Clan Carruthers, Coat of Arms, College of Arms

Clan Carruthers: The College of Arms

College of Arms

Much has been bandied about with regards the Jurisdiction of the College of Arms in London and that of the Lyon Court in Edinburgh. We have touched on the Lyon Court in the past and today we look at the English equivalent: the College of Arms. Needless to say they do not interfere in the jurisdiction of the other e.g all Scottish matters are governed by the Lord Lyon.

The College of Arms, or the Heralds College as it is also known, is the older of the two bodies, albeit it was intially incorporated in 1484 under Richard the III and by Royal Charter, then reincorporated in 1555.  After King Richard was killed at Bosworth, the College lost its chrter house and was left destitute, with many records and books lost. It wasn’t until the reign of Mary I of England that they found patronage again. However, there was some dissention amongst the Heralds themselves whether she was rightfully the heir to the throne. Once resolved, in the favour of Queen Mary, she issued a new Charter and a new Charter House: Derby House, in 1555 to the College of Arms. In  1869 they went through a reformation into the structure it is today.


Roll of grants of arms c 1528

In the early medieval period, the proclamation and organisation of tournaments was the chief function of heralds. They marshalled and introduced the contestants and kept a tally of the score. From this derived both their modern roles of organising ceremonial events and being experts in armory.

The knights taking part in tournaments were recognised by the arms they bore on their shields and the crests they wore on their helmets. These became the visual signatures of the people bearing arms, which remains so to this day. Heralds therefore soon acquired an expert knowledge of these and became responsible for recording arms, and then later for controlling their use.

As coats of arms were hereditary being passed down to the eldest son normally, or differenced if not, heralds soon came to add an expertise in genealogy to their skills. The use of arms on the jousting field and in battle became steadily less important but at the same time the civilian, social and antiquarian uses of heraldry grew.

Although many of the ceremonial duties of heralds have disappeared they still carry out and organise, under the Earl Marshal, certain extremely ancient and splendid ceremonies. In June in England each year at Windsor Castle procession and service of the Sovereign and Knights Companion of the Order of the Garter is held. The State Opening of Parliament, usually in November, is another magnificent ceremony that they are involved in. The Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, is one of the two Great Officers of State and the office is hereditary in his family. He has particular powers of supervision over the heralds and the College of Arms.

The arrangement of State funerals and the monarch’s Coronation in Westminster Abbey fall under the jurisdiction of the Earl Marshal, and the heralds have a role in their organisation.

At all these ceremonies the heralds wear their highly distinctive medieval uniform, the tabard. This is a coat embroidered on its front, back and sleeves with the Royal Arms.

In medieval times, there were heralds in the service both of the monarch and of certain great noblemen, throught Great Britain and Heralds were part of the royal household in the thirteenth century and perhaps as early as the twelfth century. From 1420 the Royal heralds had a common seal and acted in some ways like a corporation. In 1484 they were granted a charter of incorporation by Richard III, and given a house in Coldharbour in Upper Thames Street, London in order to store their records. When Henry VII defeated Richard and took the crown in 1485 he wrested Coldharbour from the heralds and gave it to his mother. This led to their re-establishment, which they received, through the charter under which they now operate, from Queen Mary and her husband Philip of Spain in 1555. This, together with the site of the present College of Arms on which Derby Place stood. This building was retained by the College of Arms until it burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The present College building dates from the 1670s. (College of Arms)



The College is headed by the Earl Marshall, whose office is classed as a ‘Great Officer of State’. The office has been in existence since 1386, with the first being Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk. Since 1672, the title has been hereditary with the current, the 18th Duke of Norfolk holding the position since 2002, after the passing of his father.

There are 13 individuals under the Earl Marshall, being split into three distinct ranks; 3 Kings of Arms, 6 Herald Ordinaries and 4 Pursuivants,  the King of Arms being the senior rank of an officer of arms.  In many heraldic traditions, only a King of Arms has the authority to grant armorial bearings (Coat of Arms) and sometimes certify genealogies and noble titles. In other traditions, the power has been delegated to other officers of similar rank. The Kings of Arms of the College are:


The Garter Principal, King of Arms, the position is held by Thomas Woodcock CVO, OStJ, DL FSA, Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire.


Clarenceux, King of Arms (England and Wales south of the River Trent) is held by Patric Dixon LVO, FSG. President of theGenealogy Society and Secretary to the Order of the Garter.


Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, England north of the Trent and Northern Ireland is held by Timothy Stewart Duke FSA.

Below them are the six Heralds who are also an officer of arms, ranking between Pursuivant and King of Arms. The title is commonly applied more broadly to all officers of arms.

