Clan Carruthers, Coat of Arms, Genealogy, Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs

Clan Carruthers: Do Clans, Chiefs and Coats of Arms still matter today?

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Crest of the Chief of Carruthers

This excellent piece is taken from the “Claymore”, the Journal of the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations from July 2020, of which Clan Carruthers Society-International is a full member. Although looked at from a highland clan perspective, this excellent piece may help to answer many of your questions.

Carruthers were known supporters of the Bruce, prior to the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and were on the land prior to the signing of the Treaty of York in 1237. The Treaty finally defined the Anglo-Scottish border as we know it today.

Although there is recorded evidence from the early 1200’s that ‘Carruthers’ were of ‘Carruthers’, it was Robert the Bruce who gave Thomas, 1st of Mouswald, son of John Carruthers of Carruthers, the charter of lands of Mouswald in 1320. It was this charter which began that chiefly House and through their demise, led to the House of Holmains becoming the Chiefly line in 1548.

The clan and family of Carruthers and our Chief, who are supported by our Society, dovetail quite well into the explanations given below. The concept of the House of Carruthers of Holmains, to describe the Chiefly line and the Family of Carruthers and the Family of Bruce, are well established descriptions in Scotland. However, the diaspora recognise the Names as being of a collective clan nature, which is also being progressively accepted more so in Scotland. This is especially seen and probably driven by commercial enterprises selling Scottish tartan items and gifts. It is therefore not unusual to see weddings throughout Scotland, where the groom and the male guests wear kilts. This is whether they hail from Highland, Lowland or Border regions. With this in mind, Carruthers celebrates and recognises both collective terms i.e. as a Scottish Border Clan and Family.

NB The Chief’s crest, seen above (a seraphim volent proper), can be worn as a clan badge within a belt and buckle on which is inscribed his motto Promptus et Fidelis. The wearing of the clan badge shows both proud membership of the clan and family and fealty to the Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers. The crest is ALWAYS represented as having an angelic face in the centre of six wings, the two above crossed and the middle one extended in flight.



by Andrew Morrison, Viscount Dunrossil

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Chapter 1: Two Scotlands, Two Cultures

Chapter 2: What’s a Clan?

Chapter 3: The Role of a Modern Clan Chief

Chapter 4: The Lord Lyon and Scottish Heraldry

Chapter 5: Who cares about this, and why?

CHAPTER 1: Two Scotlands, Two Cultures

Like many countries, Scotland is an artificial fictive construct while also being a legal entity. The idea of Scotland as a nation beyond this legal status obscures the disparate origins of the people. Scotland, as described in the early 13th century De Situ Albanie, was a land bordered to the south by the Firth of Forth, to the west by the “Drum Alban mountains,” and to the north by the Great Glen. It was a country where the people were of Pictish and Gaelic origin and spoke Gaelic. This means that Edinburgh and Glasgow, indeed most of the Central Belt and the Lowlands, were not part of Scotland as it was understood at the time. Obviously, there were other, adjacent territories claimed by Scottish kings, even then. These peripheral areas, which came to be incorporated into Scotland as a kingdom, included Glasgow and the western Lowlands, where the principal language was akin to modern Welsh, the eastern lowlands, where the language was Inglis, the Germanic ancestor of what is now, bizarrely, called Scots, and the Hebrides and Argyll, the old Kingdom of the Isles, where the predominant language had recently changed from Old Norse to Gaelic.

In the 11th Century king Malcolm Canmore married an Anglo-Saxon princess, “Saint” Margaret. She refused to learn Gaelic. She changed the language of the court from Gaelic to Inglis. Her son, David, who had been raised and educated in England, introduced Anglo-Norman feudal law into Scotland and granted most of his kingdom and its wealth to Norman knights. These soon came to hold most of the noble titles, as well as much of the land, and these lords, including the Bruces, Comyns and Stewarts, were soon fighting each other for the throne of the kingdom itself. In short order the culture of the kingdom of Scotland ceased to be Scottish, as it had been understood, in any meaningful way. Scholars today suggest that the word “Scot” originally meant a speaker of Gaelic and so “Scotland” means the land where Gaelic is spoken. By 1500, however, the language previously known as Inglis was being called “Scots” and the original Scottish language, Gaelic, was being called Erse or Irish and treated as a foreign and less civilized language in its own country.

The tension and mutual suspicion between these two cultures, languages and world views continued until the Jacobite Rising in 1745. After that everything changed. Despite centuries of oppression, judicial theft and even attempted genocide by Stewart kings, it was still the case in 1750 that just over half the population of the country lived in the Highlands and spoke Gaelic. Today, less than 10% live in the Highlands and barely 1% can speak Gaelic.

