Armorial bearings

Unlike seals, or emblems, coats of arms (also called armorial bearings, or arms) have a formal description that is expressed as a 'blazon'. Armorial bearings, being used for distinguishing individuals within, a family, cannot descend to, or be used by, people who are not members of the family, and only then when authorised by the registered owner. The surname indicates the family to which the family arms belongs. A person named Macdonald cannot bear a Ross coat of arms, or any part of it. The Chief's coat of arms fulfils within the clan or family the same purpose as the Royal Arms do in a kingdom. There is no such thing as a "family crest" or "family coat of arms" which any can assume, or a whole family can use.[1] Notwithstanding the latter rule, most clan member use their chief's crest as a common symbol.

Armorial bearings, of which the crest is a subsidiary part, are a form of individual heritage property, devolving upon one person at a time by succession from the grantee or confirmee, and thus descend like a Peerage. Arms indicate the Chief of the Family or Clan, or the Head of each subsidiary line or household descending from members who have themselves established in the 'Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland'. The direct family members have right to a subsidiary version of the arms and crest, containing a mark of difference indicating their position in the Family or Clan. This is not a "new" coat of arms; it is the ancient ancestral arms with a mark of cadency, usefully showing the cadet's place within the family. It identifies where you, and your own heirs, belong within the family. It is, as well as being beautiful, a valuable system of identification. Armorial bearings consist of:

  • The Shield (escutcheon), bearing the basic device.

  • The Helmet, with its Crest, which sits on top of the helmet.

  • The Motto in a scroll.

  • The Mantling or cape (which kept the sun off the wearer's armour in hot weather).

  • Supporters may occasionally be found on either side of the shield, as external attributes of the arms of Peers, Chiefs and a very few other persons of special importance, including Knights Grand Cross of Orders.

Mackenzie Arms Descriptions



There are many Mackenzie arms, but they usually all incorporate the stag's head cabossed, which was granted first to Gerald FitzGerald, I Baron of Kintail. Gerald had fought in the Irish 1261 Battle of Callan and evidently earned honour in that battle. For that honour he changed his name to Colin from Gerald. After the 1263 Battle of Largs, in which he again fought honourably, Colin (as he was then apparently called) reportedly saved King Alexander III from a charging stag. Since he had just fought in the battle for the king and then saved his life, Alexander granted Colin FitzGerald arms, based on the stag's head.

The Mackenzie of Seaforth coat of arms is informally described as:

a blue (azure) shield surmounted by a gold (or) deer's head and antlers (attires) facing the front and truncated cleanly from the body (described as 'cabossed'). The basic crest is described as the gold deer's head cabossed, mounted on a wreath (six twisted alternating colours of silk). Since this derives from the chief's coat of arms, now the earl of Cromartie, the earl's arms bear his coronet above. This is lined with ermine and red mantling. The coronet is topped with a helmet, again with a red mantling flowing down the sides of the shield. Above the helmet is a twisted blue and gold wreath topped by the Mackenzie alert symbol of a burning mountain, which is covered by a draped scroll and motto. The motto is 'Luceo non uro' - I shine not burn. Two bearded Scots, who are shown naked except for leaves around their hips and wreaths around their heads, support the shield. They are termed 'supporters' and they hold lighted torches in their raised outer hands and flames dance from their hair. The supporters are naturally coloured, standing on grass and they are as tall as the top of the coronet.[2]

The Mackenzie of Coul arms are similarly shown on a shield. The description below incorporates many of the explanations previously given and the specific blazon for the arms is derived from the following Burke's heraldic description.

  • Quarterly: 1st and 4th, az., a deer's head, cabossed or, for Mackenzie; 2nd and 3rd, gu., a boar's head, couped, arg., for Chisolm. Crest - A boar's head, erect or, between the attires of a stag, fixed to the scalp, sa.

  • Supporters - Dexter, an armed highlander, in full costume, ppr.; sinister, a roebuck, ppr. Motto - Pulchrior ex arduis.

Mackenzie of Coul Blazon

Kenneth Mackenzie of Coul, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia on October 6, 1673.

