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Scottish Clan Insignia

Last modified: 2015-08-23 by rob raeside
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About Clan Insignia

While calling the images below the standards of the clans is a convenient shorthand, they are really one of several types of personal insignia of the chief. The leaflet published by Lyon Court says they are granted only to those who have "followings," including chiefs of clans. While the chief's banner (i.e., his arms in rectangular cloth form) indicates his personal presence, his standard marks the location of his headquarters or the clan's gathering point. So the mere fact that someone's name is Fraser does not mean he or she is entitled under Scottish law to fly the Fraser standard, any more than to display the chief's arms or banner.
Joe McMillan, 17 March 2004

From what I understood in the leaflet, the images below (e.g. Clan Fraser) seems to be rather a guidon (rounded end) instead of a standard. And it seems to be a "role" flag, assigned to a clan chief as someone who has a following and a headquarters.
Dirk Schoenberger, 17 March 2004

Dirk is correct, the illustration should have a double-rounded end to be the standard of a peer, as I suspect Lady Saltoun is. Joseph points out an error on the Fraser website, the Standard CAN be used without the personal presence of the Chief, it is a headquarters flag. The BANNER can only be used in the personal presence of the Chief. The design system for Standards is more of a guidance than hard and fast rules. There are variations, but the length is set in stone (it's even by metricated!) A Guidon is granted to someone below the rank of Chief who still has a following, or holds a lieutenancy in a Clan, for example The MacDonald of Castle Camus who is Lieutenant of Sleat in Clan MacDonald. The Pinsel is a more general flag yet, often for a lieutenant who does not have a title (in Scotland you can be a noble, have a title and yet not be a peer of the realm), but also used more widely. For example The Macneill of Barra flies his pinsel on Kismull Castle when he is not in residence.
Graham Bartram, 17 March 2004

All standards have rounded flies; they are split if the owner is of the rank of lord (lowest grade of the Scottish peerage, like the chief of Clan Fraser) or baron (holder of a Scottish feudal barony) or above, but unsplit otherwise. As noted in the leaflet, "The standards of non-baronial chiefs, or others who for special reasons  get standards, have round unsplit ends." There are many chiefs of clans (The Macmillan of Macmillan and Knap, for example) who are neither peers nor barons. (Before someone corrects me here, we're talking Scotland, not England. In Scotland, the lowest rank of the peerage is "Lord (or Lady) of Parliament." It is the equivalent of a baron in England or on the Continent. A Scottish baron is something else and of lower rank.)
Joe McMillan, 17 March 2004

The standards are so complicated that verbal descriptions don't work very well, but the usual composition of these things is:

  • Hoist rectangle of the arms or the cross of St. Andrew (for Scottish banners) or St. George (for English ones). This accounts for a quarter of the fly, give or take.
  • The remainder of the fly is divided horizontally into the livery colors, which are usually but not necessarily the same as the tinctures of the arms. This horizontally divided section is crossed by bands inscribed with the motto or war cry of the clan; in between those bands are the crest(s) and badges and other emblems of the owner of the standard--or, in the case of a clan chief, of the clan. (But see several examples, including Fraser, in which the fly is not divided horizontally).

Joe McMillan, 17 March 2004

I think it is quite common in Scotland for the standard to show the owner's arms rather than the saltire. Most of those I've seen follow this pattern.
Graham Bartram, 21 March 2004

I read somewhere recently that the system of putting the St. Andrew's cross in the hoist (or St. George's cross in England) generally pre-dates 1900 and that standards designed since then have normally had the owner's arms in the hoist. But, as with all matters heraldic, I'm sure there are exceptions.
Joe McMillan, 22 March 2004

In Scotland it is normal for a lieutenant to use his Chief's banner if he is representing him (this is why Scottish Lord Lieutenants fly the Scottish Royal Standard). The lieutenant can also use his chief's pinsel, a triangular flag which uses one of the livery colours as a background, has the clansman's badge in the hoist (the chief's crest surrounded by a belt (not a garter) on which is written the clan motto or slogan. The belt is itself surrounded by a band bearing the Chief's name or title and ensigned with the chief's coronet of rank (or a cap of maintenance for a feudal baron). In the fly is the plant badge of the clan over which is a ribbon (of the other livery colour) bearing the motto again. If a chief has a permanent lieutenant he can be granted his own guidon, a special short standard (2.4m long).

