Thursday, 25 January 2018

Burns Night

Today we might spare a thought for Robert Burns's heraldic ambitions as expressed in a letter of March 1794 to his friend, the Edinburgh lawyer Alexander Cunningham:

‘I have invented arms for myself, so you know I will be chief of the name and by courtesy of Scotland will likewise be entitled to supporters. These, however, I do not intend having on my seal. I am a bit of a herald, and shall give you, secundum artem, my arms:- On a field azure a holly-bush seeded, proper in a base a shepherd’s pipe and crook saltier wise, also proper in chief. On a wreath of the colours a woodlark perching on a spring of bay-tree, proper, for crest. Two mottoes – round the top of the crest, Wood-notes wild at the bottom of the shield, in the usual place, Better a wee bush than nae bield.’ It was never recorded.

It took until 1988 for a coat of arms very similar to the Bard's design to be matriculated at Lyon Office, by the Burns Federation.

"Argent, a holly bush and in chief a club and stock-and-horn saltireways all Proper."
and for crest: "A woodlark perching on a sprig of bay tree Proper."
The federation chose the second of Burns's proposed mottoes: "better a wee bush than nae bield."