This is taken from an article written in the Scottish Sunday Post 18th Nov 07 from an interview with the Lord Lyon.
The Rampant Lion not a national flag and should not be used by “citizens and corporate bodies” is an offence under a 1672 act of Parliament. Who says so? The Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, Scotland’s authority on heraldry. The Lord Lyon grants coats of arms and maintains the centuries-old Register of Arms. He’s responsible for state ceremonial duties and all matters of Scottish genealogy.
Dating from the 16th Century, it’s a working court with its own procurator fiscal. Using unauthorised arms is a criminal offence in Scotland, carrying a fine of up to £100.
Robin Blair is the 34th Lord Lyon — the name was adopted because of the lion on the royal coat of arms — and he’s judge of the court. A former Glasgow solicitor, he was appointed in 2001 and is about to retire. Robin told Paul Hastie The Honest Truth about heraldry.
WHEN DID heraldry begin?
Arms were first seen in Scotland around the end of the 12th Century. The earliest examples are designs on wax seals on official documents. They made the person recognisable to those who didn’t understand the signature. Many people couldn’t read in those days. Arms also emerged through the military as a way to identify knights. When a knight’s face was covered, he would wear a tabard over his armour displaying his arms. The Lord Lyon still wears the tabard at ceremonial occasions.
ORIGINS OF the Court?
The first record of a Lord Lyon was by Robert the Bruce in 1318. It was the Lord Lyon’s duty to maintain royal genealogy and make sure the right person was appointed King of Scotland. The court itself wasn’t created until 1592. An act of the Scottish Parliament gave powers to fine and imprison those who used arms that weren’t their own. As arms grew in popularity this became a problem, especially in Scotland. They were always more popular here than in England.
In England it was generally only landowners and the higher classes who had arms, but in the Scots clan followers would show allegiance with arms similar to their clan chief’s.
DO YOU take action over unauthorised arms?
It does happen. A few years ago we had to contact a construction company about their logo. It was a heraldic design but not officially registered arms. You either have to apply for arms or find a different design.
COULD THE Lyon Court take action against Scotland supporters who fly a lion rampant flag?
The lion rampant is the Royal Arms of Scotland and belongs to the sovereign. It may be flown by certain official representatives of the sovereign, for example a lord lieutenant when performing his duties or the first minister in his capacity as Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland. But in 1935 King George V permitted people to wave small lion rampant flags as part of his silver jubilee celebrations. Subsequently this was regarded as allowing the use of hand-held flags on other occasions to express loyalty to the sovereign. Gradually people started to use this flag at sporting events, although this was not envisaged in 1935.
We do, however, try to prevent people from flying the lion rampant on a flagpole and from using it in other ways, unless it’s part of a scheme of decoration involving other flags and emblems.
WHAT ARE the Lord Lyon’s state duties?
I enjoy that part of the job. These are a number of official duties where the Lord Lyon wears the medieval ceremonial dress displaying the Royal Arms. There’s the opening of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the St Andrew’s Day Service at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Also the war memorial service in Edinburgh Castle, and other ceremonial occasions like the installation of a Knight of the Thistle. The Lord Lyon also proclaims dissolution of parliament in Edinburgh.
ANY POPULAR misconceptions?
Interest in genealogy has boomed. It’s a big draw for tourists, especially from the US and Canada, tracing their roots. They’ll visit heraldic shops or websites and pay hundreds of pounds for an “authentic” family coat of arms. Unfortunately, this is completely incorrect. A coat of arms belongs to an individual and can be used by them and no-one else. To use arms you apply for a personal coat. Tourists will visit the court with their “official family arms” and are disappointed when we break the news. What is permitted is for a member of a clan to use the clan crest. Usually what is referred to as the clan coat of arms is in fact the personal arms of the chief. We get all manner of questions on arms, clans, flags and ceremony. We even had a phone call from Australia asking the correct way to wear a kilt.
WHO CAN have a coat of arms?
Anyone resident who owns a house or land in Scotland can apply to the Lord Lyon for Scots arms. If you’re not a resident you can still apply for arms in memory of a Scots ancestor, providing you can prove descent. People of English, Welsh or Irish ancestry should approach the College of Arms in London or the Chief Herald of Ireland in Dublin. Corporate bodies like local authorities, schools, businesses and other formal partnerships can similarly apply for arms. They use arms in the same way as a private person to identity and to mark their property and products.
IS THE process difficult?
No. You submit a petition stating who you are and asking for arms to be granted. Assuming you qualify, the Lord Lyon must decide whether you are “virtuous and well deserving” of arms.
I can’t specify circumstances in which a person might or might not be regarded as virtuous and well deserving. It is a matter for the Lyon’s decision and discretion.
An extreme example might be a person in prison or under arrest. It costs around £1000, the fees set by parliament. It’s wise to plan ahead as the court grants around 100 arms each year. It can take 10 to 12 months.
HOW ARE coats of arms created?
People can suggest designs with their petition, but often they leave it entirely to me. The Lord Lyon must consider the rules and traditions of Scottish heraldry before deciding what’s appropriate for each person. There are thousands of shapes and symbols. When a design has been agreed with the petitioner the Lord Lyon creates the blazon — the verbal description from which the arms are created. A court artist will paint the design alongside the Letters Patent, the official written permission. This is given to the petitioner on a vellum certificate. Another copy is produced by hand on vellum, a traditional material produced from calfskin, for the Register of Arms book.
The shield is the main part, included in all arms. The rest is optional. Above the shield you can have a helmet and on that you can also have a crest. Some choose to have a motto. People of higher ranks — peers, knights, and the Lord Lyon himself — can also have “supporters”, people or animals placed on each side of the shield.
CAN YOU have any design?
Arms must be fitting with tradition and the historical arms of your surname. There is yellow and black on all Campbell arms. There are hundreds of versions of traditional symbols like lions, dragons and birds. We get requests for modern items to be included but this can bring problems — for example, say you wanted a telephone depicted. If the request was made in the early 20th Century the phone would be long-stemmed with an earpiece — unrecognisable alongside modern phone technology. Instead we’d suggest the symbol of a bell, a timeless symbol, to represent the phone.