Coul arms


Quarterly: The quarters are filled with smaller figures of alternating Mackenzie deer heads, beginning upper left on blue (azure), cabossed (as above) in gold (or), alternating with Chisolm boar heads on red (gules), couped (side view of open mouth truncated head in silver (argent). The Chisolm connection is from the first baronet's wife whose own family arms (the boar's head) were 'impaled' upon marriage to Mackenzie of Coul's deer head.

Crest: Mackenzie stag's antlers and scalp mounted on a wreath with a boar's head erect between the antlers fixed directly to the scalp. Both boar's head and stag's antlers are black (sable). The boar's head fills the height of the antlers. The wreath represents twisted alternating silk, derived from crusader use as sun shields for the back of the neck. The blue and gold wreath extends 25% to either side of the antlers.[3]

Supporters: In a full picture (whole achievement) there are two supporters, one on either side.

  • Dexter (right side - left as viewed) is an armed highlander in full costume.

  • Sinister (left) is a roebuck stag. The highlander faces the viewer, the roebuck the arms; and both supporters are approximately the height of the arms and crest combined.

Motto: The supporters stand on a curved scroll in three parts each containing one word. The motto is 'Pulchrior ex arduis', which translates to 'fairer from difficulties'.[4] Presumably this means something like: 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going'!

Tartan History

The Scots use of a tartan cloth for clothing has an ancient past and is first recorded in royal use in Scotland by King James III in 1471, however it has much older origins. Textile analysis of fabric from Indo-European Tocharian graves in Western China has shown similarities to the Iron Age civilizations of Europe dating from 800 BC, including woven twill and tartan patterns strikingly similar to Celtic tartans from Northwest Europe. The Celts wore coats set with a pattern of checks (plaid) close together and of varied colours, similar in fashion to the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh tartans. Tartan patterns have been used in British and Irish weaving for centuries. Northumbrian tartan is held by some to be the earliest tartan . A possible predecessor of Northumbrian Tartan dating from the 3rd century, found near the Antonine Wall and known as the "Falkirk sett", has a checked pattern in two colours identified as the undyed brown and white of the native Soay sheep. The fabric had been used as a stopper in an earthenware pot containing a hoard of silver coins.[6]

The tartan served the same identity purposes as coats of arms, flags and club colours and is a mark recognition. However, the Celts have woven coloured, wool for more than five thousand years.[7] Tartan began as simple checks of two or three colours dyed with plant juices. The sett was a basic pattern woven in wool, repeated and worn as a belted plaid, kilt, or trews. A sporran and slippers might also be worn as well as a bonnet. Before the XVII century many men went bare-footed, although some wore a boot-like cuaran, reaching almost to the knee and tied in place with thongs. By use of the tartan and badges (often sprigs of plants), clans could recognise members in their hilly, difficult, country. Women wore a linen cap over their heads and a small square of tartan, shawl called a tonnag over their shoulders. A full-length arasaid tartan was plaited all around and pinned with a brooch at the breast and belted around the waist.[8]

Royal Stewart


The Royal Stewart tartan was originally a variation of the Stewart of Galloway clan tartan. It was favoured by the Royal Family, who descended from James VII Stuart and soon became a a Royal tartan. Because of the connection with the monarch, the Royal Stewart became a favourite tartan with Highland regiments. Anticipating the popularity, Queen Anne stated that the British sovereign was to be considered clan chief of all Britons, who therefore had the right to display allegiance to the clan chief by wearing the clan tartan of the United Kingdom: The Royal Stewart.

For many centuries, the patterns were loosely associated with the weavers of a particular area, though it was common for highlanders to wear a number of different tartans at the same time. A 1587 charter granted to Hector Maclean of Duart requires feu duty on land paid as 60 ells of cloth of white, black and green colours. A witness of the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie describes "McDonnell's men in their triple stripes". From 1725 the government force of the Highland Independent Companies introduced a standardised tartan chosen to avoid association with any particular clan, and this was formalised when they became the Black Watch regiment in 1739.[9]

Particoloured cloth was used by the Celts from the earliest time, but the variety of colours in the clothing was greater or less, according to the rank of the wearer. That of the ancient kings had seven colours, that of the druids six, and that of the nobles four. In the days of Martin Martin (circa 1700), the tartans seemed to be used to distinguish the inhabitants of different districts and not the inhabitants of different families as at present. He expressly says that the inhabitants of various islands were not all dressed alike, but that the setts and colours of the various tartans varied from isle to isle. As he does not mention the use of a special pattern by each family, it would appear that such a distinction is a modern one, and taken from the ancient custom of a tartan for each district, the family or clan in each district originally the most numerous in each part, eventually adopting as their distinctive clan tartan, the tartan of such district. Martin's information was not obtained on hearsay: he was born in Skye, and reared in the midst of Highland customs.[10]

