Since Carruthers were first recorded in the 1200’s they have been a well known and respected family, originating in the area of Carruthers in Annandale, Dumfrieshire.
It is likely that these arms were borne by the head of the name from as early as the 13th century when shields of arms began being used by members of the landowning classes. Some of these armigers may have had their arms painted upon their shields (if they had such hardware) and the wealthier would have had them carved on to seal matrixes or seal rings.
Only the great peers had crests and other external ornament as part of the coats of arms but one suspects that the Carruthers were of more modest means being a medium sized family on one of the hardest fought-over borders in Christendom. The arms devised for the Carruthers by the mediæval heralds bore a striking similarity to the arms of another family of the Southwest, the MacClellans whose shield was also gold but with plain black chevrons.
The blue chevroned armorial was recorded in blazon by William Pont and it was possibly a blazoning error by the author. Due to the lack of heraldic regulation in those days several members of the same family might have borne the same shield which could easily lead to confusion on the battlefield, however one suspects at the time one Carruthers was just as worthy as another Carruthers in the fray, so identity was not a problem.
The heraldic turmoil of some five centuries was brought to order with passing of what is known as the Lyon Act of 1672 which required that the Scottish King of Arms, the Lord Lyon, and his heralds keep a permanent ‘Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland’. The heralds were given a year to record in the new register all arms of those entitled to bear arms and to grant or matriculate new arms to those found “virtuous and well deserving”. John Carruthers 9th of Holmains recorded in the Register these arms which are now the principal and chiefly arms of the name Carruthers.
The Holmains were almost certainly the first Carruthers to have a crest on their arms and were recorded in 1672 with a ‘Seraphim volant Proper’. Seraphim were six winged angels who sat beside God’s throne and acted as His protectors. It is uncertain that heralds and the heraldic painters of the time knew the strange morphology of such heavenly creatures and seemingly drew winged cherub heads as the crest instead. ‘Volant’ means flying, so these ‘angels’ with their six wings are supposedly flying and should therefore have their wings extended as in flight. ‘Proper’ refers to the colouring of said angels which means the colouring is true to life.
It is doubtful that the Holmain armigers ever used a true Seraphim as a crest. In 1672 in the Register, there were no illustration and the arms are recorded only in blazon but John Carruthers would have been given a ‘receipt’ with an simple drawing on it so those who could not read a blazon could copy it. One suspects the engraver who made John Carruthers’ bookplate was indifferent to the supposed appearance of the seraphim and produced a winged cherub’s head crest, as can be seen on the right.
The male line of the Holmains failed early in the nineteenth century with the death of the twelfth laird leaving the house with several surviving daughters. A younger sister set up a trust in 1836 for the benefit of a list of heirs, namely her nephews, sons by her older sisters, whereby, in order of succession, they could benefit financially from the trust if they would change their surname to Carruthers and matriculate the Holmains arms. The first to take advantage of this in 1854 was Major John Peter Wade of the Honourable East India Company Service. He took the additional surname as Carruthers-Wade and matriculated arms at the Lyon Court quartering Wade arms in the first and fourth quarters and the undifferenced Carruthers of Holmains arms in second and third.
I am not sure that in hindsight that this is what was intended when the trust was set up as it appears the intention was to preserve the chiefship in the immediate family and by retaining the Wade surname the good Major eliminated himself from becoming the chief because he had a different surname. However, on the 19th of August 2019, after deliberation of the evidence presented to him, the Lord Lyon confirmed; Dr S. Peter Carruthers of Holmains, Chief of the Name and Arms of Carruthers, thus bringing Carruthers from armigerous status to that of a legally recognised ‘ Noble Incorporation’ and thus a recognised clan.
However, Major Carruthers Wade died without issue in 1873 and the line of succession passed to his cousin, the Reverend William Mitchell. He to changed his name by adding Carruthers to become the Reverend William Mitchell-Carruthers. Subsequently he too matriculated but with the Carruthers coat in the first and fourth and a newly devised Mitchell quartering in second and third.
