A Note on Scots Heraldry

by James Dempster

(See also Heraldry in Scotland, a fuller article, by the same author. The Heraldry Society of Scotland has a web site.)

To establish a right to a Scots coat of arms you must prove that you are the heir to it. A Scots coat of arms can only be borne by one person at a time. Whether or not you are the heir depends on various conditions which would have been set out in the original grant. Even if you are not the heir to the arms, you may apply to re-matriculate cadet arms, which is where cadency comes in.

Scottish heraldic cadency generally works by the addition of borders (bordures in heraldic language) to the main coat of arms. The bordure for a second son is generally gold (or) unless that conflicts with the colour of the background of the shield (the field). If the descent is through more than one younger son, there would have to be other differences made. This generally would take the form of one or all of the following - varying the partition line of the bordure (engrailed, invected, etc), altering the bordure itself (making it say, quarterly or and gules, or chequy), or placing additional charges upon it. This is all best explained visually and can be seen in Innes of Learney or Moncreiffe and Pottinger. Exactly what you get depends on what the Lord Lyon decides.

As an American, it is quite easy to apply for a Scottish grant of arms. You find an ancestor who was born in Scotland and either re-matriculate his arms (appropriately differenced) or apply for a grant in his memory and then re-matriculate these new arms. Sir Thomas Innes' book gives samples of the appropriate petitions for either a new grant or a rematriculation. You may also wish to register your genealogy which gives it legal status and would make re-matriculating easier for other relatives in the future. Heraldry is very strictly controlled in Scotland, so you need to make sure that the family genealogy is fit to stand up to legal examination.

This is all done at the court of the Lord Lyon which is based in Edinburgh. They are usually very friendly and helpful. The address is:

The Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms
HM New Register House
Tel No 0131 556 7255
Fax No 0131 557 2148

The current costs (1 Apr 1997) for a grant of arms or a rematriculation are as follows (£1=$1.50):

  • New Grant including Shield, crest, motto & supporters £1,771
  • Re-matriculation of previously recorded arms including shield, crest and motto, with grant of new supporters £891
  • Re-matriculation of previously recorded arms including shield, crest and supporters, £609
  • New grant including shield and crest £1,269
  • New grant including shield alone £817
  • Re-matriculation of previously recorded arms including shield and crest £385

The official register of Scots arms was set up in 1672. Persons who could prove use of arms before that date could register them (with appropriate differences where necessary) for free. This period of free registration lasted till 1677. From 1677 onwards, a fee has been payable. If you are resident in Scotland and use arms which are not in the register, you are using bogus arms and can be fined. If you use arms which are in the register to which you cannot prove you are the rightful owner, you are usurping arms and can be fined. If - and this is very unlikely - you can prove ancient use of the arms - before 1672 - you may be allowed to register the arms, but that is up to the Lord Lyon. I'm not sure whether Lyon would consider this to be a new grant in terms of costs, but if it is, a cost effective way of going about it is for a group of cousins to jointly pay for the new grant to the joint ancestor and then for each of them to rematriculate.

See the Society's Web site.


  • Innes of Learney, Sir Thomas: Scots Heraldry. Edinburgh, 1956: Oliver and Boyd.
  • Laing, Henry: Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Impressions of Scottish Seals. Edinburgh, 1850 (suppl. 1866): Constable.
  • Macdonald, William: Scottish Armorial Seals.
  • Moncreiffe, Iain, Sir & Don Pottinger: Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated.Edinburgh, 1957; T. Nelson.
  • Paul, James Balfour, Sir, 1846-1931:An ordinary of arms : contained in the public register of all arms and bearings in Scotland. Baltimore, 1969; Genealogical Pub. Co.
  • Paul, James Balfour, Sir: The Scots Peerage. Edinburgh, 1904-14; D. Douglas.
  • Stevenson, John Horne and Marguerite Wood: Scottish Heraldic Seals. Glasgow, 1940: Maclehose.

See also The Great Hall of the Clans.

Return to the British Heraldry Page.

James Dempster

James IV of Scotland. Note the royal arms in front of him on the altar.

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Last modified: Jan 21, 2004