Government tartan


The men's weapons, prior to the general introduction of firearms in the XVIII century, consisted of bows and arrows, spears, swords, dirks, axes, shields (targes), and later firearms. Highlanders excelled at endurance and swordsmanship and both sword and dirk were common items of dress. In 1746, after the Battle of Culloden, the English government outlawed the weapons and tartans worn by the defeated Scots. The government, or Black Watch tartan (so called because of the dark coloured pattern used from 1739 by the Royal Highland Regiment, which patrolled against border smugglers and thieves), was authorised alone until 1785, when the earlier act was repealed.[11] By then, most of the former expertise at design and weaving had been lost. Thus the Government pattern, or Black Watch tartan, is the basis of many clan tartans today.[12]

The "Government sett", also known as Universal, or 42nd, or most commonly as "Black Watch", is the original military tartan. The colours were selected to represent the mountains, woods, and sea colours of Scotland. The name "Black Watch" for the tartan is inextricably linked with the origins of the regiment of the same name, the first Highland regiment in the British Army. Raised as independent companies to police the Highlands in 1725 (and in particular to suppress "blackmail" or protection money against cattle theft), they were originally ordered to strive for approximate uniformity of tartan dress within each company. When these companies were regimented in 1739 they were issued the new Government tartan, and the tartan soon took the popular name of the regiment. In 1815, the Highland Society of London began to name, record, and register clan tartans identified by the clan chiefs.

Mackenzie Highland Dress and Tartan


Tartans are now registered by the Lyon Court to regulate patterns and colours. However, tartans have been made in differing colours for various reasons. Firstly, hunting was a significant highland pastime and bright tartans were not helpful to the hunter's concealment. Many clans, not including the Mackenzie, have developed a hunting pattern with muted colours. Women, however, liked lighter colours and many dark tartans were made brighter with a white background as a variation. The term dress, as in a dress tartan, therefore refers to the colour and not to the weight of the material (potentially for formal use). Finally, there are ancient and modern colours, which are based on the use of plant or chemical dyes. This creates four possible variations for the Mackenzie Clan: ancient and modern for both regular and dress tartans.[13] There are also mourning tartans, basically black and white, district tartans, which are used in an area in lieu of a designated clan tartan; and finally, chiefs' tartans, which are personal for the chief and his family.

There are two forms of highland dress, the older was the belted plaid. This consisted of a piece of tartan two yards wide and up to six yards long. This was folded to make both a hanging around the waist, bound by a large belt, and a folded cover over one shoulder. The belted plaid could be used as both a cloak by day and a blanket by night. The little kilt is more modern, in universal male use and is much smaller at 30" by seven or eight yards long. The kilt may be a tartan or tweed for daily use and a finer wool clan dress tartan for more formal wear. The kilt should not be worn with the lower edge reaching below the centre of the kneecap. Men might wear a tweed jacket with horn buttons for daily use and a finer velvet or similar cloth with silver buttons for formal occasions. Ladies wear a pleated skirt, perhaps of plaid, but never with a sporran. For evenings ladies might wear a tartan skirt of silk, with a silk tartan sash over the left shoulder.[14]

The Mackenzie tartan is based on the government tartan described above, adding two narrow white stripes and one red. The government tartan, green with black checks, is composed of black, green and dark blue, notionally representing the blue sea, green hills and forests, and the black highland mountains and islands. The regimental tartan of the Seaforth Highlanders, raised by the chief in 1778, is the same as the Athol Murray, except for the replacement of the outer red stripes with white. It is thought that the MacKenzie tartan worn before 1778 was probably a red one. In heraldic terms, the two white additional Mackenzie stripes imply honour and courage, and the red is for their bloody history. The same tartan was also known as the Ross-shire military tartan, from which the Mackenzie derives. The Seaforth Highlanders originally wore the 42nd (Regiment), or Black Watch tartan, and in 1823 they wore Royal Stuart trews. King George IV revived the use of the tartan during an 1822 visit to Inverness. Mackenzies now wear either the kilt or trews.

