Clan Recognition & The
In order for a Clan to have a chief of
the name officially recognised by
The Court of the Lord Lyon,
Scotland there are certain criteria that needs to be undertaken. This
Article is open for discussion on the
Find a person with a proven genealogical paper chase back to the
original Chief of the clan (if there was one), a near impossible
Create a derbhfine, which would be the most likely scenario. A
Derbhfine is a meeting of 9 or more Scottish armigers (a person who
has a Grant of a Coat of Arms (Scotland) or a persons who has
significant Land ownership in Scotland. They would in the first
instance elect a Commander of the Clan. This Commander after a
period of time would then be considered by the Lord Lyon to be Chief
of the Clan. See Lyon Court Guidelines for the holding of a
derbhfine meeting further down this article.
History and The Court of the Lord Lyon
Court of the Lord Lyon is the heraldic authority for Scotland. It
deals with all matters relating to Scottish Heraldry and Coats of Arms
and maintains the Scottish Public Registers of Arms and Genealogies.
The Lord Lyon King of Arms is also responsible for State Ceremonial in
office of Lyon King of Arms dates from the 14th century. The earliest
official record is of the appointment of a Lyon by King Robert the
Bruce in 1318, but the office may be older. The position incorporates
the ancient Celtic office of High Sennachie who was responsible for
verifying the genealogy of the King of Scotland and for crowning the
King at his coronation.
Lord Lyon is the sole King of Arms in Scotland. He is Head of the
Heraldic Executive and the Judge of the Court of the Lord Lyon which
has jurisdiction over all heraldic business in Scotland. He is
assisted by Her Majesty's Officers of Arms, all of whom are members of
the Royal Household. There are three senior Officers of Arms (Albany
Herald, Rothesay Herald and Ross Herald) and three junior Officers of
Arms (Unicorn Pursuivant, Carrick Pursuivant and Bute Pursuivant).
Officers of Arms may be consulted on matters of heraldry and genealogy
by members of the public and may represent their clients before the
Lyon Court. The Officers of Arms also take part in ceremonial
Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1592 gave the Lord Lyon
responsibility for prosecuting as a criminal offence anyone who uses
unauthorised Arms. The Court has its own Procurator Fiscal, an
independent official prosecutor.
1672 a further Act of the Scottish Parliament authorised the creation
of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. This
Register is maintained by the Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records and
contains an official copy of every Coat of Arms granted in Scotland
What is a clan? - From the Court of the Lord Lyon,
clan system is closely bound up with Scottish heraldry. The best
definition of a clan provided by a heraldic authority is contained in
Nisbet's "System of Heraldry", published in 1722: ‘A social group
consisting of an aggregate of distinct erected families actually
descended, or accepting themselves as descendants of a common
ancestor, and which has been received by the Sovereign through its
Supreme Officer of Honour, the Lord Lyon, as an honourable community
whereof all of the members on establishing right to, or receiving
fresh grants of, personal hereditary nobility will be awarded arms as
determinate or indeterminate cadets both as may be of the chief family
of the clan.’
clan is therefore a community which is both distinguished by heraldry
and recognised by the Sovereign. At the head of this honourable
community is the chief. He is the only person entitled to display the
undifferenced shield of Arms, ie without any marks of dependency upon
any other noble house.
Chiefship is a title of honour and dignity within the nobility of
Scotland. Any claimant to such a title must establish, to the
satisfaction of the Lord Lyon representing the Sovereign, that he or
she is entitled to the undifferenced arms of the community over which
they seek to preside. It is the determining of chiefship which is
among the Lyon Court's central work.
of the cases which have come before the Lyon Court in the last 50
years have related to the chiefships of clans. There are now about 140
clans that have chiefs recognised by the Lord Lyon.
clan or family. which has a recognised chief or head confers noble
status on the clan or family which gives it a legally recognised
status and a corporate identity. A family or name group which has no
recognised chief has no official position under the law of Scotland.
Lyon Court Guidelines for the holding of a derbhfine
are generally five circumstances in which a meeting of the derbhfine
might take place.
Where the appointment of a Clan Commander is sought.
(2) Where a blood link to a past Chief is very likely but is not
conclusively proved and it is wished to propose a particular person
to be confirmed as Chief.
