Since Carruthers were first recorded in the 1200’s they have been a well known and respected family, originating in the area of Carruthers in Annandale, Dumfrieshire.
Only the great peers had crests (the piece that sits on the helmets, both in tournament and heraldic displays) and other external ornament/accoutrements, as part of the coats of arms, but one suspects that the Carruthers were of more modest means. As a family, although highly respected, they would have been of medium size in line with say the Elliots, Bells or Irvings and lived on one of the hardest fought-over borders in Christendom.
The arms devised for the Carruthers by the mediæval heralds bore a striking similarity to the arms of another family of the Southwest, the MacClellans, whose shield was also gold but with plain black chevrons rather than engrailed.
The blue chevroned armorial was recorded in blazon by William Pont, and it was possibly a blazoning error by the author. Due to the lack of heraldic regulation in those days several members of the same family might have borne the same shield, which could easily lead to confusion on the battlefield. However, one suspects that any Carruthers was just as worthy as another in a fray, so identity was not a problem.
The heraldic turmoil of some five centuries was brought to order with the passing of what is known as the Lyon Act of 1672, which required that the Scottish King of Arms, the Lord Lyon, and his heralds keep a permanent ‘Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland’. The heralds were given a year to record in the new register all arms of those entitled to bear arms, and to grant or matriculate new arms to those found “virtuous and well deserving”. Although it is thought they may have been in regular use prior to 1672, John Carruthers 9th of Holmains recorded in the Register these arms, which are now the principal and chiefly arms of the name Carruthers.
The Holmains were almost certainly the first Carruthers to have a crest on their arms, and were recorded in 1672 with a ‘Seraphim volant Proper’. Seraphim were six-winged angels who sat beside God’s throne and acted as His protectors. The heraldic painters of the time depicted a strange morphology in these heavenly creatures, drawing winged cherub heads as the crest. ‘Volant’ means flying, so these ‘angels’ with their six wings are supposedly flying and should therefore have their wings extended as in flight. ‘Proper’ refers to the colouring of said angels which means the colouring is true to life.
It is doubtful that the Holmain armigers ever used a true Seraphim as a crest. In 1672, in the Register, there were no illustration and the arms are recorded only in blazon, but John Carruthers would have been given a ‘receipt’ with a simple drawing on it so those who could not read a blazon could copy it. One suspects the engraver who made John Carruthers’ bookplate was indifferent to the supposed appearance of the seraphim and produced a winged cherub’s head crest, as can be seen on the right. The cherub was used and blazoned previously in the coat of arms of Isle, a cadet branch of the family.
The male line of the Holmains failed early in the nineteenth century with the death of the twelfth laird, leaving the house with several surviving daughters. A younger sister set up a trust in 1836 for the benefit of a list of heirs, namely her nephews, sons by her older sisters, whereby, in order of succession, they could benefit financially from the trust if they would change their surname to Carruthers and matriculate the Holmains arms. The first to take advantage of this in 1854 was Major John Peter Wade of the Honourable East India Company Service. He took the additional surname as Carruthers-Wade and matriculated arms at the Lyon Court, quartering Wade arms in the first and fourth quarters and the undifferenced Carruthers of Holmains arms in second and third.
I am not sure, that in hindsight, this is what was intended when the trust was set up, as it appears the intention was to preserve the chiefship in the immediate family. By retaining the Wade surname, the good Major eliminated himself from becoming the chief.
However, Major Carruthers Wade died without issue in 1873 and the line of succession passed to his cousin, the Reverend William Mitchell. He changed his name, by adding Carruthers, to become the Reverend William Mitchell-Carruthers. Subsequently, he too matriculated, but with the Carruthers coat in the first and fourth and a newly-devised Mitchell quartering in second and third.
Reverend Mitchell-Carruthers also missed the mark as far as the chiefship would be regarded today, but he produced a thriving family with a number of sons who might benefit from the trust. Oddly, the Lyon King of Arms matriculated his arms with a differenced Holmains, quartering with chevronels rather than chevrons. The chevronel is a lesser chevron thus narrower, which is good for heraldic artists as it allow more space on the shield for bigger fleurs-de-lis, but is none the less a difference that the Reverend William did not need to have.
Today, succession to a clan chiefdom through the female line is commonplace but in the nineteenth century it was still a new idea, and the rules had not been defined or tested. Several clans had chiefs using double, triple and even quadruple barrelled surnames, the succession having moved several times through female lines. As a result the arms of these multi-surnamed chiefs became extremely complicated; often the represented clan armorial was not even in the principal position. Today chiefs are expected to use only the single surname and to matriculate the plain chiefly coat.
It was therefore possible for a Mitchell-Carruthers of the line, either male or female, to make themselves eligible to become chief of Carruthers, by dropping the Mitchell part of their surname and proving that they were the eligible heir to the chiefdom – and showing that there are no better claimants in the field. They would then have to present their proofs to the Lyon King of Arms, who, if satisfied, might matriculate the 1672 registered arms anew, and the Carruthers would have a recognised chief of the name. As it happens, a Carruthers from the Chiefly line of Holmains, cousin to the Mitchell-Carruthers, was found to be the senior in line.