The removal of the populations of the Highlands, known as the Highland Clearances, continued for over a hundred years. Today, it is a curious irony, that while almost all the chiefs live in Scotland, most of their clansmen and women live elsewhere. People in Scotland speak of the five million and the fifty million. There are just five million people living in Scotland, but some fifty million worldwide who identify as Scots. And arguably, the original Scottish culture is cultivated and honored more among Scots of the Diaspora than among the people of the Lowlands and the Central Belt, who today dominate the motherland. These, in turn, sometimes affect a mild contempt for what they see as an obsession with the past and with “tartan tat” among the children of the dispossessed.

The differences between the two cultures are many and profound, despite the passage of time and the tendency of the two to merge. For convenience sake, I will call them Highland and Lowland (the Gaelic word for the Highlands is Gaidhealtachd, which literally means “where Gaelic is spoken”). Thus, the language of the former is (or was) Gaelic, the language of the latter Inglis or English. The former observed a legal system known as Brehon law, an unchanging code studied and practiced by the Brieves. The latter adopted Anglo-Norman feudal law, under which law could be made by the king and his placeholders. In the Highlands land was owned collectively by the clan, and all clansmen had an inalienable right to settle on it. This system was known in Gaelic as duthchas. Chiefs were not landlords. In the feudal system, land was real estate, that is, it belonged to the king, who made grants of parts of it to favored lords, who then had full rights over the populations there. They were landlords and the people were little more than squatters, paying rent for the opportunity to till a portion of their lord’s land. This system of inherited individual ownership was known in Gaelic as oighreachd. The notion of clans and chiefs belongs to the former world, that of lords and tenants to the latter. The Stewart kings spent centuries trying to unify and pacify their realm. This meant working to undermine the old Gaelic culture and teach the semi-independent chiefs to think of themselves as landlords, who owed their positions to some royal grant of title, and to see their clansmen as tenants, just like the Lowland lords.

The vast majority of Scottish noble titles and Scottish heraldry in general belong to the feudal world. Feathers and tartans belong to the world of chiefs and clans and are governed by tradition, while coats of arms are governed by law and are the province of the Lord Lyon. Today growing ties between Lyon Court and the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs have seen these distinctions begin to blur, to erode.

In feudal law, the normal system of inheritance was known as primogeniture: the heir to a title was the eldest son of the previous holder. Under Brehon law, the mode of succession was known as tanistry. A chief could nominate his tanist or successor more freely from a wider family group, based on ability as well as birth. The Gaelic word tainistear can mean either “heir-presumptive” or “regent, governor, trustee, tutor” (MacLennan), indicating that a caretaker would be chosen if the eventual heir was a minor. The chief understood his duty to the clan and would not leave them with a weak protector.

Understanding and honoring these different traditions is often challenging, but it is worth making the effort to do so. Without this understanding, the name of chief would degenerate into just another “noble title,” empty of real meaning and function in the modern world. The conventional laws of precedence would suggest that I, as a Viscount, outrank not only my own chief but those of the MacDonalds and MacLeods, the largest clans in Scotland, who dominated the Hebrides where my ancestors lived. As a Highlander, a Hebridean, this feels absurd. It represents a failure to honor the culture of what might be called the first Scotland and forces the position of clan chief into some artificial, minor category in the second, feudal Scotland, where it does not belong.

CHAPTER 2: What’s a Clan?

The Gaelic word clann means children, descendants. The idea was that all members of a clan descended from a common ancestor. This is why so many Highland names begin with the prefix “mac,” which means son of, or have the suffix son. This highlights one of the distinguishing features of the Highlands. In the Lowlands, as in the rest of Europe, a feudal lord and his tenants would typically be unrelated, regardless of surname, the lords generally being related more frequently to each other than to many of those who shared their name. In the Highlands, by contrast, a chief and his clan felt a real bond of kinship.

A common misconception among first time visitors to a Highland Games in America is that all Scots must belong to a clan. This is not altogether a bad thing: it is certainly true that people tend to identify with Scotland through the medium of some surname group. The stronger that sense of kinship, the stronger too will be the bond that they feel with Scotland as a whole. It has proved an excellent way to build enthusiasm for the “brand.”. On the other hand, the two most common names in Scotland are Smith and Brown, which are clearly not clans, and a glance at the Scotland Rugby team will typically show just one or two clan names at most among the 15 players. Nobody could question the patriotic fervor of these men who expend such effort and make such sacrifices to bring honor to their country. And so the first point is that there is no dishonor in not being from a clan: it doesn’t make one less of a Scot. It is a fact that most Scottish surnames are not clan names, but working out which are and are not can be challenging, not least for organizers of Highland Games in the US and elsewhere. These can receive applications for tent space from all kinds of groups purporting to be clans, and it might be worth pausing for a moment to consider what are the common types of Scottish names that are not clan names and how to tell them apart from those that really are:

1. The first and largest category would be names that are not from the Highlands. At a Games in America you will see booths with banners that proclaim Clan Eliot, Clan Armstrong, Clan Scott, Clan Douglas, Clan Lindsay, Clan Graham, Clan Leslie, Clan Irvine, Clan Montgomerie, and so on. These are all fine Scottish names, with an impressive history of accomplishments, but none is a Highland clan. As we saw earlier, this is not just a matter of geography but of culture and social organization. Purists like Dr. Bruce Durie feel strongly that we should call these Lowland name groups families, even if they are much larger than many clans, but even that suggests a kindred relationship, whereas some Lowland name groups were connected mainly through a landlord-tenant relationship. 

