Clan Carruthers, Interview, Lord Lyon

Clan Carruthers: Elizabeth Roads LVC; an interview with the former Lyon Clerk.

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Mrs Elizabeth Roads, LVO, Former Lyon Clerk, Snawdown Herald.

Elizabeth Roads LVO is considered by her peers to be one of the foremost experts in Scottish heraldry alive today. A proud Scot, she was born in 1951 in Germany, the daughter of Lt Col James Bruce MC and his wife, Mary Hope Sinclair. Her father, a serving officer in the Royal Scots, was stationed there at the time. Educated in Edinburgh, Elizabeth has a qualification in Fine Art and a degree in Law, the latter achieved in 2008.

Although coming from a legal family, and having worked in a law office prior to joining Lyon Court, she chose to study law late in life on the advice that if she were ever to be considered for the position of Lord Lyon, she would require a degree in law. Sadly, this did not come to fruition during her time in the office.

However, Elizabeth has been at the forefront of her field for over 45 years.  As a former Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records, a position she held from 1986 until her retirement in 2018, she is very well placed to understand the inner workings of Scottish heraldry. Elizabeth still maintains her link with the Lyon Court in her role as Snawdoun Herald.

Elizabeth thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview.

You are recognised as being one of the foremost heraldists in the world today with an in-depth knowledge of genealogy, but where did it all begin?

I worked for the art auctioneers Christies in London for several years and everyone had to attend the classes run by Arthur Grimwade in understanding silver. Identifying  the heraldry on many of the pieces formed one of the things we had to learn.  We also had several heraldic books at home as my father had had an interest in the subject. 

However, when in 1975 it was suggested I join the staff of Lyon Office I really did not know very much but with an interest in history, fine art and genealogy, Lyon Office seemed a good opportunity, although I had not thought of remaining there for so long. 

It happens that I am descended from a great 17th century Lyon, but whether there is anything about heraldry being in the blood, I do not now.

During your time as Lyon Clerk, a major role in the scheme of things, you will have worked hand in glove with the Lord Lyon? Can you tell us a bit about the role, the petitioning process and how the arms of the individual are eventually decided?

As Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records, my principal role was to look after all the records of the office and to implement the decisions of the Lord Lyon, supervise the heraldic artists, and oversee the normal day to day business, including financial matters.   Since the office of Lyon became part time in 2001 and has been held by people not previously really involved in the heraldic field, most of the research work of the office fell to me from then on.   

Lyon Clerk is also usually the first point of call for someone wishing to petition for arms and must guide them through the necessary procedure.  In Scotland it is the practice that the arms of people of the same name, even if unrelated, should have similarities and this flows from the clan system where clanspeople bore arms based on those of their chief. 

Thus when a new petition arrives the first requirement is to establish the symbols of the principal coat and then add to those, symbols which reflect the new petitioner.  Ideally one should not include symbols on the shield which are so specific to the petitioner that they will have no relevance to future generations and I have always advised that such personal items should be kept for the crest.  However when, for instance, there has been a succession of teachers or doctors within a family it is appropriate to include such objects as books or medical items. 

Lyon will discuss with the petitioner what charges they wish and make suggestions to them.  Some people already have a good idea of how they wish the arms to look and Lyon will always endeavour to meet their wishes.  Some people, however, have few ideas and it is then for Lyon or Lyon Clerk to help with suggestions.

Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod, DBE, 28th Chief of Clan Macleod

Not all Scottish Clan Chiefs are through the male line and in fact not all are male nor do they need to live in Scotland, how does that work?  

A chief is head of the name and arms and must therefore bear the name.   Most chiefships descend within a family and therefore succession follows the usual pattern, although there is no reason why a daughter may not succeed and there have been many examples of a chiefship going to a daughter, particularly if there are no sons in that generation. 

It is also the case that families emigrate and the chiefship remains within that family and that is why there are chiefs to be found abroad.   Most chiefships have been held within a particular family for a long time and have descended through the generations. 

Occasionally, as in the case of the Carruthers family, the main line failed in the male descendants and the offspring of the daughters did not become involved for several generations.

Scotland seems to have been somewhat progressive in its approach to women’s rights. Can women bear an escutcheon or must they still use a lozenge or oval for personal arms.

As it is the name which is important in clan matters and as in Scotland a woman does not lose her maiden name on marriage, although she may choose not to use it, there is no difficulty in a woman representing her name.  Of course in the more turbulent times of the past a woman would probably not have been thought to be the strong leader required of a warring clan. 

