Saturday, September 08, 2012


Armorial bearings do not appertain to all persons of a given surname but belong to and identify members of one particular family. Coats of arms and crests are a form of property and may rightfully be used only by the male-line descendants of the individual to whom they were first granted or confirmed. Such grants were and are made by the appropriate heraldic authority. In Scotland this is the Court of the Lord Lyon.

In Scotland ALL Arms and Crests are PERSONAL. There is NO SUCH THING as a "Family" coat of Arms or Crest or "Clan Crest". Though the Arms or Crest may be borne by SUCCESSIVE members of a family, they are personal to each in turn. The rules of the inheritance of Arms and Crests are legal and strict. (1)
The Griffin
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head, talons and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. The griffin was also thought of as king of the creatures. Griffins are known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine. Gryphon is the original spelling of griffin.

In heraldry, the griffin's amalgamation of lion and eagle gains in courage and boldness, and it is always drawn to powerful fierce monsters. It is used to denote strength and military courage and leadership. Griffins are portrayed with rear body of a lion, an eagle's head, with erect ears, and feathered breast, with forelegs of an eagle, including claws. The combination indicates a combination of intelligence and strength.

Very few Scottish families bear the griffin in their heraldic achievement. One is the Forsyths, formerly lords of Torthorwald, who at one time in the early 15th century may have been connected with the Marjoribanks’ in Annandale. Others clans include Bannatyne, Fotheringham, Gladstone, Leslie, and Marjoribanks.

The usage of the griffin by Forsyth's is that the green/vert griffins were used by the Forsyth/e's of Nydie, also by the Forsyth/e's of Tailzerton with the earliest records showing them as being recorded in 1562. (2)  Additionally the green griffin was also recorded as the arms assumed by Frederick Gregory Forsaith (3rd Viscount de Fronsac). (3) According to the Scottish Law of Arms, Frederick Gregory Forsaith claiming descendancy from a cadet branch of Forsyth of Tailzerton should have rematriculated and had the proper difference officially assigned to him.
There is also some erroneous belief that the green griffin is used by Forsyth's originating from Ireland while the blue griffin is used by Forsyth's originating from Scotland. Obviously this is not correct as both Tailzerton and Nydie are in Scotland. Tailzerton is a "Feu" situated about two miles south of Stirling while Nydie Castle was located in Fife, about three miles west of St. Andrews.
Color is an important component of the coat of arms. Each color used to create a coat of arms has a specific meaning.  The following table shows the meaning of each color on a coat of arms:

Generosity and high-mindedness
Silver or White
Peace and sincerity
Strength and magnanimity
Truth and loyalty
Hope and joy
Constancy or grief
Royalty, sovereignty and justice
Worthy ambition
Patient and victorious

As to the posture, a creature segreant has both forelegs raised in the air, as a beast rampant, with wings elevated and addorsed (set back to back). This term is reserved to winged quadrupeds (such as griffins and dragons).

The other position is salient. A beast salient (Latin: saliēns, "leaping") (also springing) is leaping, with both hind legs together on the ground and both forelegs together in the air. This is a very rare position for a lion, but is also used of other heraldic beasts.

Both depictions of the griffin posture used in Forsyth/e arms are correct and it is just a matter of which heraldic charge was chosen by its owner.

However, the use of the green griffins of Tailzerton and Nydie is now historical with those branches of the lineage having died out, and the crowned blue/azure griffin registered as the arms of our chief (Alistair Charles William FORSYTH OF THAT ILK) is the correct crest to be used by all Forsyth's/Forsythe's (including those using other spelling variants). For those wanting to know what "of that ilk" means, it means "of that kind" (of the same kind of person or thing as the one just mentioned); having a name that is the same as the place where one lives i.e. Forsyth of that ilk = Forsyth from Forsyth.
Chiefs are heads of very large "extended" families, including all of the same surname and probably many "septs" as well. "Septs" are large extended families (i.e. including distant cousins and connections) within a Clan but bearing different surnames from the Clan, usually the result of arbitrary fixing of surnames about the 17th century, prior to which surnames were not general in their modern  form in Scotland. When surnames were generally adopted in Scotland in the 17th century, some families took the surname of their Chief, not always spelling it in the same way, as spellings were not yet firmly fixed.

The only exception to the use of the Chief's crest is for other armigers who have recorded their own arms with the Lord Lyon. For example, such as that registered by Bryan Forsyth as his coat of arms.
 A person who has registered his or her own coat of Arms and Crest, or inherited these according to the Laws of Arms in Scotland from an ancestor who had recorded them in the Lyon Register, may wear their own Crest as a badge: either on its Wreath, Crest Coronet or Chapeau, or, as is more usual, within a plain circlet inscribed with his Motto. An armiger may also choose to wear instead the Crest badge of his Chief if the armiger is a clansman. An armiger is entitled to one silver eagle’s feather behind the plain circlet, and if he is also a Peer he may add his appropriate coronet of rank on top of the circlet.
Full Arms as recorded for Alistair Charles William FORSYTH OF THAT ILK
Our Chief's arms also incorporate supporters (the two large griffins either side of the arms), plus baronial robe and chapeau.

