Rules of heraldry

Here are some rules of Scottish Heraldry:

  • Each coat of arms should be unique
  • The arms should be distinguishable at a distance, so the majority of components should be large, simple and composed of a very few tinctures (colours)
  • The main charge (design on the shield) should cover its field (the whole of the space available on the shield)
  • There are two metals, four main tinctures (colours) and a few furs. The metals are Or (gold) and Argent (silver but depicted white); the four tinctures are Gules (red), Azure (blue), Vert (green), and Sable (black), plus the rare Purpure (purple), Tenne (tawny) and Murrey (sanguine); the main furs are Ermine, Pean, Vair and Potent, with variants of these.


  • Metals may not be displayed on top of metals; for example, do not display an Or charge on an Argent field unless the charge is outlined in a tincture


  • Do not display a tincture on top of another tincture; for instance, an Azure charge may not be displayed upon a Gules field unless the charge is outlined in a metal

Of course, there are exceptions: a charge may overly a partition of the field and contrast cannot be avoided.  When Godfrey of Bouillon was made King of Jerusalem he chose arms with five crosses Or potent on a field of Argent.

For more on design of arms, see Heraldic Design from the Scottish Heraldry Society at

Dr Bruce Durie

Dr Bruce Durie

This information was kindly supplied by Dr Bruce Durie:

Dr. Bruce Durie BSc (Hons) PhD OMLJ FSAScot FCollT FIGRS FHEA
Genealogist, Author, Broadcaster, Lecturer
Shennachie to the Chief of Durie
Shennachie to COSCA
Honorary Fellow, University of Strathclyde
Member, Académie internationale de généalogie