Heralds were originally messangers sent by monarchs or noblemen to convey messages or proclamations—in this sense being the predecessors of modern diplomats. In the Hundred Year War, French heralds challenged King Henry V to fight. During the Battle of Agincourt, the English herald and the French herald, Montjoie, watched the battle together from a nearby hill; both agreed that the English were the victors, and Montjoie provided King Henry V, who had earned the right to name the battle, with the name of the nearby castle. It should be noted that only the Heralds Ordinary are members of the College of Arms and will be listed here.


Heralds Extraordinary

There are also a number of supernumerary officers of arms who are not members of the College but who process with the other heralds on ceremonial occasions. These are styled ‘heralds extraordinary’:

  • New Zealand Herald Extraordinary
  • Maltravers Herald Extraordinary
  • Norfolk Herald Extraordinary
  • Wales Herald Extraordinary
  • Fitzalan Puruivant Extraordinary

There are also three Pursuivants in the College of Arms. A pursuivant or, more correctly, pursuivant of arms, is a junior officer of arms. Most pursuivants are attached to official heraldic authorities, such as the College of Arms in London or Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Other recognised Heraldic Authorities include the Canadian Heraldic Authority and the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland. Interestingly for those individuals and institutions in Canada who already possess legitimate awards of arms, they may apply to the Canadian Heraldic Authority to have their arms registered. There is no cost associated with application for registration and it takes less time, approximately three months, than application for a new grant of arms.


In the medieval era, many great nobles employed their own officers of arms. Today, there still exist some private pursuivants that are not employed by a government authority. In Scotland, for example, several pursuivants of arms have been appointed by recognised Clan Chiefs. These pursuivants of arms look after matters of heraldic and genealogical importance for clan members. Again only a Pursuivant Ordinary is attached to the College of Arms in Scotland.

 Function of the College of Arms

On 1 June 2004 a Royal Warrant issued by Queen Elizabeth II states “that it is desirable for a full record to be kept of all of Our subjects who are Peers“, this new record would be named the Roll of the Peerage. Initially this meant that those holding a Scottish title would be excluded. Only those with a title of nobility registered through the College of Arms in England, Wales, Northern Irland and the Cannel Islands and would be placed on the Roll of Peerage. The Lyon Court remained separate. There is no such thing as a Roll of Nobility.

However, this warrant was later published in the London Gazette on 11 June 2004 and handed the responsibility of maintaining the roll to the Secretary of Consitutional Affairs which replaced the Lord Chancellors Office. In 2007 this responsibility was assumed by the Crown Office  within the newly created Ministry of Justice. The warrant also stipulated that the Secretary of State would now act in consultation with the Garter King of Arms and the Lord Lyon King of Arms. The roll would then be published by the College of Arms; currently an online edition is available. This Roll of Peerage,  would now include all registered members of the peerage listed through the Lyon Court and the College of Arms but will only include heredatary and lifetime titles such as; Duke, Earl, Marquis etc and not simply those who hold registered arms. (See next weeks blog).

The College of Arms therefore grants and matriculates arms, coordinates with the Lyon Court on the Roll of Peerage as touched upon above and in the same vein as the Lyon Court in Scotland for Scottish cereminial duties, is heaviliy involved in Ceremonial Duties of the British Monarch within its jurisdiction.

 The Right to Bear Arms

Arms of the Mitchell-Carruthers

In heraldic law, one is entitled to Arms by inheritance if one can prove a direct legitimate male line descent from an ancestor who is himself on official record as being entitled to Arms. From this, it follows that not everyone bearing the same surname is entitled to the same Arms, for many individuals and families of the same name may bear totally different Arms, while others of that name may have no inherited right to any Arms. In Scotland, all arms of a name come from the chiefly arms, and unless the chief, will have two differences at least.

To the left are the Arms of Michell-Carruthers, a senior member of our family and of the Holmains line. These are registered with the Lord Lyon in Scotland, as are ALL official Carruthers arms. They have the Carruthers of Holmains arms but with chevronels rather than chevrons in the first and fourth quarter, showing dominance over the Mitchell arms in the second and third.

As the official registers of the College of Arms are the only records of their kind in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the British Commonwealth overseas, Scotland being a different jurisdiction, it is only through these registers that a right to Arms by decent from an ancestor originally domiciled in these countries can be established. Partly for reasons of space and security, and partly because many of these records are in a very delicate state, only the Officers of Arms and their trained research assistants are allowed access to them.

