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Heraldry in Scotland, part 1

Heraldry in Scotland is practiced very differently to elsewhere in the British Isles. Whereas there has been for hundreds of years a state of heraldic lawlessness in England, the Scotsman knows perfectly well that he must abide by the strictly enforced laws of Heraldry. Since time immemorial Heraldry in Scotland has been overseen by the Lord Lyon of Arms. Nobody knows exactly when this office dates from but it has it’s origin in the Scottish sennachie’s, royal bards or storytellers of Scottish King’s which predated the practice of Heraldry. The Lord Lyon, the equivalent of the Garter King of Arms in England, derives his office and functions from the High Sennachie whose duty it was to recite at the Coronation of Scottish Kings the tale of the Monarchs ancestors or his geneaology. Prior to written records being kept, these stories were passed orally from one generation of Sennachie or storyteller to the next. Knowledge of this information was power and let to the Sennachie holding a very important position within the court of the monarch. With the advent of Heraldry, the functions of the Herald were added to those genealogical duties of the High Sennachie, who over time became known as the Lord Lyon.

Lord Lyon, King of ArmsThere is a record of a Lord Lyon King of Arms who was knighted at his inauguration by King Robert the Bruce in 1318. It is thus, by far, the oldest Heraldic office in Britain. The Lord Lyon, being responsible for genealogies and heraldic matters is a judge of the realm. His court exercises a civil and penal jurisdiction with appeal in some cases to the Court of Session and ultimately to the House of Lords. The judicial position of the Lord Lyon goes a long way towards explaining the orderliness of the Scottish heraldic system. Th Lord Lyon can fine and even imprison those who do not follow his rulings. The force of statute law of 300 years standing backs this position. It was the lawlessness of the Scots which originally brought about this highly legal and scientific system of Heraldry.

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