The use of Heraldry in Scottish society and history can be easily divided into three areas: Arms, Badges, and Tartans. Arms were only granted to Scottish lords and were not used to represent families, as they do elsewhere in Europe. Badges were usually derived from the crest of a clan chief’s coat of arms, and were used by the family and clan at large to identify themselves and their leadership. Tartans also were by the clans to identify themselves.
All armorial maters, grants of arms, and matriculations of arms in Scotland are handled by the Court of the Lord Lyon. The Lord Lyon, King of Arms is appointed to the position for life. The Lord Lyon has full discretion in the matriculation of new arms and the re-matriculation of old arms. All arms are registered with the Court of the Lord Lyon. For more information visit the Heraldry in Scotland site
Heraldry in Scotland follows many of the same conventions and traditions as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The primary exception is found in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Whereas heraldic elements usually depict the succession of bloodlines, in the Western Highlands, the blazonry and charges are used to communicate social and political alliances. Alastair Campbell closely examines the unique similarities in the arms of the clans of the Western Highlands in his article, A Closer Look at West Highland Heraldry.
The arms of the clan chefs of the Western Highlands have several similarities. The primary similarity is that they all use a quartered shield. Although the reason for this is now lost to history, elsewhere in Europe, the quarterly blazoning denotes that a coat of arms has been matriculated for siblings. Secondly, they all include a variety of common elements which denote their alliances and affiliations. The most common of these are the Lion Rampant, the Galley, the Hand of Ulster, and the Salmon. Any number of these charges may be included in the arms proper.