The following are examples of the Mackenzie ancient and modern dress tartan. The light colours indicate both the white preferred by ladies and the ancient has softer vegetable dyes used in the earlier manufacture.

Mackenzie Ancient Dress Tartan

Mackenzie dress tartan






Scots liked hunting and many of their tartans are dark in overall colours so as not to frighten the game. For some clans having a bright tartan meant that they developed an additional hunting tartan. The Mackenzies have a naturally dark tartan and so have developed only that and the dress shown here.

Scots decided to lighten their darker ordinary tartan colours for their dress occasions. To enable the lighter look the clans added lighter white and gray backgrounds to highlight the white linens, normally worn for dress events. In the examples shown the basic Mackenzie tartan is exclusive of the wide white overstripes. The fine white and red lines are part of the basic tartan.

To make the choice complete one can chose either an ancient or modern tartan. The reader can see the difference between the two latter colour sets. The traditional colours were from vegetable dyes, while modern chemical dyes are used today.

Mackenzie Heraldic Arms and Devices

The Mackenzie stag head is the Clan crest and symbol. It is integrated into most of the Clan Arms and derives from the historical incident recounted above, in which Colin FitzGerald saved King Alexander III from a stag. There are many cadet clans in this family, including both Coul and Scatwell. Cadets were junior and bastard sons of the entitled lord. The Earl of Seaforth incorporated the stag head into his arms as he was then Clan Chief and Baron of Kintail. Although we are more concerned with Coul, Dr Roderick Mackenzie of Calgary claims the Scatwell Baronetcy. Arms are entitled forever and may be used as marks of property. Mackenzie Earls of Seaforth arms are shown in Chapter I and also in more limited form below.

The Right Honourable Kenneth Earle of Seaforth, Lord Mackenzie and Kintail, etc for his achievement bears azur a deer's head cabossed or above the shield ane comitall coronet and over the same on ane helmet befitting his degree with a mantle gules doubled ermine and torse of his collors is set for his crest a mount in flames proper supported by two savages wreathed about the head and middle holding in their hand a batton erected on their shoulder burning at the end and their hair like-ways inflamed all proper the motto in ane escroll above the crest 'Luceo Non Uro'.[15]

Mackenzie Seaforth Arms

The motto is: Virtute et valare luceo non uro. This translates as: By virtue and valour I shine, but do not burn. The description: Azure, a stag’s head cabossed Or


George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh used the same basic stag's head: Azure, a stag’s head cabossed Or within two laurel leaves disposed orle-ways

Mackenzie of Coul Crest


Coul crest


The second seal of King Richard I shows a painted lion crest on his helmet.[16] Crests were meant to be worn on the top of the helmet to indicate the identity of the wearer.

Crests have evolved in Scottish and Irish families to being a family totem; they can therefore be worn by any family member. The Royal crest of England is 'Upon the Royal Helm the Imperial Crown proper, supporting a lion statant guardant or, imperially crowned also proper'. The Scottish Royal crest first appeared with King Robert II in 1370. It has become a lion sejant affronté today. The crest is usually shown with a wreath of twisted silk (standardised in the last century as six twists) which by 1562, was in the colours of the paternal arms.

It is customary to show the wreath as a bar when displaying the crest alone. The wrapped silk bar below serves to tidy the truncated crest and was historically the top of the 'sun shade' which hung over the crusaders neck to protect him from the hot desert sun. Normally the wreath is in the same colours as the mantling and is usually shown as alternating colours. A variety of techniques are used to tidy the severed heads of various animals displayed as crests. A simple cushion of dark material (shown here) may be used as an alternative to a more elablrate draping of hanging folds of notional skin or hide. The latter is usually truncated when the crest is used alone as an emblem, but the choice is strictly artistic.

Scottish clans may wear their chiefs crests, indicative of their tribal families.[17]

Mackenzie of Coul Heraldic Achievement

Coul arms


King James VI of Scotland (I of England) first used the unicorn as a Royal Supporter. (English explorers were then sailing in northern waters and had recently encountered the narwale, bringing the unicorn to mind). Mackenzie of Coul is a Baronet and was entitled by Charles II to supporters (represented by an armed highlander and a stag) as noted earlier. As I have explained elsewhere, his arms are recorded and I have quoted their authorised heraldic description.