These name groups may well have a chief of the name, who is entitled to sit in the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, but he or she will not really be a “clan chief”. Indeed, some of these name groups use a different term, not clan or family: we talk about the “House” of Gordon or the “House” of Bruce. Now it should be noted that these distinctions tend to matter much less to Scots of the Diaspora than at home, and that many Lowland chiefs are starting to resemble their Highland counterparts, for instance by wearing the kilt, appointing seanachies and generally, by coming out to Games in the US to connect with their “clan.”

Seanachaidh is a Gaelic word and a Highland institution, and yet Dr. Durie himself is seanachie to a Lowland chief and happily repeats the claim that the Lord Lyon himself is seanachie to the monarch. These developments are surely to be welcomed, and all Games will feel comfortable giving tent space to a Lowland family whose head is a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, even if they are not, properly speaking, a clan. This courtesy should not, however, be extended to any of these other categories.

2. The second category consists of pure patronymics, where there is no history of people coming together as a surname group in any collective action. Examples here would be Anderson (son of Andrew), Wilson or Simpson. The Andersons have a self-appointed “chief,” but he has not been invited to sit in the Standing Council and has not been recognized by the Lord Lyon as chief. Andrew, being the patron saint of Scotland, is clearly a common name and so there are unsurprisingly plenty of “sons of Andrew” about. There was and is no Anderson clan, however, nor a Simpson or Wilson clan.

3. A third category consists of names that have to do with hair color, a common way to distinguish some- one before surnames were common. These can have either English or Gaelic forms. Examples would include Brown, White, Black, Gray, Reid (red), Boyd and Bowie (buidhe, yellow), Dunn (brown), Duff (black), and so on. As mentioned, Brown is the second most common name in Scotland.

4. A fourth category consists of professional names, where the profession might logically be practiced anywhere. This would include Taylor, Wright, Clark, Walker, Smith, Shepherd, Millar, Hunter, and even Dewar (a keeper of relics). Clearly, Smith is a particularly common name, the most common in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is no Clan Smith.

5. A fifth category consists of surnames that are place-names, like Paisley or Wardlaw. There are people trying to set up “clan” organizations for both at this time, in a further, disturbing illustration of what some refer to as “clan creep.”.

6. Finally, there is the thorny issue of “septs” or small clans. Outside one of those Clan tents at an American Games you can expect to see a list of as many as twenty so-called septs of their clan. For the most part, this is complete fantasy. Some of these names will be simple patronymics, some professional names, some hair colors, and so on, and therefore will be found all over the country. The word “sept” is not even Gaelic in origin and there is really no ancient precedent for the concept. Nevertheless, apart from exhibiting a desire to sign up as many people as possible to one’s clan society, there are a couple of legitimate ideas behind this. One is to list common variants of the main name (for instance, Gilmore for Morrison, Monroe for Munro, Calhoun for Colquhoun). The second idea is to acknowledge small clans which lived in the territory, and sought the protec- tion, of larger clans. Of course, usually these families would end up taking the larger clan name too, or, in other cases, they might seek the protection of different clans at different times.

A legitimate example of such a sept might be the MacAskills as a sept of the MacLeods. Other notable examples from the Isles would be the Beatons (Macbeths) and the Curries (MacVurichs). Each performed a special professional service for the Lords of the Isles and for other major clans in the area, the Beatons as men of medicine and the Curries as bards. Today, there is a tendency for some of these smaller but very distinguished name groups to identify as clans in themselves, and a Currie was recently granted provisional arms as Commander (and thus potentially chief someday) of his own clan.

In summary: a clan is one of those Scottish name groups which originate in the Highlands and with Gaelic culture, has a core group that is truly a kindred, and has a history of acting cohesively and independently as a clan (usually, that means going to war with another clan). From a legal standpoint a clan must also have a chief, who is entitled to be a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, recognized by Lyon as the chief of the name and arms. In some cases, a chiefly line had died out, perhaps several hundred years ago, as had happened with the Morrisons. Some of these clans had arms granted to a clan society as a temporary expedient.

