- Scotland’s Historic Heraldry
The study of Scottish heraldry is, at present, undergoing something of a revival. Scholars in the United Kingdom and further afield are turning to Scotland’s rich heraldic heritage as a source for understanding her past. Not since the previous revival of the 1970s (notable especially for the foundation of the Heraldry Society of Scotland) has there been such a keen interest in Scots heraldry. This resurgence is evident on a number of levels, from the National Museum’s interactive exhibit on the subject to the 27th International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences held at the University of St Andrews in 2006. Scotland’s Historic Heraldry by Bruce McAndrew is the first original research to be published on this subject for many years, as the revival of interest in the 1970s was largely confined to the revision and publication of much older, more traditional works. Moreover, the work pursued in this area has been, on the whole, scientific rather than historical, concerned with the accurate description of coats of arms of Scottish noble families and the documenting of the associated genealogical information. As such, works on heraldry tend more often than not to be compendia of, albeit useful, information rather than exercises in historical analysis. This is unfortunate and means that heraldry tout court is often dismissed by historians as little more than an antiquarian hobby resulting in work which is regarded as methodologically unsound, poorly researched and archaic. Indeed, the lack of professional historians writing on this subject has further contributed to the impression that a somewhat ‘anoraky’ image envelopes the study of heraldry.
McAndrew’s book offers a ‘radically different approach’ (p. 4) and attempts to cross the bridge between the science of heraldry and its historical context and relevance. Here, in a beautifully presented volume, is a discussion of the significant families of Scotland and their heraldry from the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries, ‘combining the three themes of heraldry, history and genealogy together in a broadly chronological fashion’ (p. 4). Chapter by chapter McAndrew takes us through the significant moments of Scotland’s history and discusses the heraldry associated with leading figures in events such as the Great Cause and the Declaration of Arbroath. He also considers the range of domestic and foreign armorial rolls which contain Scottish arms. Some of these, such as Sir David Lindsay of the Mount’s Armorial, are well known and much has been written about them. Others, however, such as the Scots Roll of the mid-fifteenth century, have previously only been known to a small group working in the field and the Heraldry Society of Scotland, whose in-house publisher produces small booklets of Scottish rolls. In the majority of chapters of Scotland’s Historic Heraldry the author explains relevant genealogical information and places this in historical context. McAndrew also includes chapters on reading and understanding heraldry and on more complex ideas like the marshalling of arms and Scottish ordinaries, all of which are clear [End Page 151] and easy to comprehend. Perhaps the most significant contribution is the suite of chapters looking at the heraldry of the lairds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the Borders, the central belt, Tayside and Grampian, and the Highlands and Islands. Here the author identifies trends in regional iconography, which seem to be directly related to proximity to Edinburgh and Stirling. There is a wealth of useful information included in the book: a glossary of heraldic terms and dozens of genealogical tables with accompanying, full-colour arms interspersed throughout the text. What is missing is any kind of bibliography, which would have been a useful research tool for those interested in the themes pursued in the book.
Yet whilst this book is impressive for its collation of complex research, it does fall short of achieving a true reinterpretation of the study of Scottish heraldry. What we have here is up-to-date research which should certainly replace the older, hallowed volumes which are still the first port of call for those interested in the...