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The Royal Banner of Scotland is thought to date back to the reign of King William the Lion (1165-1214)". King William is credited with the introduction of heraldry into Scotland and with the adoption of the Lion Rampant as his own personal emblem. Heraldry originated in the Middle-Ages to help kings deploy troops in battle. Kings had no radios to send messages to the battlefront and shouting out orders was of little use in the turmoil of battle. Messages could only be delivered by messengers. Therefore, it was of vital importance that the messenger took the right message to the right person. To do that, a messenger had to be able to recognize different people and also see where they were on the battlefield. Needless to say, it could be very difficult to distinguish men who were in the thick of the fighting and surrounded by a sea of jostling bodies.

It is clear that a system was needed which allowed a king to see at a glance where his various lieutenants were deployed. This is why nobles started using heraldic designs. The heraldic designs, or coats-of-arms, were often painted on their shields and were simply mediaeval markers which allowed the king and his messengers to see where his various nobles were. Once a noble had adopted a heraldic design or coat-of-arms, no one else could use it.

This is why the Lion Rampant or Royal Banner cannot lawfully be flown by ordinary Scottish citizens today. The Lion Rampant is, in effect, the monarch's personal coat-of- arms. Returning to our mediaeval battle, it is easy to see why no one else could be allowed to decorate themselves with it; it would have been impossible for anyone to identify the king.

All this is quite logical. But we no longer live in the Middle Ages. Is it therefore logical that out-of-date laws should continue to apply to the flying of the Lion Rampant? I think not. The old laws are almost universally ignored but, even so, they do still apply. Today, few Scots realize that they could be fined £100 for the so-called "crime" of displaying the Lion Rampant.

The rules which depict what the Scottish Royal Banner is are complicated. The heraldic term for the Lion Rampant is the Tressured Lion. The term "tressured lion" refers to the rectangular border around the lion. It is the double-tressure or double border that distinguishes the flag as the Scottish Royal Banner. A flag bearing a rampant lion against a yellow background but which did not have the double-tressure would not, technically speaking, be the Royal Banner. Therefore, anyone can fly a flag with a rampant lion against a yellow background. The illegality comes only if the lion is surrounded by a double-tressure. It is thought that this strange technicality arose because the rampant lion was in common use in mediaeval Scotland. The Scots kings used the double-tressure to distinguish their lion from all the others.

We know that there were sound reasons why the Royal Banner was not allowed to be flown by anyone except the king or his chosen representatives during the Middle Ages. But we no longer live in the Middle Ages and it seems a shame that people who wish to show their loyalty to the Scottish Crown by flying the Royal Banner are technically breaking the law when they do so.

Scottish history stretches back about two thousand years. In that time several royal houses have come and gone and scores of monarchs have lived and died. Many of these monarchs had more than one child ... but only one child could inherit the throne. Many kings also had illegitimate children who were barred from inheriting the throne. Some legitimate kings were overthrown by rivals and their children, though of genuine royal blood, never inherited the throne.

As we come down through the centuries, we see that there were large numbers of princes and princesses who never inherited the Scottish throne. Many of these princes and princesses married and had children and their children had children. Throughout Scottish history, there has always existed a large body of people who were of royal descent but who were excluded from the throne.

This set me thinking, if most ordinary Scots have small portions of royal blood in their veins, surely that gives them the right to fly the royal banner. The only difference between you, me and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, is that she can prove she is descended from the ancient Pictish kings whereas you and I cannot. But the fact that we cannot prove we have royal ancestors in our far-distant past does not mean they don't exist… they do.

Next time you see the Scottish Royal Banner held aloft at a Scottish occasion, reflect on the fact there must be many Scots present who are of royal descent. And surely that gives them the right to fly this splendid flag!

by permission from the author,
Mr. Euan Macpherson of Argyll, Scotland

Lion Rampart of Scotland Lion Rampant Banner

 Royal Flag of Scotland

Royal Banner of Scotland

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