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Heraldic Terminology

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  • Heraldic Terminology

    The terminology associated with heraldry often confuses the general public, as well as the media, and generates much misunderstanding. A Coat of Arms is actually the heraldic symbols granted to or matriculated by an individual in accordance with entitlement, as determined by a representative of an heraldic authority such as The Lord Lyon King of Arms in Scotland, The Canadian Heraldic Authority in Canada, and The College of Arms in England, as well as many other heraldic authorities around the world, where they exist. Since the majority of participants on this forum have some Scottish ancestry, or are Canadian and fall under the authority of Canadian Heraldic Authority, my comments will primarily relate to those two systems and the rules they follow.

    A Coat of Arms with appropriate heraldic devices is usually displayed on a shield (for men) or a lozenge/cameo (for women). The shield is enhanced to become what is called the full achievement by adding a helm appropriate to the armigers rank atop the shield (for men) while the arms of most females don’t have the helm, although more have opted for one in recent years.
    Atop the helm on a wreath of twisted cloth in the livery (primary) colours of the arms is the Crest assigned to the armiger. Either above the Crest (in Scotland) or below shield in most other jurisdictions, is the personal Motto of the armiger on a ribband. To complete the full achievement, and flowing from the wreath under the Crest, is what is called mantling, the depiction of torn cloth flowing on either side of the achievement, as a Knight might have had in battle. One of the most often confused terms is Crest, especially in the media when they often refer to a “Family Crest” to mean a Coat of Arms.

    There is also much confusion about the right to display arms, allowing many heraldic “bucket shops” to peddle phony heraldry represented as “Your Family Coat of Arms” or “Your Clan Crest”. Clans don’t have Crests, the familiar devices for various clans/names are more correctly called “Clansman’s/Clanswoman’s Crest Badges”. Such devices incorporate the Personal Crest and Personal Motto of a Clan Chief, surrounded by a buckled belt. Displaying such badges indicates that the bearer has pledged allegiance to a particular clan chief, but the Crest and Motto remain the personal property of the Clan Chief under Scots Law. A Grant or Matriculation of Arms is made only to an individual in Scotland (and Canada) and may only be displayed by that individual. Even members of an armiger’s direct family may only display the arms of their father (or mother), with their permission, appropriately “differenced” by such devices as “Cadence” marks indicating their seniority in the line of succession. Arms are heritable in perpetuity based on the wishes of the armiger as to who is entitled to inherit them. That is far too complex a subject for this forum, but inheritance of arms is closely regulated by heraldic authorities. So much for “Family Coats of Arms” and “Family Crests” offered for sale to unsuspecting people by those who know such things don’t exist, at least in Scotland and Canada.

  • #2
    Re: Heraldic Terminology

    Neil, following on from your posting on heraldic terminology, my 5great-uncle Andrew Murison (1730-1809) matriculated Arms in the Lyon Office in 1791 using his baptismal name Murison as the son of John Murison. However, when he married he "varied the patronymic orthography by causing his children to use the name of Morison", with an 'o'. His Arms are described as "Argent, three Moors' heads couped proper, banded azure, within a bordure engrailed, gules. Crest: Three Moors' heads conjoined on one neck, proper, banded azure".

    The Morison name has continued to be used down the Andrew Murison line. Andrew's great-grandson, Alexander Morison (1850-1927), spent some time researching his Morison/Murison family background and found that Andrew Murison's wife, Mary Herdman, was descended from The Blackhalls of that Ilk. He therefore applied for and was granted the right in 1919 to prefix "Blackhall" to his surname and include the Blackhall family Arms with his own. He became known as Alexander Blackhall-Morison.

    What I don't know is whether he used his great-grandfather's Murison Arms to include the Blackhall Arms, or had matriculated his own Morison Arms at some time. Alexander has not mentioned a Morison Arms in his writings.

    I would be interested to have your comments and observations on the above.

    Chris Duff (A Murison on my mother's side)


    "The Blackhalls of That Ilk and Barra: Hereditary Coroners and Foresters of The Garioch" by Alexander Morison, published by The New Spalding Club in 1905.

    The Alexander Blackhall-Morison Collection in the archives of The Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh.