Visit to the Court of the Lord Lyon, 17th August 2016


Display at the Court of the Lord Lyon. Credit: Maria Robertson

For the SLLG summer event, the committee invited members to attend a tour of the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh with an opportunity for socialising over a meal after. Joanna has kindly written up a review of what was a very successful and well attended event.

On Wednesday the 17th of August, SLLG members visited the Court of the Lord Lyon, which has responsibility for regulating Scottish heraldry, including maintaining the Scottish Public Register of Arms and Genealogies.

It was a great and rare opportunity to learn about the management of heraldry in Scotland, and as such attracted quite a large crowd of members. We were greeted at the office in New Register House by the most engaging Elizabeth Roads RVO, Lyon Clerk and Snowdoun Herald.

Elizabeth gave us a fascinating and detailed overview of the functions of the Court and of her own working history as Clerk. We were particularly interested to hear that as the first woman appointed to the position, Elizabeth had to have a new tabard designed for her ceremonial appearances. The new ‘get up’ had to be approved personally by the Queen in an audience with Her Majesty, but Elizabeth couldn’t fasten it properly, being heavily pregnant at the time! This prompted a member to ask if a woman could ever occupy the office of Lord Lyon and Elizabeth told us there was no reason why not.

Elizabeth’s talk was illustrated with some stunning examples of Coats of Arms from over the years. Elizabeth explained much of the symbolism of the images, and the process of designing Arms. These may be used by only one living individual in Scotland at a time – there is no such thing as a family coat of arms – though family members’ coats appear very similar but with additional elements included to differentiate themselves such as particular symbols representing the first son, fourth son etc.  For an expert, looking at a coat of arms is like reading another language and they can tell a lot about who the person is from the images.

We were very amused to hear that in past centuries, sometimes the artists would be asked to produce images of exotic animals which they had never seen, with some comic results!

For example, the early Coat of Arms of Lord Colvill was to include a drawing of a rhinoceros, but the artist naturally had never encountered one, so on being told that the creature resembled a “pig in armour”, that’s exactly what he drew!

Pig in armour

Original Coat of Arms of Lord Colvill, featuring the ‘pig in armour’. Credit: Alison Wainwright

Fortunately, it is actually the written description of the Coat of Arms which counts, so modern representations do feature a proper rhinocerous, as shown in an example from what appears to be another branch of the family (below).


The pig is replaced by the intended rhinoceros in a later family Coat of Arms


Afterwards, some of us went on to have a meal in Treacle on Broughton Street.

We were blessed with an evening of hot sun and blue skies, all the better to enjoy meeting up with colleagues, new and familiar, to carefully negotiate the visitor-logged streets with!


Many thanks to Joanna for providing us with a flavour of this fascinating Scottish institution which dates back to the 14th Century. Thanks, too, to Maria who provided images for this blog and tweets of the visit.

The committee would also like to thank Rona for the superb organising of the visit and restaurant booking.

SLLG members are always welcome to arrange a visit for the group (with as much committee support as requested),  suggest a potential tour venue and attend any membership event.


Boar’s head sculpture at Court of Lord Lyon. Credit: Maria Robertson


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