The three senior heralds, the Kings of Arms, in the same vein as the Lord Lyon in Scotland are individually authorised by the Sovereign to grant arms to ’eminent men’ (a phrase which includes women and corporate bodies as well), subject to the approval of the Earl Marshal first obtained. Their work covers England and Wales, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, and the countries and colonies of the British Commonwealth. By a convention going back very many years being the same in Scotland through the Lyon Court, American citizens who can prove a direct male line descent from an ancestor who was formerly a subject of the English or British Crown, may be granted honorary armorial bearings. This also applies to American cities and corporate bodies, only in such cases the grant is termed a devisal, and the Governor of the State in which the body is situated must signify his consent and approval.Canada has its own heraldic authrority patented by the British Crown.

The Earl Marshal has the final decision as to the degree of eminence which is acceptable for a Grant of Arms, but, broadly speaking, it is much the same as it has always been. Those whom the Sovereign has created peers or knights and companions of Orders of Chivalry would automatically qualify, as would those holders of eminent offices under the Crown. Commissioned rank in the Armed Services, or equivalent rank in the Civil Service would be a qualification, as would academic or scientific eminence, or eminence in the law or the professions, in the arts or in national or local government, or in the world generally.

For obvious reasons it would be undesirable to lay down too narrow and precise a table of qualifications, as all the circumstances of a petitioner must be taken into consideration. Humble origins are no handicap; it is the degree of eminence which has been achieved that matters. The same considerations apply to corporate bodies. (The heraldry society).

Ceremonial duties.

Heralds in procession to St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, 19 June 2006 (Wikipedia)

The College of Arms, in a similar vein to the Lyon Court is therefore a part of the Royal Household of the Monarchy of the United Kingdom and as such they serve the monarch by accompanying her on various state occasions. These occasions are centred on the institution of the monarchy as the symbol of the state, and the expression of majesty and power through public pomp and ceremony.

Presently the heralds turn out in their full uniforms only twice a year; during the State Opening of parliament and during the early summer at the Garter Service at Wndsor Castle. The organisation and planning of all State ceremonies falls within the prerogative of the Earl Marshal, the College’s chief. As a result, the heralds have a role to perform within every significant royal ceremony.

As alluded previously, State Opening of Parliament takes place annually at the Houses of Parliament and the heralds, including both ordinary and extraordinary officers, form the front part of the Royal procession, preceding the Sovereign and other Great Officers of State. The procession starts at the bottom of the Victoria Tower which is  the square tower at the south-west end of the Palace of Westminster in London, then up the Norman Porch to the Robing Chamber. Once the Sovereign has put on the Imperial State Crown, the heralds lead the Monarch once again through the Royal Gallery into the House of Lords, where they remain with him or her during his or her speech and accompany the monarch until he or she leaves the Palace.

They are also involved in the introduction of new peers into the House of Lords, and at any rites associated with the Orders of Chivalry such as the order of the Garter. At certain royal ceremonies the heralds wear their traditional tabards, splendidly emblazoned with the royal arms.


A Modern Tabard (Wikipedia)

The most recognisable item of the herald’s wardrobe has always been their tabards. Since the 13th century, records of this distinctive garment were apparent. At first it is likely that the herald wore his master’s cast-off coat, but even from the beginning that would have had special significance, signifying that he was in effect his master’s representative. Especially when his master was a sovereign prince, the wearing of his coat would haven given the herald a natural diplomatic status.

The tabards of the different officers can be distinguished by the type of fabric used to make them. A tabard of a King of Arms is made of velvet and cloth of gold, the tabard of a Herald of satin and that of a Pursuivant of damask silk. The tabards of all heralds (Ordinary and Extraordinary) are inscribed with the Sovereign’s Royal Arms, richly embroidered. It was once the custom for pursuivants to wear their tabards with the sleeves at the front and back, in fact in 1576 a pursuivant was fined for presuming to wear his tabard like a herald but this practice was ended during the reign of James II. Until 1888 all tabards was provided to the heralds by the Crown, however in that year a parsimonious Treasury refused to ask Parliament for funds for the purpose. Ever since then heralds either paid for their own tabards or bought the one used by their predecessors. The newest tabard was made in 1963 for the Welsh Herald Extraordinary. A stock of them is now held by the Lord Chamberlain,  from which a loan “during tenure of office” is made upon each appointment.  In addition, heralds and pursuivants wear black velvet caps with a badge embroidered.

Apart from the tabards, the heralds also wear scarlet court uniforms with gold embroidery during formal events; with white breeches and stockings for coronations and black for all other times together with black patent court shoes with gold buckles (the Scottish heralds wear black wool serge military style trousers with wide gold oak leaf lace on the side seams and black patent ankle boots; or for women, a long black skirt). The heralds are also entitled to distinctive sceptres, which have been a symbol of their office since the Tudor period. The Kings of arms are entitled to wear a crown. Within the crown is a cap of crimson velvet, lined with ermine, having at the top a large tuft of tassels, wrought in gold but it is only worn on the most solemn occasions.

