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Blair Heraldry

Updated by JACK BLAIR (Perthshire, Scotland) and BRYCE D. BLAIR

Heraldry may be defined as the systematic hereditary use of an arrangement of charges, or devices, on a shield. Heraldry, or Armory, developed in feudal Western Europe during the 12th Century as a means of identifying a Knight in battle. These Arms were at first personal, but later took on a hereditary character.

The various parts of what is popularly called a Coat-of-Arms are collectively known as an "achievement". The central, and most important, component is the shield, to which may be added the helmet, mantling, wreath, crest, motto, coronet or cap of rank, robe of estate, compartment and supporters. The design on the shield identifies the owner of the Arms.

In Scotland, the earliest known example of Heraldry is the Stewart Arms on a seal in 1170. When King James VI of Scotland became King James I of Great Britain in 1603, the Records of Arms were transferred to London and remained there through the Cromwellian period, until the restoration of King Charles II to the British throne in 1660. Few of these early records survived Cromwell’s occupation of Scotland. An act of the Scottish Parliament in 1672 established, in Edinburgh, the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, commonly known as the Lord Lyon Court. This act made it unlawful for any person to bear Arms which had not been properly registered, and ordered that all future grants of Arms must be so recorded. The Lord Lyon has enforced this law ever since. Arms cannot be registered until the applicant’s pedigree has been proven, hence Heraldry’s value to genealogy.

In Scottish Heraldry, Arms are strictly personal to the owner. Therefore the Blair of Blair or Blair of Balthayock Arms belong to and can only be used by the Chief or Head of the family of Blair of Blair or Blair of Balthayock, and can be inherited only by his heir. However, it was and remains proper for members of the Family or Clan to use the Crest Badge of the Chief encircled by a belt and buckle. The Crest Badge of Blair of Blair is a stag lodged proper with the motto, "Amo Probos". The Crest Badge of Blair of Balthayock is a dove, wings extended and the motto, "Virtute Tutus". Even an eldest son may not bear his father’s Arms during his father’s lifetime without a suitable difference being displayed. Consequently, the terms "Family Arms" or "Clan Crest" are meaningless in Scotland. Upon the death of the owner, the Arms descend to his heir, usually the eldest son, then to his heir, and so on forever. The Arms of younger sons and their descendants (called cadet branches) carry a suitable mark of difference, governed by a system known as "cadency". Alliances by marriage often resulted in Arms that combined the Arms of each family on the shield. This practice, called "quartering," places the principal family in the top left quarter of the shield. Since left and right are determined from the point of view of the wearer, the principal family actually is in the "dexter chief," or top right, position on the shield as seen by others. Cadet families and allied families have produced many variations in the Arms of persons bearing a common surname or having a common ancestry. This proliferation of Arms is demonstrated by an estimate that by around the time of the Union of the Crowns in 1603, one in every forty-five persons in Scotland claimed to be a member of a titled or chiefly house and regarded themselves as noble.

There were two principal Blair families in Scotland and they date back into the late Twelfth and early Thirteenth centuries: the BLAIRS of Blair in Ayrshire and the BLAIRS of Balthayock in Perthshire. It continues to be debated today, whether these two Families of Blair share a common ancestor as their early Arms bear no affinity to each other. See The Early Blair Family History for a more detailed discussion on these early families (go to: www.blairsociety.org).

The Blairs of Blair are an ancient family of Ayrshire, Scotland. William de Blair received a charter of lands in 1205 near Irvine. These Blairs are connected by marriage with many of the first families of Scotland, and were Chief of all Blair families in Ayr, Wigton and Renfrew. The Blair of Blair Arms were never recorded in the Lord Lyon Court Register after 1672, as required by law. The reason for this is unknown. One possible explanation is that this original line of Blair heirs (of inheritance and title) ended in 1732 when William Blair died without heir.

The Blair House, (formerly known as Blair Castle) was the seat of the Barony of Blair and the titular line of the Blairs of Blair of Ayrshire family for about 24 generations. It is located about two miles southeast of Dalry in Northern Ayrshire, approximately 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of Glasgow. The Blair House remains standing today and is in full use.

The Blair of Blair Coat-of-Arms is described as follows: arms2

Blair: Argent, on a saltire sable, nine mascles of the first. Crest on a wreath argent and sable, a stag lodged proper. The motto below, Amo Probos.

This simply means that on a silver (argent) field is placed a black (sable) saltire cross, containing nine diamond or lozenge shaped objects (mascles). The crest is a stag lying down (lodged proper) on a silver and black wreath. The motto (Amo Probos) means "I love the virtuous". The saltire cross was one upon which St. Andrew, Patron Saint of Scotland, was said to have been crucified, and consequently was granted to one who was steadfast in his beliefs. The mascles, or voided lozenges, were supposed to represent the belt buckles and armor buckles used on a Knight’s apparel. These are emblematic of one who would "gird his armor and sword in defense of the right". The stag signified one who was a lover of peace and harmony. The wreath is called a "torse" and is two ends of the mantle twisted around the base of the crest. The helmet in profile, with its visor closed, is emblematic of Esquires and Gentlemen. The flowing mantling that surrounds the helmet is the drapery fixed to the helmet, by tradition to shield it from the sun’s rays during the Crusades. The Ayrshire Arms had no cadency marks.