The term “armigerous clan” has been applied to these, but Lyon Morrow is at pains to point out it is a misnomer. The society has arms, not the clan. In fact, no clan has arms. Arms in Scotland are generally speak- ing the personal possession or “achievement” of an individual “armiger.” There is no such thing as a family or clan coat of arms, despite what unscrupulous vendors may try to tell you. For a clansman to be able to acquire the usual accoutrements of a clansman, including the crest of his chief surrounded by a strap and buckle, he must first have a chief. For this reason, Lyon Morrow has expedited the process for a number of clans that have been without a chief; indeed, both the Gunns and Buchanans (also Carruthers and Pringle) have acquired them during his tenure.

So, who are some of these Highland clans? The major Scottish clans can be identified by the popularity of their surname in the Highlands and Islands today. A search of the phone book for the Highlands and Islands is as simple and accurate a way to guage population numbers as any and shows a very different set of names from those found in the country as a whole. The four largest clans clearly emerge as MacDonald, MacLeod, Mackenzie and MacKay. The next largest are Campbell, MacLean, Ross, Morrison and Fraser. After them you see Sutherland, Cameron, Stewart, Robertson, Grant, MacLennan, Murray, Sinclair and Munro. And after them, MacIver, Macrae, MacKinnon, MacIntosh and Matheson. Were they to be clans, Smith (the most common name in Scotland) would have come in at number 10 in the Highlands, after the second group and before the third, while Wilson would have been in the fourth. Neither is a clan name: one is a profession and the other a simple patronymic. All the other names among the 25 most common in the Highlands and Islands today would be considered genuine clan names. We can see from this that there’s still a remarkable concentration of tradi- tional clans in the Gaelic heartlands. Arguably, among the next 25 names there are only nine true clans, along with a smattering of Lowland families, patronymics, hair colors and professions, such as might be found all over Scotland.

CHAPTER 3: The role of a modern Clan Chief

If every clan needs a chief, what is the role of a chief?

Let me begin with a word of caution. What I am about to say applies specifically to Highland chiefs. The extent to which the heads of Lowland families choose to follow or adopt these norms is, in the final analysis, up to them. In recent years, as we noted above, we have seen many of these adopt, not only the names of chief and clan, but the wearing of kilts and the appointment of seanachies. Some confluence of traditions is a good thing, in that it assists the emergence of a single Scotland in place of the former two. But it is one thing for Lowland lairds to take on the mantle of chief; it’s quite another thing for chiefs to act like lairds and treat their positions as a mere heritable title. It should be clear that you can be a Lord, even a Duke, without anyone to lord it over, but you can’t be a real chief without a clan. 

The exercise of turning chiefs into a species of landed gentry served a purpose at the time in “pacifying” the Highlands, but it turned out to be a terrible thing for the clans themselves. Today, the process of assimilation seems to be working the other way, as Lowland lords begin to appreciate and acknowledge the clan-like devotion of their former tenants. This is building a mutuality where, in some cases, it never existed, and that can only be a good thing.

The ceremony at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 2019, where the Earl of Eglinton and Winton raised his standard as “chief of Clan Montgomerie,” exchanging vows of mutual devotion and loyalty with the representatives of the clan society, set an intriguing precedent. There is something very special about the role of chief and the relationship between chief and clan. Something worth preserving, and when apparently lost, restoring, or where it never existed, worth building up. This relationship was deliberately eroded and undermined over the centuries by the Scottish crown, but many chiefs today are doing what they can to restore or reinvent it, in a way that is much appreciated by their clans.

Before the Statutes of Iona issued by James VI and the Acts of Proscription passed by the Westminster Parliament after the ’45, chiefs had considerable powers and related responsibilities. The chief’s principal duty was to bring glory to the clan, through success in battle, and to protect and provide for the clan in peace. He would be expected to support a bard, who would help him by turning his exploits into verse to impress future generations, and a seanachie or clan historian, who kept him in touch with the past. In return the clansmen owed him a duty of service. In effect, every chief had a private army at his disposal.

After 1747, when private armies were banned, many chiefs tried first to monetize this duty of service, turning their fellow clansmen into tenants on their own land, then drove them out altogether, when they realized they could make more from (the clan) lands by importing sheep. When one tried to raise a regiment for the crown after the Clearances, a former bard famously declared, “You have preferred sheep to men. Now let sheep defend you!”


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Today, the clans are widely scattered. Both the old duty of service and the later landlord/tenant relationship are long gone.

