Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: When was the seraphim on our Chief’s arms first used?

It was once said that the first proper depiction of the seraphim crest was when it was painted by the heraldic artist A G Law Sampson on the matriculation of the arms of CARRUTHERS of Dormont in 1913. In fact our own heraldist, Mr Anthony Maxwell, once believed the same, until evidence was proven otherwise.

We do know that the crest was depicted ‘as we know it’ long before then and definitely as a seraphim and not a cherub, as some suggest.


The cherub only came into the picture when it was used on the arms of the Mitchell Carruthers branch of Holmains when they were registered in the Public Register of All Arm and Bearings of Scotland (Vol 10, Folio 15) in 1874 by the Reverend William Mitchell Carruthers. Since then it has been wrongly tagged as the Chief’s crest.

Since then, the use of Cherubs or Putti as grave-markers on Carruthers graves have wrongly been seen as the chief’s crest, when in fact they have been used as grave sculpting since at least the 1600’s. Cherubs were often used to represent spiritual resurrection, and they evolved from death’s-head imagery, or memento mori. Again nothing to do with Carruthers, nor in fact the seraphim.

As such the word Cherub/in has never been interchangeable with seraphim, but it is used as the same as Putti, Cupid, Eros, and Amorini. This head of an infant usually male sitting on two wings, was popular as far back as Roman and Greek art, however they fell out of popularity until the Renaissance period in the 15th and 16th centuries in Christian art. They had a revival in the 1800’s but again declined after the first World War.

However, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology by Adam Heinrich in 2014, his comments state:

Since the 1960s, James Deetz and other archaeologists have attributed the appearance of the cherub icon on colonial-period gravemarkers to religious movements such as the Great Awakening or diminished Puritan influence during the eighteenth century. The cherub has been interpreted by many scholars as a symbol of a heavenly being that reflects freer perceptions on life and the afterlife. This article challenges the long-held religious connotations of the cherub icon. Instead, this article demonstrates that the icon relates to the wider Rococo artistic trend that was the prime influence on the forms and decorations of contemporary material culture. In this artistic fashion, the cherub is a putto, a Classical allegorical element that remained common in architectural and mortuary sculpture. The use of the putto comes with a number of additional contemporary elements and shows that consumer choice connected to the latest fashion instead of changing religious attitudes being the driver behind iconographic and decoration change on colonial gravemarkers.


Although used before their registraion in 1672, the Chiefly arms of Carruthers were registered along with the arms every other chief and member of nobilty after the Lords Lyons Act of that year.

A mantlepiece that once sat in Kirkwood and proudly displayed the full Carruthers Chief’s arms, was dated back to the 1500’s. Sadly erosion and damage has left very little for the eye, but there is further evidence at least going back to John the 12th of Holmains that the seraphim was accurately used by our chiefs.

The only mention of the seraphim is in Isaiah 6 in the Bible, where they are described as the highest level of angels. Again they have mention in the Book of Enoch from the 2nd century BC, as the heavenly creatures standing nearest the throne of God

They are depicted in religious iconography and heraldic art as six wings, the two above and below crossed in saltire, the middle two spread as in flight and in the centre an angelic face. The first depiction dates back to Jacopo do Cione in 1370, again with a face in the centre, from then they classic depiction was used as described above and taken as the crest of our chiefs.

Interestingly a printed copy of what we assume is John Carruthers 12th of Holmains arms ( 1731-1809) depicts a seraphim above, while a book plate with his name on it depicts a cherub?

At the very least it shows there is a definite difference between the two, but the current belief is that the bookplate was misrepresented in its depiction of the crest.

Why do we believe this, well because a silver Coffee pot from the reign of George III (1738-1820) came on the market a few years ago being described by the appraiser as : Georgian, early George III silver coffee pot of baluster form on a spreading circular base. Features an armorial with the Motto “PROMPTIS ET FIDELIS” (READY AND FAITHFUL), The domed cover with a flame finial. The Purchaser will receive a detailed report concerning this armorial that relates to the arms of Carruthers of Holmains. This coffee pot almost certainly belonged to John Carruthers of Holmains. He was the 12th Laird of Holmains and the 8th Feudal Baron of Holmains.

One has to assume that when spending a large amount of money on a silver coffee pot with his arms on it, the engraving would accurately reflect them. As we can see the arms to the left next to the book plate, are reflected well on the Coffee pot.


Going back to our initial statement re Carruthers of Dormont, it is obvious that as a cadet they chose to keep the Holmains arms, albeit with a border and chevronelles rather than chevron, as the two differences required, but retained both the motto of Promptus et Fidelis and the Chief’s crest of a seraphim volant Proper. Further that A G Law Sampson, already had a template from which to work, and simply depicted what another heraldic artist had used previously, and in fact many of them before that in their representation of the ‘Carruthers’ Seraphim.

Incidentally, all Carruthers arms registered in Scotland have to date used angelic figures as their crests, we are the only Scottish family to do so, therefore long may this tradition continue.

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