Clansfolk can be identified by MacLeod Clan Crests, worn as badges or brooches, known as the ‘Clansperson’s Badge’ and by which their loyalty is displayed. Shown in this way, the Crest will sit upon a ‘torse’ (in heraldry, a torse or wreath is a twisted roll of fabric laid about the top of the helmet and the base of the crest) and be surrounded by a belt and buckle on which will be written a motto or slogan. That of MacLeod of MacLeod bears the motto ‘HOLD FAST’; MacLeod of Lewis is ‘I BIRN QUHIL I SE’ and that of MacLeod of Raasay is ‘LUCEO NON URO’. Other MacLeods and members of Septs may have their own crest and motto which they can wear. If a Chief or other person is wearing their own crest, it would be appropriate to show it within a plain circlet rather than a ‘belt and buckle’. The latter shows that the wearer is a ‘follower’ rather than the owner of the crest. These different badges do not show a separation of clanship but rather a togetherness and a shared loyalty to one another.
Clansman’s badges are often referred to as “crests” or “clan crests”, even though this is not strictly accurate. It is a crest when shown as part of a Coat of Arms, when the crest sits on the torse which attaches it to a helmet, which in turn sits above the shield.
The shield shows the main design of the Arms and can only be displayed by its owner or someone authorised to act on their behalf. The ‘belt and buckle’ is the only legitimate way for a Clansperson to display the crest of their Chief, Chieftain or Head of their Family. Display of the crest without the belt and buckle is the sole prerogative of its owner. An owner of a Coat of Arms is known as an armiger. In Scotland permission to register and use Arms is administered by the Lord Lyon, King of Arms on behalf of Queen Elizabeth.
In Scotland, Arms belong to one person, and one person only; there is no such entity as a “Family Coat of Arms.” Using someone’s Arms without the permission of that person is punishable under Scots Law, and known as “Usurping Arms.” Not only morally and socially reprehensible, displaying someone’s Arms could result in prosecution. Using Arms that have not been legally registered and paid for is ‘Bogus.’ This is also against Scots Law as it is defrauding the Government of Scotland. For further information consult The Court of the Lord Lyon.
A Coat of Arms is the whole display, properly called ‘A Heraldic Achievement’. The Crest is part of this, as is the motto or slogan. However, the centrepiece of the Arms themselves is the design usually displayed on a shield or banner (flag). Given the importance of the MacLeod Chiefs, all three have and display Arms. However, many people within Clan MacLeod and its septs have registered Arms with the Lord Lyon.
An important point is that in Scotland, the Arms are directly related to the name and therefore the Clan. So anybody called MacLeod would be granted a version of their Chief’s Arms suitably ‘differenced’, even though they could not prove a blood link to the Chief. To register Arms with the Lord Lyon, with very rare exceptions, you must be Scottish or be able to prove your Scottish ancestry. People have registered their own MacLeod Arms from all over the world. Note that if your family name is that of a sept, the same general rule applies. The Lord Lyon will decide how closely related you are to your ‘parent’ Clan, MacLeod. A version of MacLeod Arms may be granted, or a version of an existing grant to someone of that name (sept), or if neither option above is appropriate, an original design can be approved. Many MacLeod clansfolk display their own Arms and Crest on badges, garments and flags.