made brands with companies under their own names.
But what many of us don’t possess, unless of aristocratic stock, is our own historic brand, our own ancient trademark (though in Scotland royal burghs and cities proudly own them) – a Coat of Arms.
A Coat of Arms is a heraldic design that, in Europe, applied to a family and can be inherited, new generation from the previous. They originate from mediaeval times when knights wore them on their surcoat, or tabard, to identify the wearer.
The Bayeux Tapestry of the 11th century depicts coats of arms, crosses on shields, providing early evidence of their use. They came into general use a century later when feudal lords and knights in battle displayed them. It wasn’t long before the newfangled fad became popular amongst others, a bit of one-upmanship, and soon became a kind of logo for families in the European elite.
Wives and daughters were of course not in the same league, so the arms had to be changed in some way, often a change of colour, to indicate women were not the full deal when it came to status.
In Scotland coats of arms apply to a person rather than family, so can be passed from family head to succeeding family head, only one at a time using it.
Although coats of arms can now be bought free on the internet, in Scotland the Lord Lyon King of Arms strictly enforces all matters referring to Coats of Arms and things heraldic. His office dates from the 14th century, although it may incorporate the much older Celtic office of royal Seanchaidh or of King’s Poet who had responsibility for keeping the royal genealogy (that must have proved tricky at times!) and attending the King’s crowning. Today such matters are still taken seriously with the gold embroidered tunic-wearing Lord being Judge of the Court of the Lord Lyon.
On ceremonial occasions the Lord Lyon, who is responsible for all State Ceremonial in Scotland, is accompanied by Her Majesty’s Officers of Arms – at present (their titles are derived from place names where powerful lords held sway) Rothesay Herald, Snawdoun Herald (title derived from part of Stirling Castle) and Marchmont Herald, Ormond Pursuivant (from Ormond or Avoch Castle on the Black Isle), Dingwall Pursuivant and Unicorn Pursuivant. In heraldry the unicorn is known as the symbol of Scotland and two unicorns supported the royal arms of the King of Scots. Since the Scotland/England union of 1707, the UK royal arms have been supported by a unicorn along with an English lion. I had to consult the dictionary for the Pursuivant bit, it seems they are juniors who may follow in the footsteps of one of the Heralds.
A 1592 Act of the Scottish Parliament gave the Lord Lyon responsibility for prosecuting as a criminal offence anyone who uses unauthorised Arms, and in 1672 a further Act authorised the creation of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. This Register is maintained by the Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records and contains an official copy of every Coat of Arms granted in Scotland since 1672 right up to the present.
So if it’s more than an interesting souvenir you crave, then the Lord Lyon is the man to contact – http://www.lyon-court.com.
The Coat of Arms above the entrance door to the administrative office of the National Library of Scotland in the Royal Mile, Edinburgh.