Clan Chief: Dr Peter Carruthers of Holmains
After 12 1/2 years of hard work, research and the gathering of genealogical evidence, the senior member of the Holmains line was therefore found. The documentation was presented as a petition to the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh for analysis and review. After 20 months and two hearings, the latter of which the heir was represented by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw QC, an interlocutor was published. In August 2019 Dr Simon Peter Carruthers was designated of Holmains and confirmed Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers. The Lyon further consulted an the additments which included the clan plant, banner, pinsel and supporters on the arms. In November 2019 a further interlocutor was published and all the additiments were granted. Above is a representation of the Arms of the Chief of Clan Carruthers, showing the original arms registered by John the 9th of Holmains and the updated arms with the granted supporters on a compartment of heath-land on which is the clan plant, the Gorse (Ulex europeaus), belonging to the new Chief.
NB, in line with the original matriculation of 1672, the current chief has retained the mantling in red (Gules) and silver (Argent) in his own matriculation, rather than today’s custom of following the colours on the shield, ie, red (Gules) and gold (Or).
Other Carruthers Armigers (those granted arms by the Lord Lyon King of Arms)
Starting from the date of the inception of the Register of all Arms and Bearings in 1672 to date, and outside the direct line of the House of Holmains, we know that the following arms had been granted to those of our name:
These arms were painted on the major’s Letters Patent by the great heraldic painter A. G. Law Sampson with probably the first ‘accurate’ depiction of a seraphim crest ever to grace a Carruthers armorial. Dormont retained the original motto, as is common in Scottish heraldry. The one thing Major Francis did not do, however, was to make a claim to the chiefship of the name, which suggests he would have known that there were others who had a better claim to be chief. The current Carruthers of Dormont is the 13th of that line.
The Stodart system of bordures was devised at the turn of the nineteenth century to provide a consistent method of differencing arms within a family where there were many armigers’ matriculations. However, the system has its drawbacks and can get very complicated, ending in some quite unattractive armorials. The Reverend Arthur seems to have got off quite lightly with his border parted per pale Or and Azure and charged with a martlet and crescent.
Dr George Carruthers FSA Scot
Mr Gary John Carruthers
Starting March 2019, a petition for arms went before the Lyon Court. On 21 November 2019, Gary John Carruthers of Australia matriculated his arms through the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Rather than differencing from the Chiefs Arms, he chose to difference from the Cadet House of Dormont, being descended from Francis the 3rd of that House. His primary difference was to put a bell in the base to reflect his Clan Bell ancestry, replacing the fleur-de-lis. He also retained the border of Dormont but further differenced this with added cadency marks as brisures, to better reflect his genealogy. He again replaced the chevrons of Holmains with chevronels. Like all Carruthers arms, the angelic crest was maintained. He chose an angel holding to its breast a golden fleur-de-lis, and decided to keep the motto of both Holmains and Dormont, Promptus et Fidelis (ready and faithful). Gary is the Clan Commissioner for Australia.
All recognised Crests of Carruthers Arms
All Carruthers crests have, to date, been angelic in description, and in latter years, in portrayal. Legend has it that this reflects back to the time that the family had religious links as keepers of the Trailtrow Preceptory and guardians of the “Old Kirk Ford’ at Hoddom. This is coupled with their alleged involvement with the orders of both the Templars and the Hospitalers, who resided in the region at that time. The rational, angelic crests have become somewhat of a tradition in Carruthers arms, of which depictions are seen above.
Although seraphim is plural, the chiefly crest conforms to both classic heraldic and religious representations of a seraph. This is an angelic face surrounded by three pairs of wings. The upper and lower pair are crossed (saltire) with the middle pair being extended as if in flight (volent).
Petitioning for Arms
Any Carruthers, Scottish born or resident, may petition for Scottish arms through the Court of the Lord Lyon. Such petitioners should of course be ‘virtuous and well deserving’ and will have to meet certain residency criteria. Carruthers within and outwith Scotland who can prove their descent from one of the armigerous Carruthers families can petition for a matriculation of an ancestor’s arms with ‘congruent differences’. This means they would have a shield with a coloured border or additional or slightly different charges. Those who cannot prove descent from one of the armigerous families can petition for a new grant of arms but, like George above, their new arms would be based on the chiefly arms of Holmains. Acquiring arms through the Court of the Lord Lyon is not hugely expensive and certainly worth the effort of investigation.
Scottish heraldry is not solely for men. Scotland has long granted and matriculated arms for women in their own right. An armiger’s wife may display her husband’s arms on a cartouche, and an armiger’s daughter is entitled to use her father’s arms on either an oval or lozenge-shaped cartouche throughout her life.
Scots take great pride in their heritage, their history, tartans and heraldry. Recent years have seen a great many folk petitioning for personal arms, and all who are in right of such arms should make opportunities to show, wear and display their ensigns armorial. There is no snobbery in armoury as the socially anxious may fear. Armoury is not about pretence, it is primarily about identity, and to the heraldically literate it shows who you are. It also shows continuity from the past, from your forebears and the history they share. It shows belonging, being part of a family and a name and most especially, it is colour. It is a celebration of the individual and the family for all to enjoy.
For information on the armorial process, links to artists or any other advice, please contact the Society Convenor