The Heraldry Society
of Scotland
4 Dryden Place
Scotland, UK.




Scots Heraldry -The Heraldry Society of Scotland

  An Heraldic Hierarchy by John and Eilean Malden

WALTER fitz (son of) Alan, and grandson of Flaad (Fleance) of Doi in Brittany, came to Scotland around 1140. He was a nephew of the Count of Hesden who bore Azure three scallops Or. He was created Hereditary Steward by David I and was granted large tracts of land in Renfrewshire, together with a toft and 20 acres in each Burgh in Scotland; these were confirmed to him in 1161. He chose what is now the town of Renfrew as the site for his base; there he and his descendants built the Castle of Renfrew, with its drawbridge and rock cut moat. His family became powerful landowners and officers of State; about 1315 Marjorie, only daughter of King Robert the Bruce, married Walter Stewart and bore the descendant of Walter Fitzalan who would be crowned as Robert II.

The basic Stewart arms, Or, a fess chequy Azure and Argent, seem to originate from Flanders, using the blue and gold of Vermandois. Is it co-incidence that eleven of the ancient families in Renfrewshire have arms incorporating the fess chequy and a further four incorporate a chevron chequy? Do the additional charges on the other arms perhaps refer to positions held within the Steward's household? And what about colour variations, as with the Lindsays' Gules, a fess chequy Argent and Azure between three mullets Argent?

These 'Stewart' coats stand in sharp contrast to the other early coats showing the Flemish infuence throughout the county which is clearly shown by the use of stark black and white of Alost; the coats of Erskine, Argent, a pale Sable; Maxwell, Argent, a saltire Sable; Cunningham, Argent, a shakefork Sable, and Danielston, Argent, a bend Sable. Ironically, the Flemings of Barochan, near Bishopton, chose to bear Or, a fess chequy Azure and Argent, overall a bend Azure.


From Renfrew, travelling west, lie the lands of Fulbar (near Inchinnan), Bargarran, Erskine, Barrochan and Finlayston. The Halls of Fulbar bear Azure, a fess chequy Argent and Gules between three herons' heads erased Argent their lands abutted on to the Rivers Cart and Gryffe, close to where they meet and enter the River Clyde, where there would have been extensive wildfowling, as it would have been a favourite area for migrating birds of all descriptions.

About one mile further west, the Shaws of Bargarran bore Azure, a fess chequy Argent and Gules between three covered cups Or the charge normally signifying a cup bearer. The family is said to be descended from the Shaws of Sauchie, whose coat was plain Azure, three covered cups Or


As might be expected, branches of the Stewart family bear the basic coat with suitable difference. Thus Stewart of Barscube, near Barrochan, bears Or, a fess chequy Azure and Argent between three buckles Gules, whilst Stewart of Blackhall, descended from an illegitimate son of Robert III, bears Or, a fess chequy Azure and Argent, overall a lion rampant Gules.

The Spreulls of Cowdon, who occupied lands which controlled the road south to Ayrshire, bear Or, a fess chequy Azure and Argent between three bags Gules. Bags are normally associated with Saint Matthew, the tax-gatherer, and are often used to denote a treasurer. Were they perhaps guardians and toll-gatherers?


The family of Park, which seems to have originated in the Inchinnan and Bishopton area, near Bargarran and Fulbar, bears Or, a fess Chequy Azure and Argent between three stags' heads couped Gules. Their name 'park' implies a manmade hunting enclosure into which game could go, but from which it could not escape. Did the family then take their name from their employment as guardians of the Steward's game? The Forest of Paisley, a large tract of wild land to the south west of Paisley, was used by the Stewards as a private hunting preserve, using as a base their 'hunting lodge' at Blackhall, perhaps dating back as early as the 1140's. Stringent rules were enforced relating to to hunting within this area. Such a hunting preserve would require a Keeper, and who better than the Park family.