(3) Where the main line of descent from a past Chief has died out
and it is wished to confirm the Representer of another line as
(4) Where no identifiable descendant from the last known Chief can
be found and it is wished to propose a particular person to be
confirmed as Chief
(5) Where a "clan" which has never had a Chief seeks the appointment
of a "Chief'.
Various factors need to be considered in relation to each of these. In
the case of (1) the genealogy of the applicant is not particularly
relevant. What is important is that the applicant has the support of
the case of (2) and (3) it is more likely that there will not be a
derbhfine but that Lyon will be asked to confirm the applicant as
Chief for aught yet seen, but the clan may wish the derbhfine to meet.
It is important that there should be no known likelihood of a
the cases of (2), (3) and (4) it is important that there should be
general support from the members of the clan and also that sufficient
time has been allowed for any competing claims to emerge and to be
the case of (5) there is also the question of whether the group should
be accorded the status of a clan.
factors have applied in the past. Firstly there has been a rule of
thumb that a 20 year period should elapse between the appointment of a
Commander and the meeting of the derbhfine to consider a proposal for
a Chief. Secondly the traditional function of a meeting of the
derbhfine is a forum to discuss what to do rather than to consider a
specific proposal. Both of these factors require further
20 year period between the appointment of a Commander and a proposal
for Chief has not always been applied in the past but has been
frequently referred to in discussions with applicants. Many existing
Commanders understand it to apply to them. Twenty years seems a very
long time in an age of rapid communication. Five years is probably too
short to allow a Commander to establish himself, get an organisation
going, make himself known to clan members worldwide and allow clan
members to judge whether the Commander is the right person for the
job. But 10 years should be sufficient time for all this to happen.
Twenty years seems unreasonably long.
will be important, if an application is made for a Commander to be
considered for Chief, to know what activities the Commander has
undertaken since his appointment and whether there is any
dissatisfaction with him as well as whether any alternative candidate
may have emerged. In judging whether the members of the clan are
satisfied it will be important to bear in mind that in a number of
cases the Commander may have pushed himself forward and may have
discouraged other candidates from coming forward as alternatives.
traditional role of a meeting of the derbhfine as a forum for general
discussion is probably now out of date. At a time when most clan
members would have been in Scotland, would have known a large
proportion of their kinsmen and would have found it relatively easy to
meet together, it made sense to consider calling the principal men in
a clan together for a general discussion. But now that clan members
are scattered all over the world, exist often in substantial numbers
and know only relatively few of their kinsmen, it is difficult for
members of the derbhfine to be confident that they know the wishes of
the clan members in general. It is also unreasonable to expect people
to travel from distant parts of the world to a clan meeting without
their being given a clear idea of why they are being asked to attend
and it is desirable for those who are unable to attend to be able to
make their views known. It therefore seems sensible for the role of a
meeting of the derbhfine to change to one which has a specific clear
purpose and also for a means to be provided for those unable to attend
to make known their views.
Procedure to be followed
In future there will normally be a minimum period of 10 years between
the appointment of a
Commander and an application for a person to be considered for Chief.
A Commander will normally be appointed for a 5 year period and
re-appointment for a further 5 years will be considered by Lyon
without any further derbhfine being required. Where a 20 year period
has been either set down or advised in the past, this will no longer
The following rules must be observed in the conduct of any meeting of
the derbhfine. These are designed to ensure that members of a clan
generally are aware of what is proposed and have an opportunity to
make their views known.
One of HM Officers of Arms, or a person approved by Lyon, must be
appointed to supervise the meeting of the derbhfine. This must be
arranged before any notice under (iv) below. The fee charged by the
supervising officer will be a matter for the clan.
(ii) The supervising officer's role is to act as an impartial
Chairman and to make an objective report to Lyon.
(iii) The members of the derbhfine will be as provided for in Lyon's
1992 Rules a copy of which is annexed. However these new Rules will
also provide a means whereby non-armigerous and non-landed clan
members can express their views. The supervising officer and the
derbhfine will be made aware of these views but the derbhfine will
not be bound by them.
(iv) Notice of any meeting of the derbhfine, in a form approved by
the supervising officer, must be given not less than 6 months prior
to the date set for the meeting, in all clan and clan association
journals or newsletters and on any clan or clan association website.
