The Lyon Act

Sir Francis Grant, Lord Lyon King of Arms

Sir Francis Grant, Lord Lyon King of Arms

In Scotland the Court of the Lord Lyon is responsible for heraldic matters. It is the oldest heraldic court  in the world that is still in daily operation. As well as overseeing state functions in Scotland the Lord Lyon is responsible for the grant of arms as well as ensuring that existing arms are not abused. The misuse if arms in Scotland is actually a criminal offence and treated in the same way as offences such as tax evasion.

The last revision of the Lyon Act was in 1672 and forms the basis of the regulation on how coats of arms are used and of course since a clan crest is a component of a clan chief or armigeror’s arms then it also covers how clan crests are used. Very often we have requests from people wanting to use our artwork of a chiefs coat of arms or clan crest for a business card or stationary. A request which we have to politely decline.

Michael Grewer; a Scots lawyer with a considerable interest and expertise in heraldry  has kindly allowed us to use his translation of the Lyon Act of 1672.

Lord Lyon Act 1672 (Translation from old Scots Into English by Michael Grewar)

Concerning the Privileges of the Office of Lyon King of Arms

Our Sovereign considering that, albeit by the 125 act of the 12 Parliament, holding by his Majesty’s grandfather in the year 1592, the usurpation of arms by any of his Majesty’s lieges without the authority of the Lyon King of Arms is discharged; And that, in order thereto, power and commission is granted to the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, or his Deputes, to visit the whole arms of Noblemen, Barons and Gentlemen, and to matriculate the same in their Registers, and to fine in One Hundred pounds all others who shall unjustly usurp Arms; As also to confiscate all such goods and possessions as shall have unwarrantable Arms engraved on them. Yet amongst the many irregularities of these late times, very many have assumed themselves arms, whom should bear none, and many of these who may in law bear, have assumed to themselves the arms of their Chief, without distinctions or arms which were not carried by themselves or their predecessors; Therefore His Majesty with the advice of the three Estates of Parliament, Ratifies and Approves the foresaid Act of Parliament; and for the more vigorous prosecution thereof, do hereby statute and ordain that letters of publication of this present Act be directed to be executed at the market cross of the head Burghs of the Shires, Stewartries, Bailliaries of Royalty and Regality, and Royal Burghs, charging all and sundry Prelates, Noblemen, Barons and Gentlemen, who make use of any Arms, or ensigns Armorial, within the space of one year after the said publication, to bring or send an account of what Arms or ensigns Armorial they are accustomed to use; and whether they are descendants of any family the Arms of which family they bear, and of what Brother of the family they are descended; with testaments from persons of honour, Noblemen or Gentlemen of quality, with the intention of them having and using those arms, and of their descent as aforesaid, to be delivered either to the Clerk of the jurisdiction where the person dwells, or to the Lyon Clerk at his office in Edinburgh, at the option of the party upon their receipts gratis without paying anything therefore; Which Receipt shall be a sufficient exoneration to them from being obliged to produce again, to the effect that Lyon King of Arms may distinguish the said Arms with congruent differences, and may matriculate the same in his books and Registers, and may give Arms to virtuous and well deserving persons and extracts of all Arms, expressing the blazoning of the Arms under his hand and seal of office; for which shall be payed to the Lyon the sum of twenty merks by every Prelate and Nobleman, and ten merks by every Knight and Baron; and five merks by every other person bearing arms and no more; and his Majesty hereby dispenses with any penalties which may arise from this or any preceding Act for bearing Arms before the proclamation to be issued hereupon; And it is Statute and Ordained, with the consent foresaid, that the said register shall be respected as the unrepealable rule of all Arms and Bearings in Scotland, to remain with the Lyon’s office as a public register of the Kingdom, and to be transmitted to his Successors for all time coming; And whosoever shall use Arms in any manner of after the expiring of one year and a day from the date of the proclamation to be issued hereupon in the manner aforesaid, shall pay one hundred pounds money toties quoties to the Lyon, and shall likewise confiscate to his Majesty all the moveable goods and possessions upon which the said Arms are engraved, or otherwise represented: And his Majesty with the consent foresaid, declares that it is only allowed for Noblemen and Bishops to subscribe by their titles; and that all others shall subscribe with their Christian names, or the initial letter thereof with their surnames, and may, if they please adject the designations of their lands, prefixing the word “Of” to the said designations: And the Lord Lyon King-at-Arms, and his Brethren are required to be careful of informing themselves of the contraveners hereof, and that they acquaint his Majesty’s Council therewith, who are hereby empowered to punish them as persons disobedient to, and contraveners of the law: It is likewise hereby declared that the Lyon and his Brethren heralds are judges in all such causes concerning the malversation of messengers in their office, and are to enjoy all other privileges belonging to their office which are secured to them by laws of this Kingdom, and according to former practice.


About rodger moffet

Rodger is the Director of ScotClans. Expert in all things clan and tartan.

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One thought on “The Lyon Act

  1. Lee Glendening Koss

    Dear Roger,
    I believe that I am descendent, most certainly of a Glendinning (clan or sept of the Douglas clan) who emigrated to Canada or the northern US. I am unsure why the Douglas clan lost their charter as a clan, whether this was due to politics as always, with the forfeiture of the Douglas-Glendinning lands to the Gordons. I am aware that Gordons assassinated young Douglas heirs and that presently there is a candidate for Douglas laird if he would change his name to Douglas rather than the hyphenated name he chooses to use. Are my facts correct and is there anything to do to change this situation? Also, I would like to know whether it is known whether the Glendinnings and Douglases sided with the Scots or the English in the Battles of Prespontans and Culloden? Thank you.


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