There is nothing to prevent a woman from showing her arms on an escutcheon (shield) if she wishes and indeed recordings of arms in the early years of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland do not specify the shape of shield.  Traditionally it became the case that women showed their arms on a lozenge and more recently on an oval.

Within the Lyon Court, you were appointed as Linlithgow Pursuivant in 1987, then Carrick Pursuivant in 1992 and since 2010, Snawdoun Herald. Can you explain the history of both roles, the differences between them, and do they function within a hierarchical system within the Lyon Court?

An Officer of Arms is not actually part of the staff of Lyon Court or Lyon Office and apart from myself, all have other professions through which they earn their livelihoods.   I was appointed Linlithgow Pursuivant Extraordinary to represent the Lord Lyon at a symposium in Canada, which led to the foundation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority. 

It was not only a privilege to go to Ottawa from the conference but personally special, as I was the first woman to be appointed an Officer of Arms anywhere in the world. 

An Extraordinary Officer of Arms is appointed in addition to the six Officers of Arms in Ordinary and until relatively recently was a comparatively rare event.  The Pursuivants are the most junior of the three ranks of Officer and in essence are in training to progress to be a Herald.  In practice the time it takes depends on various things. 

When I became a Pursuivant several of the Officers senior to me did not have a retirement age and thus some people, I being one, had to wait a very long time for the office of Herald to become vacant whereas others were only a Pursuivant for a few years.  Now there is a retirement age it is easier to know how long you will have to wait, although the present senior Herald is the last to serve without a retirement age and is already several years past the age at which the rest of us will have to hand back our tabards.

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Commission from Her Majesty the Queen to Elizabeth Roads, in her role as Secretary to the Order of the Thistle

Am I correct in assuming that the Officers of Arms may still play a role in the duties of the Lyon Court, i.e. the supervision of a clan gathering (family convention) where an election of a commander, rather than for a chief, would be held? 

The Lord Lyon appoints the Officers of Arms but their duties are now largely ceremonial and they are not involved in the day to day activities of the Court and Office of the Lord Lyon. 

Unlike the College of Arms, which is a collegiate body where each application for arms is handled by an Officer of Arms, petitioners in Scotland do not need to work through an Officer of Arms and can work directly with the Lyon office.  Some of the Officers of Arms do represent clients before Lyon, but several do not generally act on behalf of others. 

Lyon may well ask an Officer of Arms to undertake a particular task such as being supervising office for the family convention and these would always take place in Scotland.  

It is, however, for each Officer to decide how much, in addition to ceremonial work, they are able to undertake and where their interests lie. 

As I have been in the lucky position of being the only full-time Officer of Arms in Scotland for the last 20 years I have been able to become much more involved in heraldic matters than I would have been if I had had to earn my living in a quite different field.

For our readers, can you explain the difference between the confirmation of a chief and the commissioning of a commander, and describe the Lord Lyon’s role in the process?

As I said above, chiefship normally descends from generation to generation but in the case where no-one has acted as chief for a long time it is often more difficult for a person to establish their position. If an heir can satisfy the Lord Lyon that they are the most senior person and entitled to the undifferenced arms they will, like any other person wishing to inherit arms, receive a Matriculation of Arms in their own name which confirms their position. As this is a legal process it is for the Lord Lyon to be satisfied with the genealogical evidence. 

If, however, the line has been lost to the extent that no-one can seek a Matriculation and if the members of the wider family wish it, they can come together to choose someone as their leader or commander and then ask the Lord Lyon to issue a commission to that effect.  Each commission will usually last for five years during which time the family should consolidate itself and endeavour to find a successor to the main, but lost, line.  It may be that after a period a time the family will all support one person, not necessarily the commander, to be chief and Lyon will then grant suitable arms. 

It is from bearing the undifferenced arms of the name that the individual is recognised as chief of the arms, and thereby the name.

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Elizabeth Roads, Secretary to the Order of the Thistle.  

As Secretary of the Order of the Thistle and as a Council member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs (as the heraldic adviser), you remain steeped in the history of our nation. What can you tell us about the Order, and what does your role entail?

The Order of the Thistle was revived in 1687 by King James VII and is another personal appointment by The Sovereign. There are sixteen members in addition to any Royal appointments and those chosen have served Scotland in very significant ways. 

