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The office of Lyon King of Arms dates from the 14th century. The position may incorporate the much older Celtic office of royal Seanchaidh or of King’s Poet with responsibility for keeping the royal genealogy and attending the inauguration (later coronation) of the King.
The Lord Lyon is the sole King of Arms in Scotland. He is Head of the Heraldic Executive and the Judge of the Court of the Lord Lyon, which has jurisdiction over all heraldic business in Scotland.
The present Lord Lyon is The Reverend Canon Dr Joseph John Morrow CStJ. He was appointed to the role on 17 January 2014 and sworn in at the Court of Session in a public ceremony on 27 February 2014.
On ceremonial occasions the Lord Lyon is accompanied by Her Majesty’s Officers of Arms, all of whom are members of the Royal Household.
An Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1592 gave the Lord Lyon responsibility for prosecuting as a criminal offence anyone who uses unauthorised Arms. The Court has its own Procurator Fiscal, an independent official prosecutor.
In 1672 a further Act of the Scottish Parliament authorised the creation of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. This Register is maintained by the Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records and contains an official copy of every Coat of Arms granted in Scotland since 1672.
The History of Arms
The origin of the Coat of Arms was a jacket or tabard worn by a medieval Knight over his armour in order to identify himself. Nowadays the expression “Coat of Arms” is generally applied to what is officially called an “Achievement”, which consists of various parts: a shield, helmet, mantling, wreath, crest, motto and sometimes supporters and decorations.
There is a widespread misconception that a family or a clan can have a family or clan Coat of Arms. Many heraldic and clan web sites and other media suggest that a person has the right to use the family or clan Arms. This is completely incorrect.
A Coat of Arms belongs only to one individual person and can only be used by that person and no one else. In order for a person to be able to use a Coat of Arms it is necessary for that individual person to apply for a personal Coat of Arms to be granted to him or her.
What is permitted is for a member of a clan to use the clan crest . Usually what is referred to as the clan Coat of Arms is in fact the personal Arms of the chief of the clan which can only be used by the chief.
Applying for a Coat of Arms-you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can-
Any person who wishes to use Arms must petition for a new Grant of Arms or – if they can trace their ancestry back to an ancestor who had a grant of Arms – for a “matriculation” showing their place within the family. When a grant or matriculation is obtained, an illuminated parchment, narrating the pedigree as proved, is supplied to the Petitioner, and a duplicate is recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland.
Apart from the requirement that the petitioner should be, in terms of the Lyon King of Arms Act 1672, a“virtuous and well-deserving person”, in general the governing factor in the case of an original Grant of Arms is where the petitioner lives rather than the ownership of property in Scotland. Was the petitioner e born in Scotland ? If not, has he acquired a Scottish domicile of choice by living here? In cases where the petitioner’s claim to fall within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon rests on the ownership of property the key question is whether the petitioner can actually reside on the property. A dwelling house of whatever size presents no problem, but the ownership of forestry land or “amenity” land on which there is no house and for which planning permission for a house would not be possible would not be likely to bring the owner into the jurisdiction of the Lyon Court. The ownership of “souvenir” plots of land of a few square feet or thereby such as are marketed from time to time, is insufficient to bring anyone within the jurisdiction.
Where the petitioner is seeking to matriculate off a previous Grant of Arms, he or she will have to prove his relationship to the original grantee of the Arms and show that he comes within the destination of the original Grant of Arms.
People who are domiciled in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, should approach the College of Arms in London. People who are , while those domiciled in the Republic of Ireland should approach the Chief Herald of Ireland in Dublin. Commonwealth citizens, in particular those of Scottish descent – except Canada and South Africa which have their own heraldic authorities – can apply to the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
While it is not generally possible for non-British citizens to be granted Scottish Arms it is possible for non-British citizens who descend from a Scottish armigerous ancestor bearing the same surname to apply for a cadet matriculation. It is also sometimes possible for a cousin who is domiciled in Scotland to seek a Grant of Arms with a destination which includes the other descendants of a common ancestor, provided that ancestor had also been domiciled in Scotland.