What will no doubt be a surprise to most Mackenzies living today – even those who are well-informed – is that the earliest known heraldic device employed by the Mackenzie chiefs which dates from 1542 had a star between the deer’s antlers (in heraldic parlance, “Azure, a stag’s head cabossed or, a five pointed star argent between the attires” . The earliest coloured record of such a star in the Mackenzie arms is an heraldic manuscript that dates from 1603-5, showing a silver five-pointed star placed between the deer’s antlers (taking up the position occupied by a silver cross in the arms of Agnes de Châtillon; see the Manuscript by Sir David Lindsay the Younger, Lord Lyon, which was in the possession of the earls of Crawford and Balcarres between March, 1603, and March, 1605, illustrated in Robert Riddle Stobart, Scottish Arms, being a collection of Armorial bearings AD 1370-1678 (Edinburgh 1881), no. 90, Mackenzie of Kintail). Earlier than this, however, is a six-pointed star that can be seen in a piece of sixteenth century graffiti in the kitchen at Castle Leod.This can be seen in the Lindsay Armorial (the armorial register of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, Lyon King of Arms from 1542 to 1555) which shows a yellow (to represent gold) stag’s head on a blue background with a white (to represent silver) star between the antlers. In 1630 the armorial was formally recognised by the Privy Council as an official register and there is a note to that effect, signed by Sir James Balfour, Lord Lyon, and Thomas Drysdale, Islay Herald. Evidence of this fact is also shown by the seals of the 16th century Chiefs, Colin Cam Mackenzie of Kintail (who died in 1594) and his son, Kenneth, who was to become the first Lord Kintail in 1609.

The wax seals of “COLINI MACKENZIE DE KINTAIL”, “KENNETHI MACKENZIE DE KINTIAL” and Sir Rorie Mackenzie of Coigach

Interestingly the same arms with a star can be seen on the early 17th century seal of Lord Kintail’s brother, Sir Roderick (or Rory) Mackenzie of Coigach (who died in 1626), as well as on the seal of John Mackenzie of Fairburn in 1622; on the tomb of Colin Cam‘s son, Alexander Mackenzie, 1st laird of Coul in Fortrose Cathedral; on the late 17th century family memorial to Murdo Mackenzie, Bishop of Moray and subsequently of Orkney and his wife, Dame Margaret MacAulay, which was formerly in Elgin Cathedral (the device was also impaled in the arms of his daughter, Margaret, on a mural tablet at Chapelyards in Inverness); and on the early 18th century tomb of Kenneth Mackenzie, the 6th laird of Gairloch, who died in 1707, which is at Beauly Priory.

The tomb of Kenneth Mackenzie VI of Gairloch

The Monument to Murdo Mackenzie, Bishop of Orkney and Dame Margaret MacAulay

And yet by the same time that these monuments were carved the Clan Chief, Kenneth Mackenzie, 4th Earl of Seaforth was clearly displaying the stag’s head without the star. It may be no coincidence that this change coincided with the legal requirement in Scotland in 1672 for a coat-of-arms to be registered. In that year a law was passed by the Scots parliament which set up the “Public Register of All Armorial Bearings of Scotland” which is usually called the Lyon Register. The idea behind this register was to enable the Lord Lyon more effectively to administer heraldic law by ensuring that there was a central record independent of the person of the office holder. Unless a coat of arms that came into use after that date was is registered here, it has no legal standing in Scotland. It also then became a requirement that the head of a family’s arms could only be displayed by that head (and his direct male heirs, by inheritance, on his decease). Any new cadet of a family with existing arms would be required to add a “mark of cadency” to that of the head of the family. It may well be, therefore that the 4th Earl of Seaforth chose at that point to simplify his arms and remove what might otherwise have been mistaken for the arms of a cadet (the star or “mullet” came to represent the mark of difference of a third son).  As Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh stresses, the simpler charge in Heraldry was considered to be the more noble.  

The arms of Kenneth Mackenzie, 4th Earl of Seaforth

By this period we also find Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat (subsequently Viscount Tarbat and later Earl of Cromartie) displaying the stag’s head without the star.