The Semples of Elliston were appointed Hereditary Sheriffs of Renfrewshire and Hereditary Baillies of Paisley, and later created Lords Semple. Their lands of Castle Semple and Elliston guarded another land route south. The family bore Argent, a chevron chequy Gules and Argent between three hunting horns Sable stringed Gules. The Semples steadily grew in power to become the Steward's hereditary Baillies of Renfrewshire and their extensive land holdings were around Lochwinnoch, where the High Steward had jealously preserved fishing rights - to the extent that Paisley Abbey could only take fish from that Loch when the High Steward himself was fishing. The Semples were a tenacious family, and the only piece of 16th century heraldry in the town of Paisley is a stone showing the Semple arms, dated 1580, with initials A S for Andrew Semple who married in 1565 Margaret Stirling of Craigbarnet. This stone was placed in the gable of the Semple town house in the High Street. When this building was demolished in 1864 the stone was placed in the newly-built replacement. When that, in its turn, was demolished in the 1880s the stone was placed once again in the replacement building, where it remains, at a very high level, to this day. Hunting continued on the estate of Castle Semple until the early twentieth century.

The Houstons of Houston, south of Finlayston, used two coats: Or, a fess chequy Sable and Argent between three martlets Sable and Or, a chevron chequy Sable and Argent between three martlets Sable. As well as being a traditional mark of cadency for the fourth son, martlets have a religious significance in connection with Thomas Becket, a friend of Malcolm IV, who was martyred in 1170 and canonised almost immediately thereafter. A cult rapidly grew around him and his tomb in Canterbury became one of the main pilgrimage sites in Europe. It may be coincidence, but within Renfrew parish church, the first home church of the Stewards, there was an altar to Thomas Becket.

A potential hierarchy is perhaps more clearly suggested by those arms incorporating a chevron chequy, such as the Semples mentioned above. The Brisbanes of Bishopton, west of Erskine and Bargarran, bore Sable, a chevron chequy Or and Gules between three cushions Or usually the sign of a steward or almoner.

The Ross family, who were appointed Hereditary Constables of Renfrew Castle in the 1400's, and who held the lands of Hawkhead near Paisley as their main seat, and King's Inch in Renfrew as one of their lesser seats, bore Or, a chevron chequy Sable and Argent between three water bougets Sable, the water bougets being an ancient charge for those of the name of Ross or Roos. Their lands of Hawkhead straddled the River Cart above Paisley.

One crucial coat of arms that seems to follow the habit of imitating those of the Stewarts, but whose origins still remain uncertain, eventually came to be used by the Burgh of Paisley. Within Paisley Abbey is a monument known as the 'tomb of Marjorie Bruce'. We will omit the arguments which prove that it is not a tomb and has nothing to do with Marjorie Bruce. The west end of it shows three coats of arms. The northern coat is suspended from a crozier, denoting that the owner was an abbot or archbishop. The coat has been later blazoned as Or, a fess chequy Azure and Argent between three roses Gules, though there is no evidence for this blazon on the original. The supposition must be that this coat refers to an Abbot. Between the years 1472 and 1525 the uncle and nephew abbacies of George and Robert Shaw left several examples of their heraldry, Azure, three covered cups Or. We are therefore left with the arms of a major figure in the completion of the building of the Abbey, Thomas de Tervas, Abbot from 1445 to 1459, or his predecessor Thomas Morrow.

The next surviving representation of the arms appears in 1586 on the re-dedication stone of Paisley Grammar School.

The link of an educational establishment with the Monastery would be normal and what more natural than use the arms of the Abbot who might have formalised or even founded the institution?

The arms next appear in 1620 on the Silver Bells horse race prize, along with the initials, as used on the Grammar School stone, of 0 P, for Oppidum Pasleti - the Town of Paisley. The arms next appear on the dedication stone for the Meal Market, built in 1635. When they appear on 18th century burgess tickets, the arms are in colour for the first time.

Interestingly, the arms are not used on the Burgh seal at any time, but were incorporated into the Burgh arms matriculated in 1912.  When so many families were determined to boast their links with the Stewards, why does this one coat still remain shrouded in mystery?

This article has been written to encourage debate and comment rather than to make specific statements about the relationship of all these similar coats of arms to those of the feudal Lord. The use of different charges to represent differing professions and occupations is not a clear or exact science and it would be interesting to know of any other major landowners in other parts of Scotland where a preponderance of the coats of arms of the ancient families are based on the superior coat.

The Double Tressure. No.16, 1994.


The Heraldry Society of Scotland   last Update 27 Oct 2021