Scots Heraldry - The Heraldry
Society of Scotland
Urquhart - Recorder of
Scotland's civic heraldry
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
© The Heraldry Society of
Scotland last Update
27 Oct 2021