The seals of Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat, subsequently Viscount Tarbat

Of cadets Sir George Mackenzie in his The Science of Heraldry, Treated as a Part of the Civil Law and Law of Nations Wherein Reasons are given for its Principles, and Etymologies for its harder Terms, makes the very logical point that will be of interests to those of Scottish heritage who can trace their lines back to an armigerous cadet: “It is observable, that tho’ a Cadet be descended of a Cadet, yet I think he needs not express the Difference of that Family out of which he is immediately come, for else the Coat should be filled with Differences, and the Use of Differences is only to distinguish from the Chief’s Family.” Since by that time the Chief of the Mackenzies had simplified their arms by removing the star, this explains why such cadets as Bishop Murdo and Kenneth of Gairloch were able to employ what had once been the Chief’s arms.  Sir George was a distinguished lawyer and the King’s Advocate: widely regarded among his peers as “the cleverest man in the nation”’; his The Science of Heraldry, published in Edinburgh in 1680 is the first and remains the most comprehensive analysis of specifically Scottish heraldry (he often compares how its usage is distinct from that in England and France). Nevertheless, Sir George’s point of view is no longer upheld, since in Scotland a coat of arms is now considered to be heritable property and thus can only belong to one person at a time. This means that the younger sons of a grantee have no direct right to inherit the arms until elder branches of the family have died out. This means that only one person may rightfully use a coat of arms at any particular time. All other persons must bear arms with some form of difference – either temporary or permanent. It is perhaps no coincidence that the cost of matriculating a new coat of arms with a shield and crest is £1,225, but since Lord Lyon is both a minister of the Crown and a judge of the realm with complete jurisdiction over all heraldic business it would need to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the question on the grounds of family heritage and the precedent of Sir George’s authority versus commercial interest on this question!

While what was displayed on the central shield itself was consistent from father to son, the motto and supporters were a matter of individual choice. In his The Science of Heraldry, Sir George wrote that “Supporters are not hereditary, but they may be altered at pleasure”. Thus the 4th Earl of Seaforth employed two savages as his supporters and the motto, Luceo Non Uro (which translates as “I shine, I do not burn”. This would appear to refer to the Mountain in Flames crest which the Mackenzies of Kintail adopted when they acquired the Isle of Lewis. But in the mid-18th century, Kenneth Mackenzie, Viscount Fortrose (who was subsequently to have the Earldom of Seaforth restored to him) chose two greyhounds as his supporters and the motto, Fide Parta, Fide Aucta (which translates as “In faith acquired, in faith increased”).

The Arms of Kenneth Mackenzie, Viscount Fortrose and future last Earl of Seaforth

With regard to the motto, Sir George wrote: “Of old Men did choose some Sentence or Word, whereby they expresd somewhat, and yet concealed somewhat of their Genius and Inclination.” He suggested that if it is related to the armour it should be below the achievement; if to the crest, it should be above. But the motto could also relate to the supporters, to the “Difference, or Mark of Cadency”; but equally it might sometimes relate to the bearer’s office or be a “mere rebus, alluding to the Name.” Alternatively, it might “shew the Bearer’s Origin more than the Arms do: Thus the Macphersons have for their Motto, Touch not the Cat gloveless, to shew they are of the Clanchattan.”

Bishop Murdo’s motto, which translates as “By faith I discern Heaven” appears to be a variation of the original Mackenzie chiefly motto, Fide Parta , Fide Aucta), with the word cerno perhaps a pun on cernunnos, or horned one, the name of the Celtic deer-antlered god, and coelum (heaven) a reference to the star. Going by Sir George’s writings, which will have been contemporary with this memorial, it is also interesting to see that on Bishop Murdo and Margaret MacAulay’s memorial a helmet is employed (rather than a Bishop’s mitre which it would have had if it were representing the personal arms of Murdo himself (in fact the mitre does feature in a carving of Murdo’s arms by the Orcadian artist, Stanley Cursiter in the chapel in which he and his family are buried in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall). The particular helmet is one “standing direct forward, with a Baver open without Guards.” This is the form of helmet designated to a Knight. We know that Murdo’s eldest son was Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Broomhill and as Murdo’s family monument includes a knight’s helmet, the inference would be that the knighthood would have been that of a Baronet, which was hereditary within the family.