So, what is the role of a chief in modern times? Each chief finds his own way. Dr. John Morrison remained living in the Outer Hebrides in his old age. He kept an open door at Ruchdi and a good supply of whisky at hand. He enjoyed receiving visitors from all over the world, offering them a dram, hearing their stories and answering their questions (in Gaelic or English) about clan history and the islands. Lord Macdonald, whose ancestors were the Lords of the Isles, effectively kings of a separate country, has established a museum of the peoples of the isles at Armadale Castle (above), his home in the Isle of Skye. The Clan MacLeod is welcomed to Dunvegan Castle, also on Skye, every four years for a clan parliament. My wife’s family were Munros from near Tain, in the northeast of Scotland. Last year I reached out to Hector Munro, the chief, and asked if we could stop by. Despite being in the middle of the harvest season (he’s a farmer by profession), he met us at the castle and generously gave us a full guided tour.

There is no clan without a chief, but, by the same token, there is no real chief without a clan. Clanspeople want to know that the clan matters to their chief, that he or she cares about it as much as they do. Although many lead busy professional lives, clans want them to show up at the odd clan event or Games, in the US and elsewhere, and to take an interest in clan affairs. Clans like their chiefs to take part in the Standing Council of Chiefs, at least showing up for the Annual Meeting in July occasionally. Above all, just as in the old days, they are expected to bring honor to the name.

What if they don’t? What if they commit some heinous crime or are simply uninterested in the clan? In that case, I would contend the clan has the right, and has to be given a mechanism, to remove and replace the chief. Presumably there would need to be a strong consensus among leading members of the clan, expressed through an ad hoc derbhfine or clan convention, working with the Lord Lyon. The key point is that the obligations and duties of chief and clan are two way. In effect, there is a kind of social contract between the parties. It is unwritten, because the Gaelic culture was predominantly an oral one, but it was considered binding, nonetheless. The chief has duties towards the clan, and if they do not perform these duties, another chief should be found, ideally from within the chief’s immediate family.

Clearly this would be a radical step, extremely rarely taken. The most effective ways to ensure that it would not be taken are, first, to reemphasize the fact that chief is not simply an inherited title, like a lord, but an office that carries with it important responsibilities, and, second, to bear these responsibilities in mind when identifying a tanist or successor. The privileges, the perks, as it were, of a chief today are obviously fewer than in earlier times, and most people have a hard enough time earning a living and taking care of their immediate family without taking on any additional, wider, responsibilities. It’s better all round to say upfront that you don’t want the job than to take it on and do it badly. It also follows that nobody should be expected to assume these responsibilities while a minor: an adult commitment is required. We don’t let minors marry because we don’t consider them old enough to make such a commitment.

Historically, kings and chiefs who inherited as minors had guardians who managed affairs until their majority, either in a council or individually, while preparing and educating the new chief for their upcoming role. Thus, Donald MacLaren of MacLaren’s father died when he was just 11. Donald had already been designated tanist by his father, but it was not until he was 18 that he was formally inaugurated as chief in a ceremony where he and the clan exchanged vows. Similarly, Prince Charles was given the title of Prince of Wales when he was only ten, but it wasn’t until he was 21 that he was considered ready for his formal investiture. By that time, he had learned enough of the Welsh language that he was able to make his vows to the Welsh people in their own language in a powerful, memorable and moving traditional ceremony. If the ceremony had been performed while he was still a child it would have been insulting to the Welsh people, an indication that the royal family did not take their responsibilities to the people seriously.

The distinction between a chief and other kinds of title can also be seen from two recent cases, the Sutherlands and the Leslies. Both cases remind us that we are talking about two systems, two “Scotlands,” as we discussed earlier.

The Sutherland case reminds us that, unlike most titles in Great Britain as a whole, a Scottish chiefship may pass through the female line, as long as the woman and her successors use the clan name as surname, not her married name. If Penny, the daughter of the old chief of the MacSporrans, had married a Mr. Pound, she would perhaps have started calling herself Mrs. Pound. If the old chief died without a son, she might be chosen to become the new chief, but only if she agreed to go back to calling herself MacSporran. Her son, in turn, if she had one, could inherit from her, but only if he too changed his name to MacSporran. Otherwise he could hardly be chief of the name and arms. One clan society told me their “chief” was a woman in England who didn’t even use the clan name. She showed no interest in clan affairs but refused to give up the “title”. To my mind that is unacceptable, and she should simply be replaced.

The Leslie case is particularly relevant and helpful here. The old earl and chief could see that his older son, who would inherit the earldom either way, was not interested in clan affairs, while the younger one was passionate about them. He was able to identify the younger, the Hon. Alex Leslie, as his tanist, his successor in the office of chief.

In former times, as we have seen, a chief might appoint various officers at his “court,” most notably a bard and a seanachie. The one essential position that needs filling today, in my mind, is that of seanachie. The seanachie has certain responsibilities during the life of the chief, to do with helping to preserve and honor the traditions of the clan, but perhaps his most important role is in organizing the ceremony in which the new chief accepts their role and swears to honor their responsibilities to the clan, while senior representatives of the clan swear their loyalty to the chief. Fortunately, Dr. Bruce Durie, who among other things is seanachie to the chief of Durie, has put together a training program, so that the would-be or newly appointed seanachies may have a good idea of their roles and duties and how to perform them. It is important to remember that this office is appointed by the chief and is not an elected position within a clan society, and as such, Lyon Morrow has indicated that he would consider making a grant of arms to the holder, as indeed did some of his predecessors.

