Clan Carruthers, Coat of Arms

CLAN CARRUTHERS: The Carruthers fleurs de lis.

This blog post was stimulated by a conversation on a heraldry page which offered confirmation of what we as a society believed to be true regarding the Carruthers use of the fleurs de lis on our shields.

Scottish Clans and the fleurs de lis

To our knowledge, there are only two recognised Scottish Clans/Families that carry the fleurs de lis on their Chief’s arms and thus subsequently these are passed on in the arms of the armigers of their clan.

The first are the Brouns of Coulston a quite large lowland clan, Coulston being the chiefs of the Brouns. Their arms are a gold chevron between three gold fleurs de lis on a red shield.

The second of course is Carruthers of Holmains, Chiefs of Carruthers whose arms are two gold chevronels engrailed between three gold fleurs de lis also on a red shield.

The Brouns of Colstoun

Although, according to Black, the Brouns are descended from the celts in a similar vein to ourselves because of their use of the fleurs de lis, they claim links with French royalty.

Sadly, other than legend, there is no real evidence to support this that we are aware of.

What we do know is that the French King, Louis VII (1120 – 1180) was the first to use the fleurs de lis on the arms of the French monarchy, as such the fleurs de lis have a strong connection with France.

But was he the first to use them and where did the fleurs de lis begin in heraldry.

The use of the fleurs de lis in heraldry.

As symbols, the fleurs de lis in some decorative shape or form were used by many civilisations and societies in the past, going back to ancient times. However, within medieval Christendom itself, it was widely recognised in religious symbolism as a Marian symbol (relating to the Virgin Mary) and also as a representation of the holy trinity.

The lily flower, fleur de lis in french, throughout the Christian world depicts purity, thus its association with the Virgin Mary, while the three petals also symbolise the Holy Trinity. This again is reflected as such, in the religious art of the time.

However, regarding its use in heraldry, according to Hon. Sir George Bellew, C.V.O. Garter King of Arms, (the senior officer of Arms of the College of Arms in London) in an article on the subject published by the heraldry society he suggests that in its current form, the fleur de lys is probably no older than heraldry itself (circa Flemish origins 1000-1100AD)

The question is, did the religious links and conception act as the catalyst for its use in heraldry or was it simply the symbolism of the three petals depicting the three main qualities required to be a knight.

The fleurs de lis and France

Arms of Louis VII (Wikipedia)

Whatever, the reason, it does seem that France was not the only royal line or in fact, nobility to use the fleurs de lis. The symbol itself appeared on many unrelated European arms in the 11th and 12th century. However it is fair to say that it has become far more synonymous with the French.

This may be because they did build thier claim on its use on their arms, around the legend of Clovis, first Christian king of the the Franks who legend claims received the symbol as a gift from heaven given by the Virgin Mary herself.

We therefore think it is fair to say that France, being a devoutly religious country linked very closely to the Holy See in Rome, it would not be a huge leap of faith (excusing the pun), for king Louis VII to choose the fleurs de lis for his own arms. This is especially pertinent at a time when heraldry was sweeping Europe as a method of visual identity of the nobility, which would reflect the owner himself, his status on the battlefield.

This act, as well as using a distinctive heraldic symbol, could have very easily been chosen simply to prove the strong faith of the French king and gain further religious favour in the eyes of both God and the very powerful church. In fact, some researchers firmly believe this to be the case. Therefore it was a method of conveying a strong religious belief.

Carruthers and the fleurs de lis


So where do Carruthers sit in all this.

The evidence suggests that we have never, as a family claimed links with French royalty nor is their evidence to support it. Further, there is no evidence, neither historical nor genealogical that supports we had any direct links with France itself, to include any direct genealogical links to Norman knights, although some have wrongly concluded that the fleur de lis may suggest this.

So if not linked to the French Monarchy, why the use of the fleurs de lis on our own Chiefs arms?

It is probably quite simply for the same reason that king Louis used them ie to reflect our faith and our belief in the Almighty.