Stanley Cursiter’s carving in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

In May we be Britons Kevin and Andrew McKenzie argue that the early Mackenzie of Kintail motto of Fide Parta, Fide Aucta had crusading overtones and the same could be said of another common motto used by the family, Virtute Et Valore (“Strength and Valour”). This motto, which often accopnaied by a crest consisting of an arm holding a sword or knife, was, for example, retained by the Mackenzies of Gairloch and can be seen in the arms that Sir Alexander Mackenzie was displaying in the mid-18th century, by which point this particular cadet branch was differencing its arms from their chief’s by quartering it with the Fraser arms (as a consequence of John Glassich the 2nd laird of Gairloch’s marriage to Janet Agnes, daughter of James Fraser of Phoineas, the brother of Hugh, sixth Lord Lovat, by which he acquired the Barony of Inchlag).

The arms of Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Gairloch, Bt.

In modern times non-armigerous members of the Clan have adopted the Clan Badge as an emblem, most often worn by ladies as a brooch, or by men as a cap badge. The two most common styles adopt the Seaforth’s crest of a mountain in flames with the accompanying motto, LUCEO NON URO:

or the stag’s head with the accompanying motto, GUIDICH ‘N RIGH (or “Serve the King” – not “Tribute to the King, as it is often incorrectly translated), being presumably a reference to the legend of Colin FitzGerald saving Alexander III from the stag.

It has alternatively been argued that the stag’s head itself had crusading overtones, relating to the family’s descent from Eustace of Boulogne and the stag’s head associations with the soldierly St Eustace (who famously had a vision of a stag). The progenitors of the family were closely connected to the 9th Crusade of Saint Louis in the 13th century at precisely the time that the Mackenzies’ forebears are believed to have come to prominence. The legend of St Eustace involves a vision of a stag with a cross between its antlers.

The Mackenzies of Dalmore’s arms

In May we be Britons Kevin and Andrew McKenzie outlined a significant amount of historical evidence which corroborated the likelihood of a descent for the Mackenzies from an heiress of the crusading family of Count Eustace II of Boulogne (showing that the 16th and 17th century histories of the family, including famously that of Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat, the 1st Earl of Cromartie, are certainly not to be regarded as part of an exercise in “pedigree-faking” and social climbing).  They argued that the marriage in question was most probably that of Johan Mak Elmachan or Gilmotam (John Macmathan or Matheson), a son of the crusader Kenneth MacMathan, who gave his seal to the Ragman Roll in 1296. On this record of those noblemen who swore allegiance to Edward I of England there were, interestingly, numerous stag’s head seals, some with varying marks of difference. While we do not know the colours of the arms that many of these seals represented the particular tinctures of the Mackenzie arms is notably close to those of Agnes de Chatillon, the silver star taking up the position occupied by a silver cross in her arms. The 1st Earl of Cromartie believed that the star was merely a corruption of what once represented a bleeding wound in the stag’s forehead.

The seal of “S’GILMORE MACGYLECHO” on the Ragman Roll, which clearly shows the Mackenzies’ Cabarfèidh (National Archives, Kew)

Equally, the star was most probably the star emblem of Eustace’s ancestor, Charlemagne, who in turn may well have acquired it from the Merovingian dynasty, with their fabled descent from the House of David.  It is borne by a number of families, notably by the descendants of Freskin de Moravia (“of Moray”), such as the family of Murray, Earls of Tullibardine (later Dukes of Atholl), and the Earls of Sutherland. Freskin’s family originated in Flanders and most probably also descended from Charlemagne. Thus, the Mackenzie coat of arms with its stag’s head and star can be viewed as a merging of arms from the respective Matheson and FitzGerald sides of the family.