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Scottish clans

Last modified: 2002-12-28 by rob raeside
Keywords: scotland | clans |
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In "Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia" by George Way of Plean and Romily Squire (1999) are lists and descriptions of all the Scottish clans and families, giving histories of the clans, clan arms, crests, badges, tartans, and flags. Also, beginning on page 58 it lists and describes the various types of flags that are allowed to be used by all clans. Here are the flag type descriptions:

Flags and banners

National flags: since the Royal Navy introduced flags of a length twice their height it has become common to use British national flags of these proportions. Regimental colours however are in a length to height ratio of 5:4; where national flags are to be flown alongside square heraldic banners, they may also be square.

The Union flag: this is the correct flag flown by citizens and corporate bodies wishing to show their loyalty to the United Kingdom. This should not be flown upside down; the broader white diagonals are upmost in the hoist.

The Saltire: blue with a white diagonal cross, this is the flag of St. Andrew, patron of Scotland. It is the correct flag for Scots or Scottish corporate bodies to demonstrate their loyalty and nationality. It is in order to fly it alone or together with the Union flag.

The banner: This is the personal flag of an armiger which shows the arms, as depicted on the shield, and nothing else. Conventionally, the design is placed on the flag as if the flagstaff were to the left of a drawing of the shield. Thus, a rampant animal is said to 'respect' the staff, an eagle displayed looks towards the staff and so on. The design should go through the fabric so that on the reverse side all the devices will be turned round but will still respect the staff. It is quite wrong to use a banner of a plain colour with the owner's arms on a shield in the middle. This implies that the arms are of that colour with a small inescutcheon in the centre. It is equally wrong to show the helmet, crest, motto or supporters on the banner.

The purpose of a banner is to locate an identify its owner and it is the visual equivalent of his name. Flown over his house, it identifies his property; elsewhere, it indicates his presence. The size of a house banner will depend on the height of the building and the pole. It should be large enough to be identifiable from a reasonable distance. The best shape for a heraldic house flag is square, regardless of its size. A smaller banner may also be carried in processions, either by its owner or by his appointed bearer. Such a banner is usually made of fine fabric, and may be fringed. Its proportions should be those of an upright rectangle about five wide by six deep.

See also:

The pipe banner: when an armiger has appointed a personal piper, he may provide him with a banner to be attached to the base drone of the pipes. The same applies to an armigerous corporation, and where such a body has a pipe band, the pipe major attaches the banner to his pipes. The pipe banner may take various forms but is always shaped with an angle at the top corresponding approximately to the angle of the drone on the piper's shoulder. It then hangs down behind him and may end in a swallow tail, a double rounded end or any other way suited to the arms. The arms themselves are shown in the same manner as on a personal banner but are commonly turned so that they are right way up when the pipes are being played. A certain amount of distortion is allowed to enable the artist to fit the arms into the odd shape.

Pipe banners are also much used in the Highland regiments, where each company commanders' arms are borne on the pipes of the regimental band.

Each regiment has its own tradition for the display of the arms and the regimental badge and these traditions are so well established as to have become acceptable even when they do not conform to the strict rules of heraldry. A pipe banner may have a different design on either side and in this case it needs to be rendered opaque by including a layer of black fabric between the two sides. A fringe may be added to any pipe banner, either plain or of the appropriate tartan.

The trumpet banner: rarely now called for, the trumpet banner consists of an approximately square banner of the arms, usually in very rich materials, fringed and tasseled according to taste and suspended from the trumpet by ribbons or straps. The arms are placed in such a way that the charges are right way up and facing away from the trumpeter when he is playing.

The street banner: where the only available flagstaff is attached to the facade of a building, the usual house flag is sometimes unsuitable. The design is often obscured due to its being at an angle or the flag is partly furled when there is no wind or blown over the staff when the wind eddies round the building. The street banner can be adapted to overcome these difficulties. In shape, the street banner is very like a large pipe banner. The charges upon it however should look outwards away from the buildings. The heaviest fabric which is practical should be employed and stiffeners may be sewn into the hems or fringes attached to the staff. A smaller form of the street banner may also be used for internal decoration, as for example in the great hall of a castle.