My duties consist of handling all the necessary tasks associated with a person becoming a new member.  This includes organising their Installation Service attended by The Queen and the other members of the Order.  I also arrange the annual Anniversary Service which takes place at St Andrewstide.  I am also responsible for the archives of the Order.

Regarding the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, what are the requirements of admission and what is its role? 

The Standing Council is an organisation which chiefs of clans and families can join by invitation and which endeavours to represent its members to, for instance, the Scottish Government and other organisations.  Not all chiefs decide to join, but many do and the council is then able to speak on their behalf.

Your lineage is from the family of Bruce, does your own line link into that of King Robert, and if so how? 

No-one descended in the male line can descend from King Robert, as his male descendants failed on the death of his son King David and the Royal line descends from King Robert’s daughter,  but so far as we have been able to establish my line, along with that of many others including our chief, the Earl of Elgin, most likely descends from Edward, a younger brother of King Robert.

I note with interest your own arms reflect that Bruce heritage being blazoned Or a Saltire Gules on a Chief Gules a Pale Argent charged of a Cross engrailed Sable. Where did the black engrailed cross come from? iu-11

My mother was a Sinclair so when I came to design the arms I thought it would be nice to difference the Bruce saltire and chief with the Sinclair cross engrailed. 


The arms of the Carruthers Chief carry three fleurs-de-lis between two engrailed chevrons on a red shield. As far as I’m aware there is only one other Scottish family with three fleur-de-lis on their arms and that is the Brouns of Colstoun. I am also not aware of any others with engrailed chevrons. Is their use unusual in Scottish heraldry, and do they hold any particular heraldic or historic meaning that you know of? 

There are, actually several names which have fleurs de lis as the principal charge and another chiefly family with them is Montgomery and one or two other names can be found with one or three of these charges.  Having two chevrons is more unusual although again they can be found and another chief with these is Maclaren and they appear in the arms of another south western family, the Maclellans, although in neither case are they engrailed.   

Engrailing is often used as a sign of cadency and thus to see engrailed chevrons as charges on the arms of the principal family of a name is, I think, unique although they can be found in non-chiefly arms.  There does not appear to be a specific reason for their use, although the fact that two families from the south west use them, could suggest some very early connection between the families. 

Giving a lecture in Madrid on Scottish Civic Heraldry

Your reputation is such that you have been involved in quite a few overseas heraldic bodies, including in Canada. I am aware that the use of someone else’s arms registered in Scotland is illegal in Canada. May I ask how the Canadian Heraldic Authority and the College of Arms differ from the Lyon Court, and do they communicate if the arms fall under the jurisdiction of the other?

As I mentioned I was lucky enough to attend the symposium in Canada which resulted in the establishment of that Authority in 1988.  Sadly neither Australia nor New Zealand has their own heraldic authority although South Africa’s authority was created in 1963.  There is also an heraldic authority in Ireland and several European countries have State Heralds but most of these are only responsible for the arms of official state bodies and organisations. 

The Canadian Heraldic Authority works in a rather different way from either the College of Arms or the Court and Office of the Lord Lyon.  Due to Canadian laws it was not possible to set down that the arms could only descend to someone bearing the same name as the original grantee as all descendants must have equal rights.  This is likely to cause difficulties in the future as the charges on the arms will not lead you to the name of the owner. 

The College of Arms does not have the same powers as the Lord Lyon as there is no statute in England which insists on all arms being used in the country being recorded in their books. 

Scotland is, to an extent, unique in that regard although South Africa has powers to prevent recognition of unauthorised arms.  There is an understanding between the authorities that they will not invade the jurisdiction of one of the other authorities so there is usually no need for the authorities to become involved in a discussion on the granting of arms elsewhere. 

Having said that there is regular communication between the authorities on matters of mutual interest and many of the heralds know each other well.  Indeed for the Diamond Jubilee the English, Canadian and Scottish heralds were all together on the same boat which preceded the Royal Barge down the Thames.

Arms of the Canadian Heraldic Authority

A situation cropped up in Canada a couple of years ago now, where clarification on the legal use of arms was sought from the Canadian Heraldic Authority. This was in regard to the misuse of the Carruthers Chief’s arms. The advice that came back was that it was illegal for them to be used inappropriately within Canada. Are you able to comment?

It would be in the height of bad manners to use any other person’s arms, especially the Chief, as these are the legal property of that other person, even if not recorded in the country in question. 

