Researching Scottish Ancestral Arms


By Scottish law (the Lord Lyon Act of 1672), it is unlawful for anyone to use armorial bearings that are not matriculated (recorded) in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland maintained by the country's chief heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon King of Arms. There are basically four ways in which arms can be matriculated in this Lyon Register, as it is known for short:

  • By a grant of new arms made by Lord Lyon in response to a petition from someone he deems within his armorial jurisdiction.
  • By confirmation of the lawful use of the arms by a direct paternal ancestor prior to enactment of the 1672 Act.
  • By petitioning for recognition of arms borne by persons now in Lord Lyon's jurisdiction but which were originally granted by a non-Scottish heraldic authority.
  • By inheritance from a person whose arms are already in the Lyon Register. Eldest sons of those bearing lawful Scottish arms inherit them in the form used by the father, while younger sons must matriculate a differenced version.

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Research in the Lyon Register

To ascertain whether a direct paternal ancestor lawfully bore Scottish arms, anyone is entitled to examine the original handwritten and illustrated volumes of the Lyon Register, for a modest fee, at Lyon Office in Edinburgh. Fortunately, however, Lyon Office has also issued two printed "ordinaries" of the shields (not crests or mottoes) included in the Lyon Register, covering the years from 1672 through 1973. An ordinary is a collection of blazons organized by the dominant charges rather than by name, but fortunately each of the two volumes published by Lyon Office contains an excellent index of the arms by surname, and volume 2 includes citations to the original entries in the Register. Volume 1 is available on-line from Google Books.

In addition, in the 1960s Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gayre published a two-volume edition of all matriculations of personal arms in the first manuscript volume of the Lyon Register, organized by surname and including crests, mottoes, and supporters if any. These matriculations cover the period roughly up to 1804. 

  • Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, Robert. Roll of Scottish Arms, Part 1. 2 vols. Edinburgh: The Armorial, 1964-1969.

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