CHAPTER 4: The Lord Lyon and Scottish Heraldry

During the Crusades knights wore heavy armor, which covered them from head to toe. It was important for their commanders and their men to be able to identify them. To help with this they started to paint a device on their shields, a design which would be their personal mark of identification. Heraldic arms, at least those of men, are still displayed on a shield motif. The next step was to paint the same design on the cloth surcoat they wore over their armor. Hence the term, coat of arms. When they came home and competed in jousting tournaments, they would be identified in the same way. Obviously, someone had to identify these knights. That meant keeping a register of all such arms and bearings, making sure that nobody could use a design which had already been identified with a different knight. This job fell to the heralds, the messengers whom the king would send to convey orders to his commanders. If the king said, “Herald, go and tell the Duc de Croissant to bring his force up on the left flank,” it was obviously important that the herald be able to spot the Duke among his men and all the other knights.

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 16.08.34.pngWhen Anglo-Norman knights brought this fashion to Scotland in the 13th and 14th centuries, they need- ed their own heralds. In time a formal structure of heraldry emerged with a chief herald, the Lord Lyon King of Arms. The Public Register of All Arms and Bearings was established in 1672 and is housed today in New Register House under the protection of Lyon Clerk. It should be obvious that this institution belongs very much with what we might call the second of the two Scotlands and overlays the older world of chiefs and clans, which came into being independently of this feudal, Norman world.

On the other hand, while there are clearly two Scotlands culturally, there is only one political entity today and one set of laws under which the country as a whole is governed. There is also value in having some- body or some organization able to rule definitively on disputes, establishing clear precedents and clear rules where none existed. The current Lord Lyon, the Rev. Joe Morrow, is well suited to this. Whereas his predecessor was a scholar, who tended to see the complexities of every case laid before him, Lyon Morrow is by background a judge, who excels in making decisions.

Lyon is an officer of the Crown in Scotland, independent of the Scottish Government: he has his own court and his own Procurator Fiscal to prosecute cases before him. Improper use of another person’s arms is considered the same as identity theft, although actual prosecutions are rare. Moreover, his writ does not extend beyond the boundaries of Scotland itself.

This makes him unable to deal as he would like with the petty frauds and deceptions of groups like the notorious sellers of souvenir plots. The absurd claims that buying a square foot of some glen makes one a “laird”, that “laird means the same as “lord” and that one’s spouse is therefore entitled to be called “lady” have helped separate many enthusiastic members of the Scottish diaspora from their hard earned money. All three statements are false. It is true that anybody in Scotland can call themselves whatever they like, even the Queen of Sheba, but that does not “entitle” them to be called that by anyone else. The meaning of laird is not simply owner of land, anyway, but owner of large tracts of land on which there were many tenants. It is strange that anyone in the US would even want to be associated with that position, since the ancestors of many Americans of Scottish descent left the mother country, unwillingly, because of the actions of lairds.

A laird may share a common root with the word lord, but it is not a rank within the peerage. These are, in descending order of precedence, Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount and Lord. The lowest grade of peer is called a baron in England and a Lord of Parliament in Scotland. There are other subsidiary ranks within what Innes of Learney termed the “noblesse,” though not part of the peerage itself: chiefs (if not also peers), knights and baronets (hereditary knights), and other armigers. These might include people who have been granted arms on the basis of a territorial designation, that is, as owners of land, but the land needs to be at least large enough to build a proper house on (clearly, souvenir plots do not qualify). Until recently there was another category known as feudal barons, but although or perhaps because such baronies can be purchased on an open market, the title of baron no longer exists in Scotland.

The Lord Lyon actively encourages eligible members of the Diaspora to apply for arms in Scotland. The qualifications are several. First, and most important for Lyon Morrow, who is also an Episcopal priest, is that the applicant be of good character. Nobility is more than an accident of birth. Second, if not actually born in Scotland, the applicant must be able to trace his or her ancestry back to someone who was and provide documentary proof of this descent. An exception can be made for people who can trace their lineage back to someone who lived in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War, even if they can’t get all the way back to Scotland itself. In such cases, the applicant would apply posthumously in the name of this ancestor and then matriculate the arms down to him or herself. Finally, Lyon is interested in looking at applicants who might hold a special position within a clan, like a seanachie, having been appointed directly by their chief for a semi-permanent term. Applications from holders of elected clan society offices will not be considered without additional birth qualifications. If someone is interested in exploring the subject more closely, I would encourage them to visit the website, where there is a section on petitioning for arms, including sample forms. There are Heralds (such as Mrs Elizabeth Roads, Snawdoun Herald and former Lyon Clerk. ed) and Pursuivants who would be delighted to walk you through the process. Alternatively, they could get in touch with Dr. Bruce Durie, an expert Scottish genealogist, who is also licensed to present petitions to the Lyon Court (

