The Heraldry Society
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Scots Heraldry - The Heraldry Society of Scotland

  Special Heraldic Flags

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

The Standard

The standard ia a long, narrow, tapering flag, granted by the Lord Lyon only to those who have a following, such as clan chiefs or chieftain. 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 owner's 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 or 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 6.5 yards, Earls 6 yards, Viscounts 5.5 yards, Lords 5 yards, Baronets 4.5 yards and lastly Knights and Scottish barons 4 yards. (One wonders if these ensigns are likely to come under European weights and measures legislation soon!)

Standard of the Earl of Rothes matriculated in 1977.

The Guidon

This is 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 the 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.

Guidon of Charles J. M. Mckerrell of Hillhouse matriculated in 1985.

The Pennon

Strictly speaking, a small guidon, four feet long, which nowadays is very rarely assigned today. The pennon carries the owner's arms in the hoist and his livery colours dividing the fly which tapers down to a rounded end. This term pennon, 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.

A Pennon designed for Charles J. Burnett Esq. - Ross Herald, but not matriculated.

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 colour of the chiefs 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 Pinsel of Peter Barclay of Towie Barclay, Chief of the Clan Barclay - Matriculated in 1999. (R. Squire)

No material is wrong for a flag, although some are more suitable than others in certain situations. For external use, including naval flags flown at sea, the traditional woollen bunting has largely given way to modem synthetic fibres such as polyesters. Indoors, and for decorative purposes, silk, satin, damasks and brocade may be used, as well as finer spun polyesters. In general, the brightest possible colours give the best effect although luminescent dyes are not recommended. Gold and silver are represented by yellow and white respectively. However, special flags are sometimes decorated with gold thread or paint, as for example, to emphasise a coronet. Except in a few cases such as standards, fringes are regarded in Scotland as mere decoration, to be added or not according to the whim of the owner. If plain, they should be of the same metal as chat which is predominant in the flag. They may also be made of alternate pieces of the principal colour and metal of the flag. Flags are a practical and prominent form of heraldic display and however they are made, it is essential that they are suitable for the purpose intended. In particular, flags to be flown on a flag pole must be light enough to lift in the wind or the effect will be lost.


The Heraldry Society of Scotland   last Update 27 Oct 2021