The symbols and heraldry associated with our Scottish heritage are indeed fascinating to many people. Unfortunately, they are often misunderstood and misused. The Clan Keith Society USA, Inc. encourages all interested parties to learn and follow the rules of heraldry. Primarily, that there is no such thing as a family coat of arms. Arms are the property and signature of an individual, and the ownership of arms is strictly maintained by Lord Lyon. Those eager to show their support of Clan Keith are encouraged to use the clansman's crest badge as described below.


"Heraldry, or armory, is a system of personal or corporate identification that first developed in Europe during the twelfth century and which is still in use today. It uses bright colors in recognizable and easily remembered arrangements together with objects, called 'charges'.... These colorful designs were first used on banners, shields and surcoats worn or carried by individual knights in battle and in tournaments. The term 'coat of arms' derives from the surcoat on which the heraldry was displayed. See our explanation of the various components in a coat or arms.

In order that heraldic symbolism would be able to identify the individual, rules evolved whereby each coat of arms could belong to only one person at a time.... In some European countries, a system of 'patronymic arms' has grown up - persons bearing a particular name, although perhaps unrelated, are considered as having an equal right to the arms of the name. This is not the case in Scotland and it is essential in understanding Scots heraldry to realize that the rule concerning the individuality of heraldry was, and is, strictly applied under Acts of the Scottish Parliament of 1592 and 1672; even an eldest son may not bear his father's arms during his father's lifetime without a suitable difference being displayed. Consequently, the terms 'family arms' or 'clan crest' are meaningless in Scotland. Arms are strictly personal to the owner and their use or display by others, without permission, is illegal.

The only heraldic device which may be used by a non-armigerous clansman is the so-called strap and buckle or clansman's crest badge."

Source: Way, George. Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. Barnes & Noble, 1998.


According to early accounts, a warrior of the Chatti slew the Danish General Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010. For his valor, Malcolm II dipped three fingers into the blood of the slain and drew them down the shield of the warrior, thereafter named Marbhachair Chamuis, or 'Camus Slayer'. Ever since then, the chief of the Keiths has born on his arms the same three (sometimes four) red lines. This is depicted as early as 1316 on the seal of Sir Robert de Keith, marischal.

The Keith crest is a roebuck's head (usually a 10-point stag) emerging out of a Crest Coronet (notifying nobility).


The standard is a long, narrow, tapering flag, granted by the Lord Lyon only to those who have a following, such as clan chiefs. As such, it is the property of that individual and should not be used or displayed by others except by permission (such as the educational purpose here).

At the hoist, the standard usually shows the owner's arms, though some are still granted with the former practice of having the national saltire in the hoist (as the one shown here). The remainder of the flag is divided into two tracts of the livery colors for chiefs of clans or families.... Upon this background are usually displayed the owner's crest and heraldic badges, separated by traverse bands bearing the owner's motto or slogan.

The length of the standard varies according to the rank of its owner, ranging from 4 to 8 yards. As the Earl of Kintore, the Chief of the Name Keith's standard is 6 yards in length.

Source: Way, George. Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. Barnes & Noble, 1998.


Often associated with battle cries, mottos appear in virtually all Scottish Arms. Most authorities believe that mottos first appeared on standards and shields, and were thus used as war cries as well as religious or patriotic statements. They usually appear in an escrol above the individual's crest, as well as in the clansman's badge. Clan Keith recognizes two mottos:

  • Quae amissa salva, which translates What has been lost is safe. This motto references the role that the Keith family played in protecting the Scottish Regalia (crown, scepter, sword and scabbard) from Oliver Cromwell's troops during 1651-2.
  • Veritas vincit (Truth conquers) see Robert Keith under history>origins


The Keith plant badge is the white rose.

Before tartans and clan crests were established, plant badges were the likely symbols of clan affiliation. Many Scottish clans opted for sprigs from trees like oak, Scots pine, hazel, birch, juniper, rowan and even driftwood to identify themselves. Other clans chose among Scottish wildflowers for a plant badge.

Sprigs of the plant may be pinned behind the silver crest on their bonnet or sash-badge brooch. The plant badge may also be carried beside the Clan standard or fixed on a staff or spear.


The clansman's crest badge may be worn and displayed by 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.

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.

Source: http://www.burkespeerage.com/articles/scotland/esnews/es0901b.aspx


Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia by George Way, 1998

Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland, Ed. by John Key and Julia Keay, 1994

Purchase Books