So what do we know?

We know that the first mention of Carruthers as a name was in the reign of Alexander II,(1198 – 1249) when William of Carruthers gave a donation to Newbattle Abbey. This was after the use of heraldry came to Scotland.

The donation must have been substantial to have been mentioned and thus our religious bent definitely existed at that time. Further members of our family definitely went into the church, some becoming quite well known in their chosen career path/calling.

However, did that influence the use of fleurs de lis on our arms?

Probably not, as the timing wouldn’t necessarily fit as we know that the ancient arms did not in themselves carry fleurs de lis on our shield for around 2-300 years.

The first record of a chief using the fleurs de lis was on the arms of Carruthers of Mouswald in the early 1500’s. These were recorded against the name of Sir Simon Carruthers, 10th of Mouswald and last chief of that line. However there is a suspicion that Mouswald used them prior to this based on the style of the fleurs de lis, but no evidence in any earlier armorials exist nor any reason why the change from the ancient arms to those with the fleur de lis.

We also are told that we were keepers of the Trailtrow preceptory, during and after the time that the Bruces were lords of Annandale.

Does that mean that we were members of either the Templar or Hospitaller knights or that the preceptory was in fact a physical entity ie a building, not at all.

According to the Dumfries and Galloway council archeologist, there is currently no archeological nor historical evidence that a building belonging to any military order existed at Trailtrow. As such we have to assume it was an estate of lands owned by one of the orders, of which we as a family managed, but more on that to come in the future.

We are also aware that members of our family were supporters of the Covenant, ie Covenanters, which swept Scotland in the 1600’s, years after Simon’s use of the fleurs de lis. However this is further indication, as with many other families of the time, of our strong religious beliefs.

In Summary

So to summarise, we know that the first record of Carruthers arms carried no fleur de lis dating back to a time that heraldry had reached Scotland in the mid to late 1100’s. We also know that the first record of Carruthers bearing arms containing any fleurs de lis was not until the early 1500’s, recorded to the knight Sir Simon Carruthers 10th of Mouswald, although the style of the fleur de lis, put them earlier into the 1400’s.

We also know that at this point that the two engrailed chevrons used in the ancient Carruthers arms without fleurs de lis, were replaced by a single chevron and the colours/tinctures changed. Sir Simon was the last of the Mouswald line, the l;ast to use a single chevron as the Chiefship passed to Holmains in 1548.

We further know that the Holmains arms conjoined the ancient arms ie the two engrailed chevrons with the three fleurs de lis of Mouswald, keeping the tinctures of Sir Simon, to form what was to become the chiefly arms as we know them today.

We also know they were used by Holmains before 1672, but were only recorded in 1672 against their name as chiefs/heidsmen of the clan and family after the Lyons Act along with all the other clans and families in Scotland.

We also know that any subsequent armiger from 1672, has differenced their arms from the Holmains arms, signifying they are the recognised Chiefs.

Further, to date all Carruthers crests have traditionally carried angelic figures which again may show an inclination towards a doffing of the cap to our family’s religious stance.

In Conclusion

15th century Fleur de Lis

Rather than claiming links to France or French nobility, we feel it is appropriate to consider our use of the fleur de lis being for the same reason as Louis VII, ie representing and reflecting our own faith in God, again enhanced by our family crests.

Therefore surely it is nice to know that, rather than tagging on to claims of Templars, French Royaty etc, we as Carruthers can accept the fleurs de lis as our own distinct birthright reflecting who and what we are as a family going back to at least the 1500’s and probably beyond.

The uniqueness of our family is further enhanced by the fact, in both our original arms and the arms of Holmains, we use two engrailed chevrons. These are heraldically distinct in Scotland and in Scottish heraldry and it seems are only used by the border clan and family of Carruthers.

As our history is always being researched and reviewed by our society and being based on current evidence, it continually points to Carruthers being a robust and distinct entity within in the rich tapestry of Scottish History, in general and the border lands in particular.

Promptus et Fidelis

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