Wearing of crest badges
By Clansmen and Clanswomen i.e. the Chief’s relatives, including his own immediate family and even his eldest son, and ALL members of the extended family called the "Clan", whether bearing the Clan surname or that of one of its septs; in sum, all those who profess allegiance to that Chief and wish to demonstrate their association with the Clan. Wearing a particular clan tartan indicates that the wearer bears an allegiance to the chief of that clan.
It is correct for these to wear their Chief’s Crest encircled with a STRAP AND BUCKLE bearing their Chief’s Motto or Slogan. The strap and buckle is the sign of the clansman, and he demonstrates his membership of his Chief’s Clan by wearing his Chief’s Crest within it.
 Although the Crest Badge is purchased by and is therefore owned by the clansman, the heraldic Crest and Motto on it belong to the Chief and NOT to the clansman. They are the Chief’s exclusive heraldic property, which the clansman is only thus permitted to wear.

It should also be noted that it is incorrect for Forsyth's to use a demi-griffin (half a griffin) as that is the crest of the Leslie's. Their tartan is also similar to ours, having white stripes in place of the yellow stripes used in our tartan.

Interestingly, we supposedly have an association with the Leslie family, with various confusing claims that either Robert Forsyth III or James Forsyth married Elizabeth Leslie, daughter or grand-daughter of George Leslie the 4th Earl of Roths, along with contradictory dates. Unfortunately my own research has been unable to unearth any supporting documents or publications that confirm and validate these claims. Various publications and peerage records such as those recorded in Burke’s (4), Douglas’s (5), and Debrett’s (6)Peerages plus the “Historical Records of the Leslies” (7) do not provide any confirmatory evidence to substantiate these claims.

There is however supported evidence that the 4th Earl did have a daughter (Katherine) to his mistress, Helen Forsyth. On 11 September 1527 Earl George contracted with Sir John Oliphant of Kellie that the latter's son, Alexander, as yet a pupil, should marry one of the Earl's lawful daughters by Margaret Orichton. Afterwards, however, the Earl fraudulently married young Oliphant to Katherine Leslie, his illegitimate daughter by Helen Forsyth, a woman of low birth, affirming that she was legitimate. On this and other more personal grounds the marriage was annulled by the Official of St. Andrews on 25 September 1550. (8)

Additionally, on the 1st February 1501, Andrew Forsyth, along with several others, was accused of being art and part with George Leslie, 2nd Earl of Rothes in the charge brought against him of the cruel murder of George Leslie, alias Dunlop.  Their bail was forfeited, and they were denounced at the horn, and their goods confiscated. (9)
Clans using the griffin crest


1. Lyon, Court of the Lord. Scottish Clan Badges. Information Leaflet No. 2.
2. Slain. Slains Armorial. 1565.
3. Fronsac, Frederic Gregory Forsyth, Vicount de. Memorial of the De Forsyths de Fronsac. Boston : Rockwell & Churchill, 1897.
4. Sir Bernard Burke, C.B, LL.D. Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. 31st. London : Harrison, 1869.
5. Douglas, Robert. The Peerage of Scotland. Edinburgh : R. Fleming, 1764.
6. Debrett, John. Debrett’s Peerage of the United Kingdom. London : G. Woodfall, 1828. Vol. 1 & 2.
7. Leslie, Col. K. H. Historical Records of the Family of Leslie. Edinburgh : Edmonston & Douglas, 1869. Vol. 1.
8. Leslie of Rothes. The Redbook of Scotland. [Online] of Rothes.html.
9. Leslie, Col. K. H. Historical Records of the Family of Leslie. Edinburgh : Edmonston & Douglas, 1869. Vol. 2.
10. Nisbet, Alexander. A System of Heraldry. 1722.
11. Paul, Sir James Balfour. Ordinary of Arms. 1893.
12. Forman, Sir Robert. Roll of Arms (Queen Mary's Roll). 1562.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

St. Andrew's Day 2012

On St. Andrew's Day 1978 the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, once again recognized Clan Forsyth as one of the old Clans of Scotland, and Alistair Forsyth of that Ilk as it's Chief.

Come along and help us celebrate Scotland's national day and the anniversary of the re-recognition of our clan. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Forsyth Castles

Past Forsyth castles by: Alistair C.W. Forsyth of that Ilk, Chief of Clan Forsyth.
Of the Castles built by Forsyths it is sensible to commence with the earliest though many of these are now only sites.The earliest lands recorded to a member of our family were granted by King Robert the Bruce being 100 solidates in the lands of Salakhill, which we identify today as Sauchie in Sterlingshire, within ten miles of the castle of Sterling, to Osbertus, then described as Serviens Regis” and son of Robert de Forsyth. This land capable of supporting forty cows, a significant herd in those days had previously been granted to Michael Begg by King Alexander 111 to support him in the office of Serjandus of Sterling. Robert de Forsyth was described by the King as Serventi Nostro indicating a position within the Royal Household.

