Much confusion exists
about the meaning, use and entitlement to wear Scottish Crest Badges, and
it is constantly increased by well meaning but ill informed explanations.
This leaflet is authoritative in setting out the main facts. Even the
popular name "Clan Crest" is a misnomer, as there is no such thing as a
"Clan" Crest. The Crest is the exclusively personal property of the Clan
Chief, and it is fully protected to him by the law in Scotland. The
circumstances in which it may be worn by his clansmen are set out
hereafter. But, first, four brief definitions of the technical terms are
(a) THE CREST
When a coat of Arms is granted by the Sovereign through Her Majesty’s Lord
Lyon King of Arms, the Grant of Arms document shows the coat of Arms on a
Shield. Above the Shield is placed a conventional helmet, and on top of
the helmet is shown an additional. device called the CREST, accompanied by
the owner’s Motto on a conventional scroll. It is impossible to own a
Crest without first owning a coat of Arms, shown on the Shield, as the
Crest is an adjunct to the coat of Arms. Sometimes an additional Motto or
Slogan is granted, which may correctly appear on the Clansman’s bonnet
badge as an alternative to the first Motto.
(b) THE WREATH
Between the Crest and the helmet usually appears a WREATH of twisted cloth
of alternate twists of the owner’s "Livery colours", on which the Crest
stands. When the Crest is shown by itself, without the coat of Arms, this
WREATH is always shown beneath it to indicate that it is a heraldic Crest
and not merely a depiction of some object or other. It is usually shown as
a sort of straight sausage, with six twists.
(c) THE CREST CORONET
Sometimes a coronet appears instead of a Wreath, and serves the same
function. This is usually a CREST CORONET, similar to that of a Duke but
showing only one and two halves of strawberry leaves on its upper rim
instead of a Duke’s three and two halves, and without the velvet and
ermine cap which fits inside a ducal coronet. Many Clan Chiefs have Crest
Coronets beneath their Crests instead of Wreaths. Sometimes Crests have
different forms of coronets beneath them instead of Wreaths, usually the
form known the "antique crown" which is an "open" crown (having no arches
over, it) showing on its upper rim three and two halves of tapering
(d) THE CHAPEAU
Sometimes a heraldic CHAPEAU replaces the Wreath, or occasionally appears
between the Wreath and the Crest. This is a conventional depiction of a
velvet hat, flat on top and lined with ermine fur which shows on the
turned—up brim of the hat. The edge of the brim is sometimes shown
scalloped, sometimes straight. The shape of the hat varies with the artist
who drew it; usually a side view is shown, when the hat looks rather like
a Glengarry, with the brim tapering to a point at one end; a front view
looks like a pillbox, with the brim turned up across it. Nowadays the
Chapeau, which indicates its owner’s baronial rank, usually appears
beneath the helmet instead of beneath the Crest.
NOTE: The choice
and use of Wreath, Crest Coronet or Chapeau is NOT a matter of the owner’s
whim, but is part of his Grant of Arms where they are stipulated. They may
ONLY be used when they have been so granted by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
Any Scot who has recorded Arms and Crest in the Public Register of All
Arms and Bearings in Scotland ("Lyon Register" for short) has the right to
wear his Crest as a badge in various particular forms (see Section 5). NO
ONE ELSE AT ALL may wear a badge of the Crest that such an "armiger" has
recorded as his own, and this is a matter of law. The Arms and Crest are
protected for their owner by the Laws of Arms in Scotland, and illegal
infringement of his sole rights can bring prosecution, a fine and
confiscation of the property marked with the rightful owner’s Arms and/or
Crest. Such a prosecution is conducted entirely at the expense of the
Crown, and so the owners of Arms invoke it very freely and at no cost to
In Scotland ALL Arms and Crests are PERSONAL. There is NO SUCH THING as a
"Family" coat of Arms or Crest. Though the Arms or Crest may be borne by
SUCCESSIVE members of a family, they are personal to each in turn. The
rules of the inheritance of Arms and Crests are legal and strict.
3. SAME NAME
When a person has recorded Arms and Crest in the Lyon Register, it is
strictly NOT open to anyone else of the same surname to use his Crest.
This is an infringement of the owner’s legal rights, for which he may ask
the Procurator Fiscal of the Court of the Lord Lyon to prosecute the
Ownership of Arms and Crest is PERSONAL, and is NOT extended to others of
the same surname except in the cases outlined in Section 5 hereafter.
4. CHIEFS OF CLANS AND HEADS OR "REPRESENTERS" OF FAMILIES
Chiefs are heads of very large "extended" families, including all of the
same surname and probably many "septs" as well. "Septs" are large extended
families (i.e. including distant cousins and connections) within a Clan
but bearing different surnames from tha Clan, usually the result of
arbitrary fixing of surnames about the 17th century, prior to which
surnames were not general in their modern form in Scotland. Fairly
comprehensive lists of sept names and their Clans are given in "The Clans,
Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands" by Frank Adam and Sir
Thomas Innes of Learney, 6th ed.196O, in two extensive appendices, and
also in "The Official Tartan Map" by John Telfer Dunbar and Don Pottinger,
Hamish Hamilton 1976.
Heads or REPRESENTERS of families are those whose claims to be the
genealogically senior living persons of their surnames have been
Officially Recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and are recorded as
such in the Lyon Register. They are usually heads of extended families too
small in number to claim to be "Clans". But they can be small or Lowland
too ; "Clan" simply means "family", in the broad sense.
5. WEARING AND FORM OF CREST BADGES
(a) CHIEFS OF CLANS
Chiefs have the right to
wear their Crests as badges
without the accompaniment of circlet, motto or feathers behind the badge.
