New Clan Herald Dons His Tabard by Gordon Casely

This article featured as the August 2005 cover story of The Leopard, the magazine for North East Scotland and is reproduced by kind permission of The Leopard and the author. Their website is well worth a visit and contains many interesting features from the magazine.

What turned out to be Scotland’s heraldic event of the year took place in Glencoe in June when a Macdonald clan herald was installed into office for the first time for 510 years.

In a splendid re-creation of ancient Highland history, Adam Bruce (37), an Edinburgh solicitor and younger son of the Earl of Elgin & Kincardine, was sworn in as Finlaggan Pursuivant in front of a gathering of 100 Macdonald clansfolk and their supporters, headed by Lord Macdonald, high chief of Clan Donald, assisted by three other Macdonald chiefs.

This was a day rightly given over to joyous outpouring by assorted Macdonaldry from around the globe, but the clan was generous enough to admit among its ranks for the day any non-Macdonalds who wanted to be present. Which gave me the privilege of marching as an honorary banner-bearer behind the various chiefs.

The induction was conducted in front of the monument to the 1692 massacre of the Glencoe Macdonalds by Charles Burnett, Ross Herald of Arms, and noted Portsoy resident. Turned out in full heraldic dress – “Gee, he looks like a playing card come to life,” breathed one appreciative North American lady – Charles administered the oath of office to Adam, and Adam in turn promised to “bear fealty and true service to the high chief of clan Donald, and the chiefs and high council of the clan”.

The four chiefs – Lord Macdonald, Ranald Macdonald of Clanranald, Ranald MacDonell of Glengarry, and Sir Ian Macdonald of Sleat – ceremonially anointed the new pursuivant by sprinkling wine on his head, and Scotland’s first new pursuivant for over half a millennium was presented to the assembled clansfolk to joyous shouts of “Largesse!”.

Adam Bruce was presented with a baton of office, and donned a £6,000 gold tabard displaying the arms of Lord Macdonald – a red spread-eagle with a black galley on the breast – and crafted of velvet, silk and damask embroidered in gold and silver, and mounted on cloth-of-gold.

St Andrews advocate and heraldist Mark Dennis had the task of creating ceremonial for the occasion, a task made difficult since no records exist of exactly how a pursuivant may have been appointed. He also designed the splendid new tabard for the occasion.

Adam Bruce’s installation as Finlaggan marks a long-awaited revival of the ancient practice of senior clan chiefs having their own private pursuivants to look after matters of clan heraldry and genealogy. He now joins a select group of private heralds: Slains Pursuivant to the Earl of Errol, Garioch Pursuivant to the Countess of Mar and Endure Pursuivant of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres.

His title stems from Finlaggan, near Port Askaig in Islay, once centre of the realm of the Macdonald Lords of the Isles until they lost power in 1493. Descended from the 12th-century Somerled, the Lords of the Isles ruled Scotland from Kintyre to Lewis, and were effectively independent of the control of the Scottish Crown. The title Lord of the Isles is nowadays borne by Prince Charles.

Throughout 100 years of history, Scotland’s private pursuivants have never met together. This may change next year, with plans that all four parade together along with the six heralds from the Lord Lyon’s office, plus foreign heralds, when the International Heraldic & Genealogical Congress opens in St Andrews in August next year (2006), the first time the congress has met in Scotland since 1964.

There are also hopes that two more long-forgotten pursuivancies may be revived. Criteria for restoration are that there is a medieval precedent for their offices, and that the revival of the office meets with the approval of the Lord Lyon.

Gordon Casely enjoys being involved in the practical 21st-century application of heraldry. He never tires of pointing out that heraldry in Scotland is for us all, rather than the few that some folk seem to imagine.

Picture 1: Macdonalds make history: The August 2005 Cover of The Leopard. Photo: Anthony MacMillan.
Picture 2: Clanranald, Sleat, Ross, Finlaggan and the High Chief. Photo: Finlaggan.

© Copyright The Leopard 2005 and Gordon Casely. May not be reproduced without permission.