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Scots Heraldry - The Heraldry Society of Scotland

  R M Urquhart - Recorder of Scotland's civic heraldry

Roddie Urquhart was the university officer who single-handedly recorded every coat-of-arms of each county, burgh, town and community council in Scotland. In doing this, he wrote to every town clerk and county clerk in 33 counties and 201 burghs, as well as hundreds of letters to council clerks of regions, districts, islands and communities.

His initial magnum opus Scottish Burgh And County Heraldry remains the standard text on Scotland's civic heraldry. But no sooner was it published in 1973 than local government was reorganised two years later, and his entire work had to be rewritten to cover nine regions, 53 district councils, and three island councils.


In 1966, Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth further reorganised local government, thus creating for Urquhart the unexpected task of transforming his two works into a trilogy to cover the heraldry of 32 yet more new councils. Now into his eighties and decidedly frail, he thwarted failing health and triumphantly produced the final work. Not only that, but he included within this all community councils which had used heraldry as a means of creating local identity.

Without his dedication, much of the knowledge behind Scotland's burgh arms might have vanished. The notes he took from officials up and down the land were backed by extensive research, for he took nothing at face value. More than once, he was robustly informed by a town clerk: "We already have our own coat-of-arms"; and each time Urquhart diligently and gently pointed out that such a symbol existed only in the mind, and that nothing appeared in the records.

His lifelong foray into heraldry might never have occurred but for his interest in his personal lineage. Born in Beauly the son of local merchant Colin Urquhart and his wife Helen, daughter of a Perthshire farm manager, he returned frequently in his later life to his native town on genealogical forays, during which he noted that Beauly did not possess arms. This led to examination of those towns which did, and thus the beginning of a quiet passion.

His researches caused him to become a frequent and welcome visitor to the Lord Lyon's office in Edinburgh for more than four decades. Possessed of a famously dry wit, and always with a bon mot to suit the moment, he proved erudite and amusing company. He wore his heraldic learning lightly. ready always to share knowledge equally with beginner or expert.


With Mary Gordon. Lyon Court herald painter, providing the illustrations, Urquhart produced his first work in what proved record time, his book attaining immediate note in the heraldic world. He turned dry minutiae into readable material, noting that throughout Scotland, the lion is the commonest item on a civic shield, and that counties in the north and west favoured ships of various types.

The success of Scottish Burgh And County Heraldry- led to Scottish Civic Heraldry in 1979 and the final volume Scottish Civic Heraldry 2 in 2001. Each book was dedicated to different members of his family. He also produced two non- heraldic books on Scotland's police burghs.

He played a significant background role in gaining arms for the community councils of Beauly and Cromarty, with his practical eye suggesting their use in wider form. Thus these two towns lead the way in Scotland in displaying the arms of the neighbourhood on street signs.


R. M. Urquhart was born 6th December 1917 at Beauly, Invernessshire and died 1st June 2003 at Winchester aged 85.

Gordon Casely ‘Roderick Mackenzie Urquhart OBE MA, Recorder Scotland’s civic heraldry’ The Double Tressure, no 26, 2003, pp 24-6

R M Urquhart -
Scottish Burgh and County Heraldry Heraldry Today, London, 1973
Scottish Civic Heraldry: Regional - Islands - District Heraldry Today, London, 1979
Scottish Civic Heraldry 2 Scottish Library Association, Hamilton, 2001


© The Heraldry Society of Scotland   last Update 27 Oct 2021