OR as is more usual,
surrounded with a plain circlet inscribed with his Motto or Slogan, NOT a
strap—and—buckle which is for clansmen; and, if they choose, with THREE
eagle’s feathers in silver behind the circlet.
If the Chief is also a Peer of the Realm, he may correctly add his
appropriate coronet of rank on top of the circlet, but this is a matter of
his personal choice.
i.e. Heads of large
branches of a Clan and Officially Recognised as such by the Lord Lyon King
of Arms. Chieftains may wear either their own personal Crest within a
plain circlet inscribed with the Motto, as for a Chief, but with TWO small
eagle’s feathers instead of the Chief’s three. If the Chieftain is also a
Peer, he may add the appropriate coronet of rank on top of the circlet,
OR they may wear their
Chief’s Crest badge like any other clansman, as described for CLANSMEN in
Section 5(d) below.
i.e. Persons who have
registered their own coat of Arms and Crest, or have inherited these
according to the Laws of Arms in Scotland from ancestors who had recorded
them in the Lyon Register.
An armiger may wear his own Crest as a badge :— EITHER simpliciter, on its
Wreath, Crest Coronet or Chapeau, OR, as is more usual, within a plain
circlet inscribed with his Motto.
An armiger is entitled to
ONE silver eagle’s feather behind the circlet, and if he is also a Peer he
may add his appropriate coronet of rank on top of the circlet. An armiger
may also choose to wear instead the Crest badge of his Chief if the
armiger is a clansman, as for CLANSMEN in Section 5(d) below.
(d) CLANSMEN AND
i.e. The Chief’s
relatives, including his own immediate family and even his eldest son, and
ALL members of the extended family called the "Clan", whether bearing the
Clan surname or that of one of its septs ; in sum, all those who profess
allegiance to that Chief and wish to demonstrate their association with
It is correct for these
to wear their Chief’s Crest encircled with a STRAP AND BUCKLE bearing
their Chief’s Motto or Slogan. The strap and buckle is the sign of the
clansman, and he demonstrates his membership of his Chief’s Clan by
wearing his Chief’s Crest within it.
1. Although the
Crest Badge is purchased by and is therefore owned by the clansman, the
heraldic Crest and Motto on it belong to the Chief and NOT to the
clansman. They are the Chief’s exclusive heraldic property, which the
clansman is only thus permitted to wear. It is illegal for the clansman to
misappropriate the Chief’s Crest and Motto for any other use of his own,
such as decorating his own silver, writing paper or signet ring, which
anyway would mean that these articles belonged to the Chief who is the
owner of the Crest and Motto on them.
Clan Societies, Officials
and clansmen who have reason to use the Crest Badge on stationery should
add beneath it the words "Crest Badge of a member of the Clan. to make it
clear that the Crest Badge is not being misappropriated by the Clan
Society or official involved. It is the Crest Badge of ALL clansmen,
whether members of Clan Societies or not, and non—members may not be
excluded if they are clansmen.
strap—and—buckle is NOT a "Garter", and it should NEVER be shown coloured
blue with gold buckle and edgings like the insignium of the Order of the
Garter. Crest Badges are forwearby the clansmen, and as they are made of
silver or white metal they should never be illustrated on paper or other
materials in colour, other than white or silver. Line drawings should be
printed in monochrome. It is the privilege of ladies to wear the Crest
Badge of their Chief as a brooch, usually on the left lapel of a jacket or
equivalent position on a dress, and they may wear it thus in gold if they
choose. Real eagle’s feathers behind the badge may be worn by those
entitled to feathers on appropriate occasions, e.g. Clan Gatherings.
Ladies do not wear feathers behind the Crest Badge, either real or in
metal, unless they are Chiefs, Chieftains or armigers in their own right.
speaking, membership of a Clan goes with the surname. And so it does NOT
pass through married women who take their husbands’ surnames and do NOT
therefore transmit their own Clan surname to their children. The children
are members of their fathers’ Clans. But many people who have no paternal
Clan of their own are content to demonstrate their relationship with their
mother’s Clan by wearing the Crest Badge of a clansman of her ancestral
Clan. Few Clans would be so strict as to reject such affiliation, but some
Clan Societies do.
4. When surnames
were generally adopted in Scotland in the 17th century, some families took
the surname of their Chief, not always spelling it in the same way, as
spellings were not yet firmly fixed. Some took descriptive names, such as
ROY which means RED, or trade names such as SMITH, WRIGHT, FLETCHER and
MILLER. Their descendants cannot expect to find Chiefs for such derivative
names, but must search back in their ancestry to discover in which Clan
their family originated, as every Clan would have had its own smiths,
wrights, fletchers (arrow—makers) and millers — and redheads.
established and reputable Clans do not have a Chief, where the Chief’s
line has died out or been lost — possibly through long past emigration of
the line who are now heirs to the Chief ship. No Chief can exist for such
Clans till a claimant comes forward and proves to the Lord Lyon King of
Arms that he is the senior heir, when the Lord Lyon will Officially
Recognise him as the Chief.
In some such cases, the
Arms and Crest of a former Chief are known from past records, though not
the present Chief. His clansmen may wear the Crest Badge of the last known
Chief, which would be the same as that of his present undiscovered
successor. In some cases there is no such record, and the clansmen have no
Crest Badge for their Chief at all, nor will have until a Chief is
6. Although the
illustrations in this leaflet of Crest Badges for Chieftains and armigers
show the same "notional" Crest within the circlet as for Chiefs and
clansmen, these are of course intended to represent their own personal
Crests, NOT their Chiefs’.