Variations of this Coat-of-Arms is used by the Blairs of Dunskey, Milgerholme, Blairquhan and other branches of the Blair family in the South and West of Scotland. The Blairs of Dunskey used a red star (mullet, denoting a third son) in the top quadrant of the shield. The red mullet is still used today in the Arms of Hunter-Blair of Blairquhan, who is descended from the Dunskey Blairs. The Blairs of Milgerholme are said to have had the crescents (denoting a second son) on each side of the shield and the garb (sheaf of wheat) at the bottom, but without the mullet at the top. Some tombstones in the Aghadowey churchyard, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, have engravings of the Blair of Blair Arms with all four cadency marks on the shield, but with the stag on the crest standing (statant). The Blairs of Blair quartered their Arms with those of Scott after 1732, examples of which are found today at Blair House, Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland.

The Coat-of-Arms which the original BLAIR SOCIETY FOR GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH adopted as its official insignia in Nov 1927, is a variation of the Blairs of Blair of Ayrshire Arms. This was later adopted by the reorganized BSGR as its official emblem and first used on the Fall 1985 issue of the Blair Family Magazine as its logo. The BSGR emblem is not an officially registered Coat-of-Arms, and is only meant to be representative of the various Blairs of Ayrshire Arms. Its main variation being the cadency marks in each quadrant of the shield, ie, in chief (top third) a mullet (a star), in flanques (on each side of the middle third) two crescents (horns up) and in base a garb (sheaf of grain).

The Blairs of Balthayock are an equally ancient family, Stephen de Blair having owned lands in Blair in Gowrie, Perthshire in the late 12th century. They settled in the counties of Perth, Fife, and Angus. This original line of Blair heirs (of inheritance and title) ended in 1728 when Margaret Blair, sole heiress to the Balthayock estate, married David Drummond. His descendant, Jemima Johnston-Blair, married Adam Fergusson, and had seven sons and a daughter. Their eldest son, Neil Fergusson-Blair, adopted the name Blair in order to inherit the estate and the Blair of Balthayock Arms were then quartered with Fergusson.

Balthayock Castle, located about four miles east of the city of Perth, near Scone, was the chief seat of the Perthshire Blairs for nearly five hundred years. All that remains of this estate is the Keep and some of the foundation. The Blair of Balthayock Arms were displayed on the front side of the entrance porch at the top of the entrance stairs. It had recently fallen to the ground but remains intact. A later example of the Balthayock Arms quartered with Mercer is found above a nearby gate. Dated 1578, it shows the shield divided per pale, dexter being the Blair arms and sinister the Arms of Laurence Mercer. The initials AB and GM represent Alexander Blair of Balthayock and his second wife Giles Mercer, daughter of Laurence .

The Blair of Balthayock Coat-of-Arms is described as follows:arms1

Blair: Argent, a chevron, sable, between three torteaux. Crest, a dove, wings expanded, proper. Motto, Virtute Tutus.

This means that the shield has, on a silver (argent) field, a black chevron (inverted V) between three round red disks (roundels). The chevron is said to represent the rafters of a gable of a house. The Crest, originally represented as a hawk-like bird, is presently a dove with it’s wings expanded. The motto (Virtute Tutus) means "By Virtue Safe". Variations of this Coat-of-Arms has been registered for Blairs of Lethendy, Glascune, Balmile, Overdurdie, Boisemont (France), Inchyra and other branches of the Blair family in the North and East of Scotland. The chief cadet is Blair of Ardblair, the present being Laurence Blair Oliphant. Many examples of Balthayock Arms or the cadets can be found on old gravestones in Perthshire and Angus.

The Blair of Ardblair Arms are as Balthayock with a mullet (star) signifying a third son. The Blairs of Balgillo display a chevron between three roundles (annulets) with a star in chief signifyiny a fifth son of Ardblair. Blair of Lethendy is described as Argent on a chevron Sable between three torteaux, a martlet of the first becked and membered gules.

Numerous books have been published on Heraldry/Armory. Those who wish to learn more about this fascinating subject should start with local library. One of the most recent, and best, books on Scottish Heraldry is Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia, by George Way and Romilly Squire, 1998, Barnes and Noble, Inc (by arrangement with Harper Collins Publishers, Glasgow, Scotland), [ISBN 0-7607-1120-8]. Another is Scotland’s Heraldic Heritage, The Lion Rejoicing, by Charles J. Burnett and Mark D. Dennis, The Stationery Office, Edinburgh. There are also numerous Internet web sites on heraldry. The Heraldry Society of Scotland have excellent publications and the best website for information, and examples. Heraldry on the Internet, created by James P. Wolf, is another good place for searching. It contains an extensive collection of Heraldry-related weblinks to the Internet. (search on BLAIR and you will be returned to the BSGR website and this article).

Revised March 2003 - BDB

The Blair Magazine, Nov 1927, pp. 69-72.

The Scottish Nation, by William Anderson

The Surnames of Scotland, by George Black.

General Armory, by Bernard Burke.

Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia, by George Way.

Armorial General, by Johannes Rietslap.

The Oxford Guide to Heraldry, by Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson.

The Blairs of Balthayock and their Cadets 1150-1180, by Jack Blair, Anne Groome, et al, 2001.

The Blair Surname. Its ancient Scottish Origins and the Genealogies of Three Blair Families,
by Jack Richard Blair, Sydney Australia, 1999.

Heraldry For Blairs, by Anne Groome, Blair Family Magazine (Spring, 1993).

Coat of Arms And Heraldry For Blairs, by Anne Groome, Blair Bruidhinn (First Quarter 1997).

The College of Arms, Queen Victoria St, London, England.

The Lord Lyon Court, New Register House, Edinburgh, Scotland.

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