We do not know who the wives of either he or his son Osbert were but it was customary within the tight circle of the Court for marriages to take place between sons and daughters of courtiers. Osbert was appointed Serjandus of Sterling in place of Michael Begg who retired and relinquished the lands to the new appointee, for the King did not provide a salary but granted land for the duration of the appointment to support his official. Osbert received his appointment in 1321 and relinquished it in 1342 to Hugo Urry who took over the lands with the appointment of Serjandus from Osbert. The Serjandus was an officer of the Sheriff Court. He executed every kind of summons, carried out arrestments of persons and property, denounced rebels and put them to the horn; he could also give sasines. His insignia were a wand and horn and he often wore a signet ring with which he would seal official documents. Osbert had three sons DAVID de FERSITHE who was appointed Claviger Regis (King’s Macer) in 1364 and by King Robert 11 a Baillie of the city of Aberdeen in 1390.

William, the second son, was appointed Baillie of Edinburgh in 1364 and Clerk of the Queen’s Liverance in 1371. Baillies were judged in the local court of the city to which they had been appointed by the King whilst the Clerk of Queen’s Liverance was the financial controller of the Queen’s affairs. Robert the third son became a collector of taxes in 1364 and eventually progressed to become Constable of Stirling Castle.

David de Fersithe had two sons JOHN de FORSUITH who was granted the lands of Gylecamstoun, now a suburb of the City of Aberdeen, and William who would settle at Milleague in Banffshire to found the Forsyth cadets in the North East of Scotland. DAVID FORSYTH of GILCOMSTOUN, the only son of John, was one of the King’s Esquires at the court of Robert 111 and on being knighted in 1488 he was granted a new Coat of arms being charged with griffins in place of his former Blazon which had been three Cross Crosslet Fitche which he claimed were the ancient arms of his family…. It is this record that was said to strengthen the claim that the family came from France and whilst the cross crosslet was an heraldic symbol used by French knights who had been on the Crusades in the Holy Land, these arms would have to be identified in the ancient armorials of France that probably no longer exist.  David had two sons and a daughter Margaret. She married Sir Duncan Forrester of Torwood, Comtroller of the King’s household whilst his elder son DAVID FORSYTH of GILCOMSTON (2nd) was appointed Marischal (steward) of the Household based at Falkland Palace. It was this David who married Margaret, daughter of David Blakader of Tullialloun, in Perthshire and niece of Robert Blackadder, Archibishop of Glasgow by whom the married couple were granted the lands of Dykes also known as Halhill, in 1499.

The castle of Halhill in the parish of Lesmahago, Lanarkshire was a large Keep which was demolished in 1828 and was described as having a central arch so large that one hundred men could stand beneath it, shoulder to shoulder. It was from this time that the family decided to use the territorial title of Dykes to become theForsyth’s of Dykes. Perhaps it was David’s younger brother, Thomas. The third son, who became a Canon in Glasgow Cathedral and was a close associate of Bishop Robert who may have helped in arranging the happy and successful marriage. DAVID FORSYTH of DYKES fell at the Battle of Flodden against the English in 1513 when as a member of King James 1V bodyguard and surrounded, they fought with their Sovereign to the death, a fact that was recorded and rewarded with a pension for his son, David, who was a minor.

The sketch shown is a representation, based on the remnants of foundation stones of the castle of Dykes otherwise known as Halhill and the 17th century map by Johnathan Blaeu. It was drawn by Nigel Tranter, the famous Scottish historical writer and acknowledged expert in Scottish domestic architecture of the middle ages who was a close friend of the Chief and his family. What then happened? The young David Forsyth of Dykes (3rd) continued living at Halhill when in 1533, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, younger brother of the Regent and illegitimate son of King James V, expressed a desire to own Halhill. The King made Sir James Feudal Superior of Dykes and the Forsyths continued in residence. However, feeling uncertain of their future they exchanged their remaining lands of Creveychin with Thomas Erskine, Earl of Mar for the lands of Inchnock and Geyne in the Barony of Monkland, close to Dykes in 1539. Their plan was to build another Castle thus enabling them to relinquish Halhill to Sir James Hamilton. In the event, Sir James fell from the King’s favour in 1541 and David Forsyth of Dykes continued in residence until 1585 when following the Reformation, Halhill, being ultimately Church Property reverted to the Crown. However, by this time David had completed the construction of his new Castle in Inchnock, one mile North East from Monkland Kirk, a site which today is covered by a housing estate. Halhill or Dykes was in due course granted to the Earl of Thirlestane, ancestor of the Dukes of Lauder who allowed the Castle to fall into ruin.

Notes: Solidates was an area of land measuring about 1.5 acres. Being put to the Horn” was a declaration that was pronounced on rebels anf Bankrupts and consisted of the Serjandus or other official blowing three blasts of his ceremonial Horn from the local market square before reading the King’s proclamation, those named were then pronounced outlaws. A Sasine” is a document giving title and a description of a land grant. Source References: Register of the Great Seal of Scotland. Vols 1,11 & 111, Protocul Register of the Archbishop, Diocese of Glasgow 1499-1513. Stoddart’s Ordinary of Arms. Sheriff Court Book of Fife 1515-1522. Gylecomston Charters, Archives of the City of Aberdine.
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