Scottish heraldry, then, is a matter of law, not mere tradition. People in the USA and throughout the Diaspora cannot be expected to know the right and wrong answers to some of the thorny questions of prece- dence and protocol, and that includes the organizers of Highland Games and Scottish Festivals, which might invite a clan chief to be their guest of honor. For this reason the Society of Scottish Armigers, the president of which is the Lord Lyon, has a section of Frequently Asked Questions on its website ( and other information may be found on the website of the Lyon Court itself (

These rules govern more than coats of arms. For instance, there are strict rules regarding flags and banners, their size and who may have or display them. Size is often determined by rank. Thus, a peer is entitled to a carrying flag for use in processions measuring 48” wide by 60” high while a chief (unless also a peer) is entitled to one measuring 33” by 42”. It should also be noted that the Lion Rampant, which one sees frequent- ly displayed at Highland Games, is not a national flag of Scotland but the Queen’s personal banner as Queen of Scots and it is an offense for it to be flown by anyone without her express authorization. Lyon Court and the Society of Scottish Armigers will tend to tread lightly on these issues, preferring to be a source of right answers for those interested in finding them. But, for instance, when an armiger is invited to judge the best clan tent at a Games, they have been known to discount any tent where the Lion Rampant is displayed.

When it comes to the position of clan chief, Lyon works closely with leading members of a clan and the clan society. Lyon’s office has the ability to examine and weigh the competing claims of rival applicants, should they exist, and they work closely with the clan, in what is called a clan convention, or derbhfine, to issue the final petition. Lyon emphasizes that it is for the clan to choose or nominate someone, but Lyon has certain criteria in mind too. For instance, he wants to know that the new chief, if appointed, has the interest and the means to take the role seriously, and that they are likely to be able to take care of the succession beyond themselves. He will not want to recognize a single, childless man in his eighties, if that would lead to the process having to be repeated in a few years.

A word about DNA. With important but very rare exceptions, the Lyon court is loath to consider DNA evidence, insisting on the primacy of documentary proof. This is particularly true for chiefs since the inheritance could have passed through the female line. This has happened before with the Morrison Brieves and, in the Lowlands, with the Scotts, Hays and most recently, with the Elliots, (Carruthers) and Kincaids. It has been said that the Earl of Cromartie is “four times not a Mackenzie” in terms of succession. Human nature being what it is, there is also a chance that some chiefs are descendants of extra-marital liaisons. The “Troubles of the Lews,” for instance, the fifty-year civil war that ended with the death of the last Morrison Brieve and the Mackenzie takeover of Lewis, began with a deathbed confession by a previous Brieve. Wanting to save his immortal soul, he confessed to being the natural father of the supposed heir of the MacLeods of Lewis, one Torquil Conanach. Torquil ended up being killed in the dynastic dispute that followed. Otherwise, the chief of the Lewis MacLeods today would, by DNA, be a Morrison. And the Morrison, by his DNA, was in fact a MacDonald, as a result of succession through the female line. A DNA test might lead to claims that the previous hundred years or so of chiefs, worthy and admired in their own rights, had been in some way illegitimate. No clan wants to go down that road.

The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs tends to take its cue from Lyon when it comes to applicants. It will tend to approve an application by anyone Lyon has recognized as chief of the name and arms and, very rarely, will include someone, like myself, whom they consider the Head of a major family or branch within the clan, as long as they have supporters on their arms. It calls itself the “authoritative body on the Scottish clan system,” but it should be noted that its scope is much broader than what we have identified, more narrowly, as clans. Its members include the heads of Lowland families as well as Highland clans. Its emblem is the three feathers, which by tradition, may only be worn by a chief of the name. (An armiger may wear one feather and certain heirs or hereditary chieftains may wear two.) In addition to the Lyon Court, the Council actively liaises with the Scottish Government through various tourism and heritage committees and with Scottish organiza- tions overseas, like the Society of Scottish Armigers and Council of Scottish Clans and Associations (www.cosca. scot) in the United States.

CHAPTER 5: Who cares about this and why?

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Heraldry has been called illustrated history, and while it obviously has a long and interesting, not to say beautiful, history, it would be a mistake to think of it as something no longer relevant. For one thing, people continue to apply for, and are granted, arms. But perhaps the best way to see how it continues to incite pas- sions is to think about sports. On a coat of arms there will be livery colors, which would be worn by a knight’s followers, and a motto or war cry they might be expected to shout at an enemy.

