A Guide to the Heraldry of Clan Donnachaidh


n recent years, the renewed interest in Heraldry, and increase in its use, has led to some confusion about the rules, and, since heraldry evolved as a means of identification, the whole thing becomes meaningless if the rules are not strictly followed. It is hoped that this article will do much to clear up some misconceptions, as well as to explain the various components which go to make up a complete grant of arms, taking those of Struan as the first example.

Armorial bearings consist of: [a] the SHIELD; [b] the CREST, upon its wreath; [c] the MOTTO; [d] the HELMET and MANTLING; [e] sometimes, two SUPPORTERS, and [f] very rarely, a DEVICE on the COMPARTMENT beneath the shield.

The Arms of Struan include all these things, and we will look at them individually.

Struan All Scottish arms, which are officially recorded in Lyon Register, are strictly personal. In this case they belong to Struan himself. They are not the property of his Family or Clan, and anyone who wants to have their own version of the arms must register them separately, when they will be given some suitable "difference" from the Chiefs arms. This is all protected by law, and infringement of the owner's sole rights can bring prosecution, which is conducted entirely at the expense of the Crown.

Naturally, the law does not apply all over the world, and infringements do unfortunately occur overseas, sometimes through ignorance. A Lyon Office document states: "It is not only illegal, but a social crime of the most grave character, to assume and purport to use your Chief's arms without a due and congruent difference. Anyone who does so merely publishes his own ignorance’s, and lapses into bad manners".

What, then, can a clansman and loyal supporter of his Chief do, in the way of heraldic display to proclaim that loyalty?

Robertson Crest It is correct for him to wear his Chiefs crest encircled with a strap and buckle bearing the motto or slogan. The strap and buckle is the sign of the clansman, and he demonstrates his membership of his Chiefs clan by wearing his Chiefs crest within it, where it would be wrong to wear the crest alone. It is the badge of ALL clansmen, whether they are members of Clan Societies or not.

Clan Chiefs are heads of very large extended Families, including all of the same surname, and possibly many Septs as well. Membership of a clan goes with the surname, but many people who have no paternal clan of their own are content to demonstrate their relationship with their mother's clan by wearing her ancestral clan's crest badge. This results in a wide range of surnames in the Clan Donnachaidh Society.

Where a clansman wishes to have something more personal, he can apply to the Lord Lyon King of Arms for a coat of arms and. if appropriate, he will be granted one with a variation of the Chiefs arms. Two of these are illustrated below, and there are many others.

2 Crests

By comparing Shield numbers, 2. and 3. with Struan's arms at number 1., it is evident that his wolves' heads have been 'differenced' by adding other items. When these additions are chosen in consultation with the Lord Lyon, they usually refer, either to the bearer's descent showing items from the arms of their families, or of his special interest or profession.

On Shield number 2., the sprig of holly represents the Irvines, and the bangle which goes round the hand on the crest is checked blue and gold to recall the Stewart arms (the bearer is descended from the Stewarts of Garth, Drumchary and Kynachan).

Shield number 3. follows the other option. The bearer has, in his own words, “devoted his life to applying science to create new industry' and his arms illustrate this. The chequer board represents an ordered array (science and crytallography), the ray is an idea nurtured by science so that it develops into an industrial project, and the rewards are represented by the bag of gold.

Thus these two shields between them show that Heraldry can be based, either on tradition and the past, or on modern technology and the future.

Clan Donnachaidh Members:

It appears that there has recently arisen in the U.S. the question of clansfolk displaying the red shield with the three white wolves’ heads on notepaper or T-shirts.

This is very definitely a NO – NO!

The design is the PERSONAL property of our Chief, and cannot be used by anyone else, and this includes his family. It is as personal to him as his signature. It is registered as such in the Lyon Register and protected by law. Use by anyone other than the owner can bring prosecution, conducted entirely at the expense of the Crown.

In medieval times a fully armoured person was indistinguishable from any other person in armour, so to identify themselves they carried an easily visible design on their shield. This was unique to them and no-one else could use it.

This still applies today, and anyone using or displaying another person’s coat of arms is in effect masquerading as that person. It is extremely bad manners and they are also displaying their ignorance for all to see.

Donald Reid, F.S.A. Scot, A.I.f.A.
Trustee, Clan Donnachaidh Museum
Retired & Honorary Member of Clan Donnachaidh Council
3 June 2011
Parchment1Parchment2 Robertson Crest