The chief himself has a banner (his arms on a square-ish flag) and a standard (a long tapering flag, 4.5m long for a baron). The standard normally has the chief's arms on the square nearest the host and narrows to a double rounded end. The rest of the standard usually shows the crest (the flaming mountain for Grant), the motto ("Stand Fast" for Grant) and the plant badge (a sprig of Scots Pine for Grant). It would have a fringe of the two livery colours (red and gold for Grant). The standard would normally be flown from his headquarters at the gathering, even if he is not personally present, whilst the banner would accompany his presence.
Graham Bartram, 11 October 2007

Definitions of Clan Insignia components

From "Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia":

THE BANNER: this is the personal flag of an armiger which shows the arms, as depicted on the shield, and nothing else. Conventionally, the design is placed on the flag as if the flagstaff were to the left of a drawing of the shield. Thus, a rampant animal is said to 'respect' the staff, an eagle displayed looks towards the staff and so on. The design should go through the fabric so that on the reverse side all the devices will be turned round but will still respect the staff. It is quite wrong to use a banner of a plain colour with the owner's arms on a shield in the middle. This implies that the arms are of that colour with a small inescutcheon in the centre. It is equally wrong to show the helmet, crest, motto and supporters on the banner. The purpose of a banner is to locate and identify its owner and it is the visual equivalent of his name. Flown over his house, it identifies his property; elsewhere, it indicates his presence. The size of a house banner will depend on the height of the building and the pole. It should be large enough to be identifiable from a reasonable distance. The best shape for a heraldic house flag is square, regardless of its size. A smaller banner may also be carried in processions, either by its owner or by his appointed bearer. Such a banner is usually made in fine fabric and may be fringed. Its proportions should be those of an upright rectangle about five wide by six deep.

THE PIPE BANNER: where an armiger has appointed a personal piper, he may provide him with a banner to be attached to the base drone of the pipes. The same applies to an armigerous corporation, and where such a body has a pipe band, the pipe major attaches the banner to his pipes. The pipe banner may take various forms but is always shaped with an angle at the top corresponding approximately to the angle of the drone on the piper's shoulder. It then hangs down behind him and may end in a swallow tail, a double rounded end or any other way suited to the arms. The arms themselves are shown in the same manner as on a personal banner but are commonly turned so that they are right way up when the pipes are being played. A certain amount of distortion is allowed to enable the artist to fit the arms into the odd shape. Pipe banners are also much used in the Highland regiments, where each company commanders' arms are borne on the pipes of the regimental band. Each regiment has its own tradition for the display of the arms and the regimental badge and these traditions are so well established as to  have become acceptable even when they do not conform to the strict rules of heraldry. A pipe banner may have a different design on either side and in this case it needs to be rendered opaque by including a layer of black fabric between the two sides. A fringe may be added to any pipe banner, either plain or of the appropriate tartan.

THE TRUMPET BANNER: rarely now called for, the trumpet banner consists of an approximately square banner of the arms, usually in very rich materials, fringed and tasselled according to taste and suspended from the trumpet by ribbons or straps. The arms are placed in such a way that the charges are right way up and facing away from the trumpeter when he is playing.

THE STREET BANNER: where the only available flagstaff is attached to the facade of a building, the usual house flag is sometimes unsuitable. The design is often obscured due to its being at an angle or the flag is partly furled when there is no wind or blown over the staff when the wind eddies round the building. The street banner can be adapted to overcome these difficulties. In shape, the street banner is very like a large pipe banner. The charges upon it however should look outwards away from the buildings. The heaviest fabric which is practical should be employed and stiffeners may be sewn into the hems or fringes attached to the staff. A smaller form of the street banner may also be used for internal decoration, as for example in the great hall of a castle.