Reverend Mitchell-Carruthers also missed the mark as far as the chiefship would be regarded today but he produced a thriving family with a number of sons who might benefit from the trust. Oddly, the Lyon King of Arms matriculated his arms with a differenced Holmains quartering with chevronels rather than chevrons. The chevronel is a lesser chevron thus narrower, which is good for heraldic artists as it allow more space on the shield for bigger fleurs-de-lis but is none the less a difference that the Reverend William did not need to have.
Today, succession to a clan chiefdom through the female line is commonplace but in the nineteenth century it was still a new idea and the rules had not been defined or tested. Several clans had chiefs using double, triple and even quadruple barrelled surnames, the succession having moved several times through female lines. As a result the arms of these multi-surnamed chiefs became extremely complicated; often the represented clan armorial was not even in the principal position. Today chiefs are expected to use only the single surname and to matriculate the plain chiefly coat.
It is possible for a Mitchell-Carruthers of the line, either male or female, to make themselves eligible to become chief of Carruthers by dropping the Mitchell part of their surname and proving that they were the eligible heir to the chiefdom and showing that there are no better claimants in the field. They would then have to present their proofs to the Lyon King of Arms who if satisfied might matriculate the 1672 registered arms anew and the Carruthers would have a recognised chief of the name.
These arms were painted on the major’s Letters Patent by the great heraldic painter A. G. Law Sampson with probably the first ‘accurate’ depiction of a seraphim crest ever to grace a Carruthers armorial. Dormont retained the original motto as is common in Scottish heraldry. The one thing Major Francis did not do however was to make a claim to the chiefship of the name which suggest he would have known that there were others who had a better claim to be chief.
The Stodart system of bordures was devised at the turn of the nineteenth century to provide a consistent method of differencing arms within a family where there were many armigers matriculations. However, the system has its drawbacks and can get very complicated ending in some quite unattractive armorials. The Reverend Arthur seems to have got off quite lightly with his border parted per pale Or and Azure and charged with a martlet and crescent.
Dr George Carruthers was only the seventh Carruthers to officially register arms in Scotland. Any Carruthers, Scottish born or resident, may petition for Scottish arms through the Court of the Lord Lyon. Such petitioners should of course be ‘virtuous and well deserving’ and will have to meet certain residency criteria. Carruthers within and outwith Scotland who can prove their descent from one of the armigerous Carruthers families can petition for a matriculation of an ancestor’s arms with ‘congruent differences’ which means they would have a shield with a coloured border or additional or slightly different charges. Those who cannot prove descent from one of the armigerous families can petition for a new grant of arms but, like George above, their new arms would be based on the chiefly arms of Holmains. Acquiring arms through the Court of the Lord Lyon is not hugely expensive and certainly worth the effort of investigation.
Scottish heraldry is not solely for men. Scotland has long granted and matriculated arms for women in their own right. Also an armiger’s wife may display her husband’s arms on a cartouche, an armiger’s daughter is entitled to use her father’s arms on either an oval or lozenge-shaped cartouche throughout her life.
Scots take great pride in their heritage, their history, tartans and heraldry. Recent years have seen a great many folk petitioning for personal arms, and all who are in right of such arms should make opportunities to show, wear and display their ensigns armorial. There is no snobbery in armoury as the socially anxious may fear. Armoury is not about pretence. It is primarily about identity. To the heraldically literate it shows who you are. It shows continuity from the past, from your forebears. It shows belonging, being part of a family and a name and most especially, it is colour. It is a celebration of the individual and the family for all to enjoy.
Clan Carruthers is officially represented by the Clan Carruthers Society International (CCSI), which was founded in January 2017 and is officially recognised by the Chief of Carruthers as representing the worldwide Carruthers family. It is non-commercial, apolitical and non-partisan and is open to any member of the international Carruthers family and derivatives of that name. The Society is based in the United Kingdom, but is represented by an international Executive Council.