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Myth Busting: The family coat of arms in England and Scotland.

Somewhere in all my family history files there is a parchment that contains the family coat of arms for and details of notable bearers of the surname Brenton. All designed to encourage the belief that just by bearing a particular surname there is an automatic right to use a coat of arms.

Unfortunately there is no such thing in Scotland or England as a family coat of arms. Arms are the personal property of one person and can only be used by that person. Although the right to bear arms can be inherited. If several members of the same family are entitled to bear arms the individual arms are likely to be similar, but not identical – so no “family coat of arms”.

Within Scotland the legal right to bear arms is overseen by The Court of the Lord Lyon, Edinburgh and is established in law. In 1592 the Lord Lyon was given responsibility to prosecute any use of unauthorised arms and in 1672 the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland was created. That a right to armorial bearings is party of feudal heritage, Mcdonnell v McDonald (1826), still does not give unauthorised use of the arms to any alleged family member as the right to bear inherited arms requires a petition for a Matriculation of Arms. For clansmen and clanswomen in Scotland they may be given permission by the Chief of the Clan to wear his crest as a specifically designed badge; however, this is not a “family coat of arms”.

The College of Arms, London (incorporated 1484) acts under Crown Authority, with its own Court of Chivalry, to issue Letters Patent by which individuals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are granted coats of arms. The right to arms is by the registration of a pedigree in a direct male line descent from an ancestor originally granted the right or having an application, or memorial, for a grant of arms accepted.

Women who bear arms have a set of rules as to what they may display dependant on whether they are unmarried, an heiress and, when married, what their rank is compared with their husbands.

The right to bear a family coat of arms merely through sharing a surname is a myth busted, but the research continues to find a link with ancestors who were granted the individual right to bear arms; as does imagining what I would include in my very own coat of arms.

To learn more about heraldry the following websites are good starting points:

The Court of the Lord Lyon.

The College of Arms.

A wonderful coat of arms - but not mine to bear.

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