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  West Highland Heraldry - The Meanings

The MacLeans


The Macleans were also users of West Highland Heraldry. But their bloodline was very different from that of the sons of Somerled so it cannot be that which involves this usage. They were of DaIriadic origin, descending from the tribe of Loarn through the splendidly named Old Dougall of Scone and, it would appear, coming back to Argyll from Galloway.

Both Maclean Chiefs early used the device of a tower, shown on a Duart seal of 1534 and, silver on blue, for Lochbuie in Lindsay of the Mount's 1542 Armorial. This was kept as his device by Lochbuie whose arms of 1672 are recorded in Lyon Office where it appears as a quarter along with the Galley, the Lion, the Salmon and Hand holding the Cross.




The tower concerned is surely Lochbuie's castle of Moy. The Seton Armorial of 1591, however, displays different arms for Duart which are still in use today. The first quarter contains a rock, not a castle. I suspect this is the fortress of Cairnburgh in the Treshnish Isles to which the Macleans retired when Duart became untenable. As well as the Hand and Cross, the Galley and the Salmon they have two eagles' heads respectant which I believe may be a depiction of the Hawks which were, as the Exchequer Rolls reveal, supplied to the King on various occasions by the Maclean Chiefs.

The earliest recorded seal of the Chief of Duart is something of a surprise since the actual shield shown has on it the familiar gyronny of eight of the Campbells. Grouped around it are, however, the Tower, the Hand. the two Eagles' Heads and the Galley. The later enmity between the two clans has tended to hide the fact that in earlier days they were in fact good friends. Hector Mor of Duart whose seal this is was a staunch ally of the Campbell Chief and became his father-in-law. This seal is a clear political statement.  If the Macleans were of different blood they were for long followers of the Lords of the Isles and sat on the Council of the Isles. Could this perhaps provide a common link?

Sir Robert Lindsay II
Herald's Roll
Duirinish Cup
Tomb stone
Lyon Office

Although previously listed among those not using this form of heraldry a closer look is interesting.  The earliest Macleod of Macleod seal on record in 1542 displays a stag's head cabossed with a chequy base. This is followed by Sir David Lindsay, yr, in 1582 who shows Macleod with a triple-towered castle, silver on blue. This was confirmed by Lyon in 1726 and is now now quartered with the triple-legged device of the Isle of Man, silver on red.

This is because the Macleods imagined themselves descended from King Olaf of Man (whose device, as we have already noted, would in fact have been the Galley). More recent research has shown that although certainly Norse in origin, the Macleods do not descend from this monarch.  But three 17c examples in fact show the Macleod chiefs using West Highland heraldry; a cup from Duirinish which belonged to Sir Rory Mor and a gourd at Dunvegan display quartered coats where the castle and the stag's head are joined by the lion and the galley. Sir Rory's 1664 tombstone has a Galley on it, accompanied, in chief, by the hand and the castle.


The Macleods of the Lewes have very different arms - a black burning mountain on a gold field. The explanation of this mystery has, I am convinced, been identified by David Sellar, who has pointed out that Macleod of the Lewes obtained most of his lands through marriage with the heiress of the Nicolsons of Portree and probably took her arms as well. Not only were the Nicolsons supposed to hold their lands from the Norse rulers of the Isles for their services as coastwatchers - hence the burning mountain - but the recent imbroglio can be explained in which Nicolson of Scorrybreac was less than happy when it became evident that his arms as accepted by an unobservant predecessor displayed his subordinate status to Lord Carnock who had been granted Arms as Chief of the Name of Nicolson.

Macleod of Cadboll
Macleod of the Lewes
Macleod of Macleod

The Camerons

Also listed among the non-users were the Camerons of Locheil whose gold and red barry coat is a famous one.

This coat appears in the Ragman Roll in 1296, the oath of Allegiance sworn to King Edward I of England by most of the Scots nobility. It is of geographic origin, the name appearing in several places in Scotland, notably in the parish of that name in Fife. Mrs. Beryl Platt has put forward a strong case for the name originating in Cambrun in Flanders where the arms of Oudenarde appear to be the same.

Whether a young man of this house ever came north and married the heiress to the Lochaber group of clans which took Locheil as their chief is problematical. Cam shron or 'Crooked Nose' as a personal nickname seems a more likely source but the Locheil family have long used the arms of the lowland Camerons (Lyon first granted them, it is true, with only two gold bars instead of the present three, in 1795).

But they did have doubts, as a document at Inveraray reveals: there Locheil's seal of 1678 is a quartered one with the barry coat in the third quarter, the first, second and fourth displaying a Galley, a Hand and a Lion Rampant respectively.  And certainly the composition of the Council of the Isles must surely have varied; the Camerons of Locheil would have certainly been contenders for membership.

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The Heraldry Society of Scotland   last Update 27 Oct 2021