The question of illegality, as opposed to bad manners, is more difficult but you would be usurping another’s property and whilst Scottish law allows for the prosecution of anyone using arms which are not recorded in the Public Register and that includes existing arms from anywhere in the world or new invented arms, other countries do not have that ability. 

Those other authorities would not, however, register arms which already exist in another jurisdiction and belong to another person.  In Scotland and England it is possible to record arms which emanate from the other country so you can use them lawfully, and this is essential in Scotland if you intend to use the arms regularly. 

I am not quite sure how far Canada is down the road of recording arms which come from outwith Canada.

I believe you were a founding member of the Heraldry Society of Scotland, an organisation you are still involved in. Can you tell us a bit about its purpose and your position within it?

The Heraldry Society of Scotland was established in 1977 by a group of enthusiasts who wished to meet and discuss their interests and try and spread the message.  It is a private members interest group which produces excellent newsletters and journals.

I am a Fellow and Vice President of the society and I am also a Fellow of four other heraldic organisations not including the Society of Antiquaries, in England and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

Your deep interest, understanding and expertise in your chosen field would allow you to assist those wishing to progress through the process of petitioning for arms, is this a service you could offer? 

I am, of course, very familiar with the process and one of the duties of an Officer of Arms is to assist those seeking arms.  Whilst I held a commission as Lyon Clerk I could not act professionally on behalf of clients, but I am now very happy to do so and have been able to do so for a number of people in the last two years.

This question is of particular interest to our American friends; who of them can apply for Scottish arms?

There are some different points about how Americans can receive Scottish arms as they are not British subjects and not within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon but there are ways in which many can obtain a Scottish coat of arms and again I would be delighted to assist anyone who wished to explore this possibility. 

In general they can seek a posthumous grant of arms in name of a Scottish born ancestor – with the same name – or in some circumstances can receive lifetime arms because they hold a specific office within the clan.  It is to be remembered that clan and clan society are not the same thing and it is the clan which is important in this case.

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Madrid Conference Organisers

Your reputation is one of international renown, may I ask, are you still as active outside the UK?

I have been involved in the international world of heraldry for a very long time and have been on many oversees visits to present papers and take part in conferences with the happy result that I have heraldic friends across the globe.  I sit on the council of the Academie Internationale d’Heraldique and I am President of the organisation, which oversees the biennial international congresses of heraldry and genealogy.  Heraldry is much used throughout Europe, even being used on civic drain covers and rubbish bins.  It is, I often think, strange that those countries which do not have a state heraldic authority are usually those which use heraldry the most.  The regular heraldic meetings, normally at least once a year, keep heraldry alive and well in Europe and further afield and provide good opportunities to hear what is happening elsewhere and to continue to undertake research.

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Giving a talk to the order of St John in the Thistle Chapel in Edinburgh

During my research, I was amazed at just how much time and effort you give to other organisations here in Scotland, not discounting your international commitments?

I have been a member of the Order of St John in Scotland for many years and now sit on Chapter and as a committee member for Central Area.  Officers of Arms regularly attend services of the Order and I have been on duty on many occasions.  The work of the Order is of great benefit to Scotland, particularly in the field of patient transport, the supply of defibrillators  and in the field of supporting mountain rescue.

In 2013, I organised an international heraldic conference in Stirling, near where I live, and from that flowed an invitation by the Provost to take part in the Marches, an historical event where the boundaries of the burgh are inspected each year.   During those Marches I met the then Dean of the Merchant Guildry of Stirling and soon after was invited to speak to the Guildry and present their new Grant of Arms.  I joined the Guildry and became a member of the Dean’s Council and in that role organised a dinner in 2019 with The Princess Royal to celebrate the 900th Anniversary of the Guildry which is the oldest in Britain. At the end of that year I became Dean of Guild, the first woman to hold the office in 900 years.  The Guildry distributes relatively small sums to local good causes.  I maintain my Edinburgh links by being a member of the Incorporation of Candlemakers – and we do make candles. 

From my work in Lyon Office and the archives I joined a number of related societies and at present hold the office of Vice Chair of the Scottish Council on Archives, which is an umbrella organisation to represent the view of the various Scottish archival services. From this came an invitation to become a Trustee of the Black Watch Regimental Museum in Perth, in particular to take an overview of their archive and archivists.

Completely away from my heraldic and archival work I sit on the Administration Board of the Episcopal Diocese of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and am Lay Representative and a Vestry member for our local church.