Heraldic art is necessarily interpretative and there is no specified form for figures such as the boar's head, the highlander or the stag. The supporters are supposed to actually support the shield and you will notice that the Scottish warrior's 'target' actually touches the Coul shield. The unicorn is in a more traditional pose. Supporters are meant to be displayed ramapant - or standing. Normally there is a piece of something called a compartment, to provide a ground, or base, for the supporters themselves. In the Coul drawing shown here, the motto has been extended to provide that base level.

The helm, or helmet, authorised for use by knights and baronets is steel with an open visor. (None are shown here for Coul, but helms are displayed for both Wilson and Seaforth above.) The crest is normally integrated into the helm. The Chisolm arms are impaled for Coul above. The motto is properly shown beneath the heraldic escutcheon, or shield.

A crest may be used alone as a symbol, but these symbols are expected to be limited to the specified legal owner of the arms. The crest is often formed into the military badges, in the case of a family association with a particular regiment. (An example of a regiment using a family crest is the Seaforth Highlanders, who adopted Mackenzie of Kintail's Stag's head as their own crest.)

Mackenzie of Coul Arms Described


The Coul arms bear both the Mackenzie stag's head and the Chisolm boar's head; these symbols represent the arms of each family. Notice that I have used different figures for both the stag's and boar's heads.

The quartered Chisolm arms were the result of the seventeenth century marriage of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, I Baronet of Coul, to Jean Chisolm, eldest daughter of Alexander Chisolm, of that Ilk. The Mackenzie arms have been displayed and explained elsewhere and the Chisolm arms are shown in a later discussion of heraldic devices. Quartering is a deliberate display of related arms, the implication being that the additional arms are claimed by the descent of the holder. The circumstance arises when maternal heirs die out and those arms are then claimed by the senior survivor. Marriage therefore creates heraldic arms quartering opportunities. Alternately, the arms of the Queen of the United Kingdom are arms of dominion, which join together the arms of the ex-kingdoms now part of her kingdom.

Strict rules apply, both as to what arms may be displayed by way of quarterings, and the order in which they may be displayed. Men and women are always entitled to display the arms of their paternal line but are not usually entitled to display by way of quartering the arms of families from whom there is descent only through a female line (for example, the arms of a mother or grandmother or great-grandmother). An exception is made, however, if the female who breaks the male line of descent is a heraldic heiress. A heraldic heiress is a woman who has no brothers, or whose brothers have died without issue. Such a woman is entitled to transmit her father's arms to her own children, who add them as a quartering. If her father was himself entitled to one or more quarterings, these will pass to his daughters' children as quarterings as well. Quarterings are displayed in the order in which they are acquired by a family by marriage, starting with those acquired by the earliest marriage to bring in quarterings.[18]



2             Dunlop, op. cit. p. inner leaf, colour drawing. Also following figures for illustration.

3             See accompanying figures for illustration. For precise heraldic description, authoritative references like Burke's should be consulted.

4             The description is based on Burke's op. cit, pp, 1702-1704, interpreted using Moncreiffe & Pottinger Simple Heraldry, pp, 16-50.

5             Extracted from the Internet site.

6             See "Tartan",

7             Romanian and 1991 Alpine archaeological discoveries pushed Bronze Age, Celtic ancestry and their use of cross-weave plaid back.

8             Robert Bain's The Clans and Tartans of Scotland, p. 19.

9             See "Tartan", op. cit.

10           Ibid.

11           King James VI cleared the border area of the 'reivers', but 'moss troopers' continued to break the border peace until Culloden (1746).

12           Collins, Clans and Tartans, pp, 5-9. Henderson, op. cit. pp, 112, 128.

13           See below examples and McNie op. cit., for tartan illustration.

14           Robert Bain, op. cit., p. 31.

15           The Register Office of the Lord Lyon, cited by Sir E Mackenzie Mackenzie The History of the Stem of the Family of Mackenzie, Marquesses and Earls of Seaforth, p. 7.

16           HCB Rogers, The Pageant of Heraldry, p. 119.

17           This is from Moncreiffe & Pottinger, Simple Heraldry, pp. 10-14, 62-63.

18           See Quartering (heraldry),

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