Lindsay Coat of Arms
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Lindsay Arms

Coat of Arms - General

What Are My Arms?

If you are a Scot, or of Scottish descent, then the answer is that unless you can prove that you are heir to a properly matriculated Scottish coat of arms, you have no arms whatsoever until you matriculate a set at the Lyon Court in Edinburgh.  If you use the arms of someone else then you are usurping arms; if you make up your own arms, then you are using bogus arms.  In both cases you are committing an offence and may be charged and tried at Lyon Court, which is an active court of law.  This makes Scottish heraldry one of the most tightly controlled in the world, as it is one of the few countries where heraldry is protected by law, and that law is still actively enforced.  Even if you are the direct heir, it is considered proper to re-matriculate every few generations in order that your due title to the arms be kept up to date. 

The legal position is quite simple - arms belong to the person who records them and the heirs of that person according to the limitations of the grant.  However, whereas in England, the right to a coat of arms passes to all male descendents of the grantee, in Scotland a coat of arms is considered to be heritable property and thus can only belong to one person at a time.  This means that the younger sons of a grantee have no direct right to inherit the arms until elder branches of the family have died out.  All younger sons must rematriculate the arms with a difference in order to possess legal arms.

Every Scottish Clan Chief or Family Head has a Coat of Arms granted or confirmed by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and these Arms are matriculated in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland.  The register which was established in 1592 is kept in the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, and is acknowledged as being the most magnificent heraldic manuscript in Europe. 

If you do not have a coat of arms and wish to obtain one see the section "Matriculation of Arms".  

Components of a Coat of Arms 

Armorial bearings, coat of arms and achievement all mean basically the same thing.  They refer to the complete coat of arms with all of the accessories and accompaniments.  The most important part is the shield.  Upon the shield are charges (icons) and ordinaries which make up the design. 

The verbal or written description of a coat of arms has been used by Heralds since the 11th century.   It is a language unique to the science or art of heraldry.  This verbal or written description is called a blazon.  When the written description is used to create a graphic interpretation the graphic is said to be an emblazon.  A graphic example of the components of a typical coat of arms is pictured below.

Ribbon & Motto

More often than not the motto is placed on a ribbon above the entire coat of arms.  Sometimes a ribbon is also placed at the bottom of the shield with the surname on it. 

Crest

The crest is part of the design which almost always sets on top of a torse.  Not all coats of arms have crests. 

Torse

A torse is a twisted fabric rope made up of the main color of the shield design and one metal (silver or gold).  It sits on top of the helm or helmet, supposedly holding the mantling in place.  Some sources say that the torse was borrowed from the Middle Eastern cultures. 

Mantling

Contrary to popular belief, not all warriors were clad in full metal armour.  Most warriors wore a combination of metal armour, chain male (a metal mesh used like fabric) and leather studded with metal embellishments.   In any case, their primary mode of transportation was either on foot or horse. 

As these warriors traveled from one destination to another, the uniforms they bore could be extremely uncomfortable in the hot sun, or pounding rain.  For this reason they wore capes or cloaks, usually hooded.  This reflected the sun off the metal parts of their uniforms and protected it from the rain.  Some say they were also used to deflect sword cuts.  These cloakes are called lambrequin or mantling.  The mantling was usually one color, the main color in the coats of arms and lined with a metal (silver or gold) color. 

In heraldry the mantling is usually depicted as a leafy swirly mass that flows around the coat of arms.  This leads some to mislabel the mantling for tree branches or leaves.  Actually, no self respecting warrior, except for formal occasions would come off the battle field with a nice neatly pressed mantling.  Rather the more torn and shredded the mantling, the more fierce the battle must have been and the braver the warrior.  In heraldry the mantling is shown torn and tattered flowing as if it may have looked as a warrior was charging the battlefield on horseback.  Mantling only occurs when a helm or helmet is shown. 

Helm

A helm is another word for a helmet.   There are different kinds of helmets, and each symbolizes a specific class.   One for Barons, Earls, Peers, etc., Peerage symbols (see below).   The most common is the side view of the closed visor helmet.   Not all coats of arms legally should be depicted with a helmet. 

 

Supporter

A supporter is usually a human being or an animal placed on either side of a shield as if they were holding or "supporting" the shield.  Unless a supporter is mentioned in the blazon, it should not be included as part of the coat of arms. 

Compartment

The compartment is used to show the coat of arms being supported from the bottom.   It is a mound, or shape used to rest the shield upon.   It can represent land or water.   In most cases it is a grassy or floral design made to look like ground.   This should also not be depicted unless specifically stated in the blazon. 

Shield & Arms

The shield refers to the shield it's self.   The arms refer to the design placed upon the shield.   Shields come in various shapes.   The shape of a shield can sometimes indicate where the family came from.

Differencing In Scotland

As was said in the section on matriculation, only one person may rightfully use a coat of arms at any particular time.  All other persons must bear arms with some form of difference - either temporary or permanent. 

The main temporary difference used with any frequency in Scotland is the label which is used by the nearest heir to a coat of arms. The differences now in use for all families, except that of the sovereign, may be partially traced to the time of Edward III. They are as follows.  First son: A label of 3 points.  Second son. A crescent. Third son: A mullet. Fourth son: A martlet.  Fifth son. An annulet.  Sixth son. A fleur-de-lis. 

 

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