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Origins of Scottish heraldry
The use of colours, symbols and patterns on shields, banners and costume dates to at least the 12th century in Western Europe. Their origins are often assumed to lie in feudal warfare, but are equally likely to originate in the use of imagery in a largely illiterate society, through media such as seals and coins, by burgeoning royal, baronial, burghal and ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the twelfth century. Historical records relating to coats of arms of Scots survive from the mid-fourteenth century and the earliest known roll of arms produced in Scotland, the Scots Roll, dates from the mid-fifteenth century. The proliferation of symbols to represent families and the invention of rules and terminology about this time led to colleges of arms being created in France, England and Scotland. In Scotland the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms traces its origins to the fourteenth century, and is still part of the Scottish legal system. The Court confirms inheritance of arms, the granting of new arms, and can also prosecute for their illegal use. In 1672 the Scottish parliament set up the 'Public Register of All Armorial Bearings of Scotland' which is usually called the 'Lyon Register': a central record independent of the person of the office holder. Unless a coat of arms is registered in the Lyon Register, it has no legal standing in Scotland.

A good, inexpensive basic guide is Mark Dennis, Scottish Heraldry (Edinburgh, 1999), which can be purchased from the Heraldry Society of Scotland. Other introductory guides are Charles Burnett and Mark Dennis, Scotlandís Heraldic Heritage, The Lion Rejoicing (Edinburgh, 1997), and Iain Moncreiffe and Don Pottinger, Simple Heraldry (Edinburgh, 1978) A concise reference work, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Scots Heraldry, 2nd edition, (London 1956) and its revision by Malcolm Innes of Edingight, Scots Heraldry, 3rd edition (London, 1978), are widely available in reference libraries in Scotland. For a fuller bibliography see the website of the Heraldry Society of Scotland.

The Heraldry Society of Scotland
BBC History Website


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is my family/clan coat of arms?

2. What is the difference between a crest and a coat of arms?

3. How do I obtain a coat of arms?

4. Where can I find information about the arms of a burgh, county or local authority?

5. Where can I find information about the history of the royal arms of Scotland?

6. Can I date a building which features royal arms?