The notice must state the date and place of the meeting and the
purpose for which it is to be held including the name(s) of any
candidate(s) to be proposed for appointment. it must give the name
and address of the supervising officer to whom further enquiries are
to be directed.
(vi) A further notice must be given not less than 6 weeks prior to
the meeting by public advertisement in a national newspaper
circulating in Scotland and the same notice must also be posted on
the clan and clan association websites.
(vii) The notices referred to in (vi) must give details of the
arrangements for views to be submitted by non-armigerous and
non-landed clan members. The supervising officer will require to
decide how this is to be done but it should probably involve a paper
containing the name, address and signature of the sender being sent
to the supervising officer. It is recognised that the collection of
views of clan members is not an exact science. It is not the
intention that the supervising officer should have to decide whether
a person who submits a view is or is not a member of the clan. The
purpose of this mechanism is to provide a means for the rank and
file to express their views. The derbhfine and Lyon will have to
decide what weight to give to them.
(viii) At the meeting of the derbhfine the supervising officer will,
prior to any decision being taken, inform the members of the
derbhfine of the -result of any views by non-armigerous and
non-landed members which have been submitted under (vii) above.
(ix) Non-members of the derbhfine may attend and speak but will
leave the meeting before any decisions are taken and members of the
derbhfine itself will be the only people to take part in any
decision of the derbhfine.
The report submitted to Lyon by the supervising officer will include
details of the various steps taken under the above procedure and in
particular, in addition to the decision and views of the derbhfine,
will refer to (and if need be comment on) the views of the
non-members of the derbhfine as expressed under (vii). The report
will be confidential to Lyon and should contain such information as
the supervising officer regards as being of importance to Lyon in
reaching a decision.
AD HOC DERBHFINE
from 1st May 1992 where a Chiefship or Commandership is to be
determined by means of an ad hoc derbhfine it will be necessary for
any candidate selected and recommended to the Lord Lyon King of Arms
to have been domiciled and habitually resident in Scotland for a
period of three years before such recommendation and submission and
he, or she, must be so domiciled or resident at the time
recommendation and submission is made.
avoid any possibility of last minute picking of an ad hoc derbhfine I
have decided that before any person can take part in a derbhfine a
Warrant authorising the preparation of Letters Patent of Arms, or an
Interlocutor authorising Matriculation of Arms, must have been signed
in favour of such a person at least a year and a day before they take
part in the derbhfine.
should be borne in mind that membership of the derbhfine shall consist
of those who are in right of a Scottish Coat of Arms (matriculated
within the last three generations to cover the holding of the Armorial
Bearings on apparency), or owning at least a small holding of land
outwith a Burgh but which is not a mere building plot. The owner of
the Armorial Bearings, or of the land, will not require to be
domiciled/resident in Scotland.
is emphasised that the Armorial Bearings must be Scottish and that
those with a Scottish surname, but with Arms granted by the English
Kings of Arms, or by the Heraldic Authority of any other State, will
not be acceptable.
With regard to those with compound surnames, it is the last name of
the compound surname that will determine the Family or Clan to which
the owner of the compound surname belongs (see Findings in Fact (14)
and (15) and Findings in Law (2) and (3) in the Petition of Sir Hugh
Vere Huntly Duff Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Baronet, 1965 - Scots Law Times -
Lyon Court Reports p.3).
Eldest sons of armigers who have a right to the Arms differenced by a
label of three points may not vote. The position is frequently found
where a tutor or guardian has matriculated Arms for a younger
pupil/minor child and in such circumstances such tutor or guardian
will not be in a position to record a vote on behalf of their child.
Keeping in mind the terms and provisions of 'The Age of legal Capacity
(Scotland) Act 1991' the vote of an armigerous child will be
receivable on that child attaining 16 years of age. If Armorial
Bearings have been matriculated for such a child for a period of a
year and a day before the sixteenth birthday that child will be in a
position to vote on attaining the age of 16 years.
Lyon will only receive a nomination following a derbhfine provided
that derbhfine has been supervised by an Officer of Arms or by another
person approved by Lyon who will submit to Lyon a Report on the
conduct of the proceedings.
Where a person has been appointed a Commander for a period of time
following a recommendation from an ad hoc derbhfine such a person may
be re-selected under the old regulations. It would seem unreasonable
for such people to have to seek re-submission under the new rules.