Carruthers Arms, who really cares?

Chiefs crest to badgeThe whole clan and family should care, as they are an integral part of our histrory and heritage and therefore part of who and what we are.

The Chiefs arms, or at least the crest are mirrored in the clan badge used by its clansmen and women or family members. It gives a historic and visual focal point to the identity of the clan or family structure. In our case, the crest is a seraphim proper, surrounded by a belt and buckle on which is the motto of the Chief. This is the same as all Scottish clans, with the crest changing to reflect that of their chief. The Carruthers seraphim is always described heraldically as being the head and face of an angel surrounded by six wings.

Arms of Chieftains and Armigers again defines the structure of the clans and adds to the identity and pictorial history of the whole. The collection of a clan or family arms through the ages, and Carruthers arms goes back we presume to the 1200’s, gives a pictorial history of our genealogy and family links and our place in medieval society to the present day.

All Armigers (those who hold personal Arms) are usually invited by the Chief to sit on his Council, if one is held. Again those same arms are borne with pride and represent the individuals belonging and place within the clan itself.

Coats of arms therefore and importantly belong and are legally registered to an individual not a family. Abuse or claims of ownership of those arms without the legal right to bear them, especially those of a Chief, is both offensive and disrespectful to the clan or family in general and should be treated with total disdain.

To date, Carruthers remains an armigerous clan with no legally named chief. Only the Lord Lyon has the authority to confirm one by allowing an individual the right to bear the historically registered chiefly arms in our case that of Carruthers of Holmains. Once achieved and confirmed to do so they are legally recognised as the head of that clan or family. However this only occurs after in-depth analysis of the evidence which can take a frustratingly long time. Although Carruthers is in process, we still await the Lord Lyons decision on a chief of our name.

College of Arms – Court of the Lord Lyon


Scottish Heralds and Pursuivants

In addition to the Officers of the Lyon Court, viz. the Lord Lyon, Lyon Clerk, Lyon Macer and Procurator Fiscal, there are the Officers of Arms who are members of the Royal Household in Scotland.

The Heralds and Pursuivants, known collectively as Her Majesty’s Officers of Arms, have rights of audience before the Lord Lyon allowing them to represent clients seeking arms. This is the caee where Carruthers saught legal representation from the senior Herald Sir Crispin Agnew, Chief of Clan Agnew of Lochnaw QC and Rothesay Herald, to present our case.

Their other duties are concerned with ceremonial events and they take no part in the day-to-day running of the Office but do carry out other non-ceremonial duties, such as presiding over the election of a clan chief, at the Lyon’s discretion. Until the Act of 1867 there could be up to six Heralds and six Pursuivants in Ordinary at any one time, reduced by that Act to three of each.  

There are also Extraordinary Officers of Arms who may be appointed either for a specific event or for a longer period. Currently there are two Extraordinary Pursuivants as well as four Extraordinary Heralds

In comparison, here is a list of the 3 Scottish Heralds Ordinary, 3 Pursuivants Ordinary and the 4 Scottish Heralds Extraordinary and 2 Pursuivants Extraordinary are:

  • Rothesay Herald Ordinary
  • Snawdoun Herald Ordinary
  • Marchmont Herald Ordinary
  • Dingwall Puruivant Ordinary
  • Unicorn Pursuivant Ordinary
  • Carrick Pursuivant Ordinary
  • Orkney Herald Extraordinary
  • Angus Herald Extraordinary
  • Islay Herald Extraordinary
  • Ross Herald Extraordinary
  • Linlithgow Pursuivant Extraordinary
  • Falkland Pusuivant Extraordinary


In summary, the College of Arms and the Court of the Lord Lyon are totally independent of each other, are not superseded by the other and are both legally valid in their own jurisdictions as they both hold authority from the British Monarch.

However, as in the case with the other recognised heraldic authorities, they do communicate to ensure there is no jurisdictional overlap or illegality of petitioners. What they do not and will not do is deliberately involve themselves or interfere in each other’s roles.

Carruthers, being a Scottish Family in the case of our Armigers registered heraldry to date and most certainly in the confirmation of a Carruthers chief, this can only be done through the auspices of the Lyon Court. This remains without question and is stated fact.

The route Carruthers has taken follows those many Scottish clans and families that have gone before us and those who will inevitably follow.

Currently the Bells, Glendinings and McKinnon, to name but a few are following us and we are following the successful clans of Irving of Bonshaw and Buchanan, all of whom support our cause.

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