400px-Military_Cross_3.jpgIf I may ask you about your father, I believe that he received the Military Cross, a great and distinguished honour, can you enlighten us to why? 

In May 1940 the Royal Scots formed part of the division which had been detailed to hold back the Germans for as long as possible to allow the Dunkirk evacuation to take place.  Those in the division knew they would either be killed or captured and would not be on the little ships back to Britain.  As it happened, by the end of May the commanding officer and the second in command had both been wounded and repatriated before Dunkirk and my father, who was the Adjutant, took over command of the little band of Royal Scots left. He was only 24 years old but apparently, he managed to keep the soldiers together and they fought very bravely at a small village called Le Paradis in northern France and managed to prevent those Germans in the village reaching the coast until the evacuation was complete.  They were all, like so many others, eventually captured and he spent the rest of the war as a Prisoner of War.

But you yourself were honoured with an LVO from Her Majesty the Queen, I’m guessing that was a special day? 

It was completely unexpected when The Queen appointed me to the Royal Victorian Order in 1990 as a Member of the Order and even more unexpected when I was advanced in 2012 to be a Lieutenant.  Both days were very special as I was able to take my mother with me and my husband to Buckingham Palace on the first occasion and then I was very fortunate in that I was allowed to take all three of my children the second time, which was a great kindness on the part of the Palace.  The Victorian Order is very special as it is a personal Order and appointment is solely with The Queen and it feels like a rather large but very connected family as one knows so many other members.

Finally, I am aware that Adam, the son of the Earl of Elgin who is the former Chair of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, is now at the Court of the Lord Lyon, have you passed your passion for heraldry onto any of your own family?

Impaled arms of Mr & Mrs Roads

In 1867 an Act of Parliament removed the role of Officers of Arms in the working of the Court and Office, although this does confuse many.

While my own children are not enthused as I am, I am happy to say that my husband and younger son have recorded Arms.  We have flagpoles outside our house and we fly flags showing the impaled arms of my husband and myself and when our sons and daughter are at home they all fly their own flags.

Our elder son bears his father’s arms with a three point label and our daughter has a courtesy right in her father’s arms, whilst our younger son has a much more complicated coat as he bears his father’s arms but quartered with my own arms and those of my maternal grandfather who only had daughters, so I am an heraldic heiress in those arms.  They all like flying their flags and who knows they may slowly acquire heraldic and genealogical interests from that.

Elizabeth, thank you so much for your kindness in agreeing to conduct this interview. Having been a source of superb advice and offering great support during our search for a chief, it is a pleasure to share with our family who and what you are. I reiterate the reputation you have and would strongly suggest that those who wish to petition arms consider you as their first port of call.

I thank you for being there during our own process and sincerely hope that you continue fuelling the flames of heraldry, both at home and internationally for a great many years to come.

Working in the heraldic, genealogical and ceremonial spheres for getting on half a century, has brought me many friends and much interest, particularly in helping people obtain their own coat of arms, but also in research into much older coats of arms. 

It has been a great pleasure to talk to you and through you to the wider Carruthers family and I wish you much happiness under your new chief.

Addendum and Clarification

  1. Addendum and Clarification
    1. Arthur Grimwade was based at Christies in London as head of the silverware department (1954-1979, and was among the world’s greatest experts in antique silver.
    2. The heraldic symbols ie the charges and ordinaries, on the shield of the Chief of Carruthers are the three gold fleur de lis and the two engrailed chevrons, all other Carruthers arms since 1672 are differenced from these arms.
    3. The crest of the Chief of Carruthers is a seraphim volent proper, which consists of six wings, the two above and the two below crossed and the middle ones spread as in flight. In the centre is the face of an angel. It is this crest, surrounded by the belt and buckle on which is inscribed his motto Promptus et Fidelis, which is the official clan badge of the Carruthers family worldwide. Use of it shows fealty to the chief.
    4. Confirmation of a chief by the Lord Lyon, is through proven genealogies as stated above.  All family gatherings to elect a commander, not a chief, will be held in Scotland and supervised by a representative of the Lyon Office.

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4 thoughts on “Clan Carruthers: Elizabeth Roads LVC; an interview with the former Lyon Clerk.”

  1. Thank you for sharing this very informative interview, about the the history and use of Arms in Scotland, from Elizabeth Roads, an expert of heraldry and the workings of the Court of the Lord Lyon..

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