Americans need only think about college football to see how these traditions have survived. If somebody in the state of Alabama is seen wearing a particular shade of red and is heard shouting “Roll Tide,” or wears those words printed on their shirts, everybody recognizes their allegiance, in this case not to a chief but to a school. The same is true of every other major college program. What college football is to the US, professional soccer is in England and Scotland. At an old firm football game in Glasgow, not only will the supporters wear their team’s colors, perhaps painted on their faces, but they will wave flags associated with their perceived subcultures, the Union Jack or Saltire by mostly Protestant Rangers fans and the Irish flag by the mostly Catholic Celtic supporters. People generally care much less about politics than they do about sports, but even political campaigns and parties have their colors and slogans, for followers to demonstrate their allegiance. War is the model for sport and sport for politics.

Many teams have emblems that closely resemble heraldic shields. These are not just corporate logos but are treasured by supporters, or members of the club, as symbols of their identity. The new American owners of Arsenal FC in London failed to understand this and thought they would change the club’s emblem to give it a more fresh, modern look. They were taken aback at the passionate and very hostile response and quickly abandoned their plans.

In the same way, visitors to Highland Games, once they have identified their “clan,” can be found buying up ties, kilts and other materials in their clan tartan, and mugs, shot glasses, pins, brooches and key rings with their chief’s crest. Many Games feature the clans marching in procession past a reviewing stand and shouting their war cry, even banging replica swords on painted targes. Any sociologist who studies the appeal of gangs in the inner cities will recognize the appeal of belonging to a group, wearing its colors and shouting or writing its slogans. This is all very much part of human nature and probably always will be.

But beyond this kind of natural enthusiasm, an interest in clans serves a real purpose, even multiple purposes.

First of all, for Scotland it provides a great way to foster an interest in the mother land, which pays off in the form of heritage tourism. It’s been proven that this kind of visitor spends more per head than other visitors. It is widely understood that Diaspora Scots tend to identify with Scotland through the medium of a surname group. In a less tangible way, it boosts what is called soft power. Every year on National Tartan Day in Washington DC there is a reception on Capitol Hill with the members of the Scotland Caucus in Congress, where Congressmen from both parties may be seen sporting their clan tartans.

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 16.15.33.pngFor the individual there are benefits of another kind. Especially in a modern multicultural society it is easy for people to feel lost or alienated, even valueless. A sense of identity brings a sense of belonging, of con- text and meaning. It helps answer the question, Who am I, or, Who do I belong to? In Gaelic, Co leis thu?

Perhaps most important, it leads to an interest in the discovery and preservation of a minority culture and language, and ultimately in minority cultures and languages in general, which represent a significant and fragile treasure for mankind. Speaking personally, my enquiries into clan history and into the persecution of the Gael in Scotland, opened my eyes to the similar fate suffered by native peoples in the Americas and elsewhere, when confronted by Anglophone monolithic imperialism. This is something we should all care about. A different language enshrines a different way of looking at the world, and as the dominant mainstream culture continues to destroy the planet and its ecological diversity, these minority languages and supposedly dead cultures only gain in value, offering insights into a healthier, more sustainable relationship with the earth.

The Author

Andrew Morrison, the 3rd Viscount Dunrossil, was born in London in 1953 and lived in Speaker’s House with his parents as a baby and from 1956-8. After spending most of his early years in Australia, Bangladesh and South Africa, he attended Eton and Oxford, where he studied the Classics. He moved to the US in 1981, working for a British bank, and has lived in San Antonio, Texas, since 1989.

Andrew is a former Chairman of the American Financial Services Association and serves as the Honorary British Consul General in San Antonio. He is also a former Chairman of the Society of Scottish Armigers, whose President is the Lord Lyon. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Council of Scottish Clans and Associa- tions and on the Executive committee of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. In addition, he is an Honorary Patron of the American-Scottish Foundation. He has been an honored guest and keynote speaker at various Scottish Games, Tartan Day ceremonies and festivals in the US, as well as for the Scottish North American Leadership Council. He serves as the Hereditary Chieftain for the North American region of Clan Morrison.

Carruthers Chief’s personal Arms

The hereditary Chief of Carruthers is Peter Carruthers of Holmains, confirmed Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers in Edinburgh in August 2019 by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Holmains is the 4x Great Grandson of John Carruthers, 12th of Holmains and 8th Baron of that House, the last chief who died in 1809. He is supported by the family through the Clan Carruthers Society – International, whose role is to promote Carruthers and support our Chief on the international stage. As hereditary Chief,  he is currenly awaiting confirmation regarding his own seat on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, which has been delayed through the current pandemic crisis and has curtailed all meetings. We will of course inform you just as soon as we recieve further news on the matter.


Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey Final to use

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