THE GONFANNON: also known as a gonfalon, this is the form of banner often associated with the church where it is used in processions. Its essential feature is that it hangs from a horizontal bar which may in turn be suspended from a carrying staff. Not all church gonfannons are heraldic and may have highly decorated pictorial designs. Heraldic gonfannons are particularly suited to the internal decoration of historic buildings with arms appropriate to the people and events associated with them. The gonfannon is capable of a variety of interpretations, the simpler the better. A rectangular upright banner of the arms with long tails of the livery colours is recommended.

THE LIVERY PENNON: the livery pennon is a very simple flag consisting of the tinctures of the field and the principle charge in the arms arranged on a long streamer parted horizontally and tapering to a point. Such a pennon has a practical value as a storm flag when, in high winds and rain, an expensive heraldic flag might quickly deteriorate. The livery pennon spaced along an avenue or around a games ground in an economical means of heraldically based decoration.

SPECIAL HERALDIC FLAGS: all flags described so far may be used by any armiger. However, there are flags which are authorised specially by the Lord Lyon and are blazoned in the grant or matriculation of arms. These are the standard, guidon, pinsel and pennon, all of which are fully described in the glossary.

STANDARD (p. 490): a long, narrow, tapering flag, granted by the Lord Lyon only to those who have a following, such as clan chiefs. As a 'headquarters' flag, its principle use is to mark the gathering point or headquarters of the clan, family or following and does not necessarily denote the presence of the standard's owner as his personal banner does. The standards of peers and barons have their ends split and rounded; for others the end is unsplit and rounded. At the hoist, the standard usually shows the owner's arms, though some are still granted with the former practice of having the national saltire in the hoist. The remainder of the flag is horizontally divided into two tracts of the livery colours for chiefs of clans or families, three tracts for very major branch-chieftains and four for others. Upon this background are usually displayed the owner's crest and heraldic badges, separated by transverse bands bearing the owner's motto or slogan. The whole flag is fringed with alternating pieces of the livery colours. The length of the standard varies according to the rank of its owner, as follows:

  • the Sovereign: 8 yards
  • Dukes: 7 yards
  • Marquesses: 61/2 yards
  • Earls: 6 yards
  • Viscounts: 51/2 yards
  • Lords: 5 yards
  • Baronets: 41/2 yards
  • Knights and barons: 4 yards

On rare occasions, a uniform length of standard for a decorative display may be laid down by the Lord Lyon.

GUIDON (p. 486): a long flag similar in shape to the standard. The guidon is eight feet long and is assigned by the Lord Lyon to non-baronial lairds who have a following. It tapers to a round, unsplit end at the fly and has a background of the livery colours of its owner's arms. The owner's crest or badge is shown in the hoist and his motto or slogan is lettered horizontally in the fly.

PINSEL (p. 489): a small triangular flag granted by the Lord Lyon only to chiefs or very special chieftain-barons for practical use to denote a person to whom the chief has delegated authority to act in his absence on a particular occasion. The flag is 4 feet 6 inches long by 2 feet high, with a background of the main livery colour of the chief's arms. On it is depicted his crest within a strap and buckle bearing the motto and outside the strap and buckle a circlet inscribed with his title. On top of the circlet is set his coronet of rank or baronial chapeau if any. In the fly is shown the plant badge and a scroll with his slogan or motto. See also descriptions of clan pinsels.

PENNON (p. 489): strictly, a small guidon, four feet long, which, nowadays, is very rarely assigned. This term, however, is more commonly used to refer to a long triangular flag borne at the end of a lance or spear, or flown from the mast of a ship.

Randy Young, 18 March 2004