If you search for your surname in any of the ubiquitous search engines abounding, invariably towards the top of that search will appear offers to sell you a family ‘Coat of Arms’. It is my contention that such a family coat of arms does not exist in England or Scotland, for legal reasons I will outline. The use or misuse of these devices is governed in England by the Law of Arms[1], and disputes settled in the Court of Chivalry[2] a civil court whose only judge is the Earl Marshall (who if not a lawyer can appoint one in his stead)[3]. In Scotland all matters dealing with granting of and use of arms is by The Court of the Lord Lyon[4]. Hence, from first principles there exists legal process in both countries covering the use of coats of arms, which would indicate a regulated non-trivial process. A point to note also, would be that it is not the depiction of the coat of arms but it’s written description in prescribed manner or blazon, which is important in having a standard for reproduction of the arms[5]. Thus, this should be regarded to be the legal entity rather than a picture, drawing or sculpture.

Now consider, who is entitled to use the coat of Arms? In England the College of Arms is quite clear, for someone to have a right to a coat of arms it must have been granted to them or they must prove descent in the legitimate male line from someone holding that coat of arms in the past by grant or confirmation[6]. By this statement, it is clear that it is an individual who holds the coat of arms by descent or grant. The College of Arms will also point out that many people holding the same surname will be entitled to different coats of arms or no arms at all. By this definition covered by a legal process there is no entitlement to a coat of arms merely by possessing a certain surname or seeming member of a family group[7]. In Scotland, as mentioned above The Court of the Lord Lyon has jurisdiction. This also is quite prescriptive, with its legal basis, that the coat of arms of a clan, or family, in Scotland is a misnomer, the coat of arms belongs to the chief of the clan and is received by descent, eldest son to eldest son, so as in England the coat of arms belongs to an individual not a group[8].

To sum up, the coat of arms in England and Scotland will belong to and individual and passed on as inheritance as the blazon, covered by law in both England and Scotland, not belong to the whole family group even if they share the same surname.


[1] College of Arms. The Law of Arms. https://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/resources/the-law-of-arms : accessed 24 May 2019.

[2] College of Arms. Court of Chivalry. https://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/resources/court-of-chivalry : accessed 24 May 2019.

[3] College of Arms. The Law of Arms. https://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/resources/the-law-of-arms : accessed 24 May 2019.

[4] Court of the Lord Lyon. The Court of the Lord Lyon. https://courtofthelordlyon.scot/ : accessed 24 May 2019.

[5] Heraldry Society. The Emergence of the Heraldic Phrase in the Thirteenth Century. https://www.theheraldrysociety.com/articles/the-emergence-of-the-heraldic-phrase-in-the-thirteenth-century/ : accessed 24 May 2019.

[6] College of Arms. FAQs: heraldry.  https://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/resources/faqs : accessed 26 May 2019.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Court of the Lord Lyon. Frequently asked Questions. https://courtofthelordlyon.scot/faqs.htm : accessed 26 May 2019. 

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