The gonfannon: also known as a gonfalon, this is the form of banner often associated with the church where it is used in processions. Its essential feature is that it hangs from a horizontal bar which may in turn be suspended from a carrying staff. Not all church gonfannons are heraldic and many have highly decorated pictorial designs. Heraldic gonfannons are particularly suited to the internal decoration of historic buildings with the arms appropriate to the people and events associated with them. The gonfannon is capable of a variety of interpretations, the simpler the better. A rectangular upright banner of the arms with long tails of the livery colours is recommended.

The livery pennon: the livery pennon is a very simple flag consisting of the tinctures of the field and principal charge in the arms arranged on a long streamer parted horizontally and tapering to a point. Such a pennon has a practical value as a storm flag when, in high winds and rain, an expensive heraldic flag might quickly deteriorate. The livery pennon spaced along an avenue or around a games ground is an economical means of heraldically based decoration.

Special heraldic flags: all flags described so far may be used by any armiger. However, there are flags which are authorized specially by the Lord Lyon and are blazoned in the grant or matriculation of arms. These are the standard, guidon, pinsel and pennon.

The standard: a long, narrow, tapering flag, granted by the Lord Lyon only to those who have a following, such as clan chiefs. As a 'headquarters' flag, its principal use is to mark the gathering point or headquarters of the clan, family or following and does not necessarily denote the presence of the standard's owner as his personal banner does.

The standards of peers and barons have their ends split and rounded; for others the end is unsplit and rounded. At the hoist, the standard usually shows the owners arms, though some are still granted with the former practice of having the national saltire in the hoist. The remainder of the flag is horizontally divided into two tracts of the livery colours for chiefs of clans and families, three tracts for very major branch-chieftains and four for others. Upon this background are usually displayed the owner's crest and heraldic badges, separated by transverse bands bearing the owner's motto or slogan. The whole flag is fringed with alternating pieces of the livery colours.

The length of the standard varies according to the rank of its owner, as follows:
the Sovereign: 8 yards
Dukes: 7 yards
Marquesses: 61/2 yards
Earls: 6 yards
Viscounts: 51/2 yards
Lords: 5 yards
Baronets: 41/2 yards
Knights and barons: 4 yards

On rare occasions, a uniform length of standard for a decorative display may be laid down by the Lord Lyon.

The guidon: a long flag similar in shape to the standard. The guidon is eight feet long and is assigned by the Lord Lyon to non-baronial lairds who have a following. It tapers to a round, unsplit end at the fly and has a background of the livery colours of its owner's arms. The owner's crest or badge is shown in the hoist and his motto or slogan is lettered horizontally in the fly.

The pinsel: a small triangular flag granted by the Lord Lyon only to chiefs or very special chieftain-barons for practical use to denote a person to whom the chief has delegated authority to act in his absence on a particular occasion. The flag is 4 feet 6 inches long by 2 feet high, with a background of the main livery color of the chief's arms. On it is depicted his crest within a strap and buckle bearing the motto and outside the strap and buckle a circlet inscribed with his title. On top of the circlet is set his coronet of rank or baronial chapeau if any. In the fly is shown the plant badge and a scroll with his slogan or motto.

The pennon: strictly, a small guidon, four feet long, which, nowadays, is very rarely assigned. This term, however, is more commonly used to refer to a long triangular flag borne at the end of a lance or spear, or flown from the mast of a ship.

Randy Young, 6 June 2001

Examples of Clan Banners

Clan banners are the arms in flag form and are becoming very popular. Clan chiefs usually have their standard. It is difficult to find many clan banners on the web but here are some photos of them.

N.M., 21 October 2002

These are, of course, more correctly the chiefs' banners, since they are banners of the chiefs' personal arms. Under Scottish armorial law, clans and families don't have arms, individual members do. As N.M. says, the chiefs also have their standards (long tapering flags with their arms, badges, mottoes, etc., on them).

People do use these widely as if they were the flags of the clans themselves, the same way they use the royal lion banner as if it were an alternative flag of Scotland. You see the flags here in the United States at Highland games, Scottish heritage parades, and such. But technically they aren't.

Joe McMillan, 22 October 2002

MacGregor Clan Banner

[MacGregor clan banner] 

Morrison Clan Banner

[Morrison clan banner] 

Munro Clan Banner

[Munro clan banner]