In his classic and authoritative book ‘Scots Heraldry’ 1 Lord Lyon Sir Thomas Innes of Learney wrote ‘From earliest times heraldry has been used not only by individuals but by corporate bodies’ 2. The Act of the Scots Parliament of 1592 ‘Concerning the Office of Lyoun King-of-Armes’, states, ‘his hienis …… hes gevin and grantis full power and commissioun to lyoun King of armes ….. to visite the haill armes of noblemen baronis and gentlemen 3 borne and usit within this realme …… and to matriculate thame in thair buikis and Registeris.’ However, Learney notes that ‘even before the foundation of the Lyon Register the Lord Lyon had jurisdiction over corporate arms’ and ‘when the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings was instituted’ (1672) ‘a special division was set apart for the arms of corporations’, 4 though ‘ a few people neglected to take advantage of the Statute and thus lost the opportunity of enrolling their arms free of charge’. 5

This is exemplified by the fact that while the Honourable College of Chirurgeons (now the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh) recorded their arms in 1672 in the first volume of the Lyon Register, the College of Physicians failed to record the arms they used on their seal – indeed it was not until 1900 that they were made to do so.

Their seal was granted to them by Charles II in 1681 and carries an unusual mark of royal approbation – an ‘Augmentation of Honour’ in the form of what the King described as ‘Our Royal Coat of Scotland’, the arms of the king of Scots. Thus the arms of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh are Royal, Caroline and simple, but exceedingly distinguished. Until recently full use was made of them. As Innes of Learney said ‘As a system both of decoration and of identification which appeals to the best and deepest sentiments of human nature, heraldry is a science not of the past but of the present and of the future’.

Three papers about the College’s Arms have been put together and are presented here for general information. One surveys the whole story of the College’s Arms, another describes some curious armorial manuscripts in the College muniments, while a third considers the motto of the Arms and its relevance.

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Author: Dr Donald Emslie-Smith and Professor IML Donaldson

View the papers


  1. Second edition, revised 1956, Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, p223.
  2. City of Aberdeen, 1637;
    ‘Extracts from the Accounts of the Borough of Aberdeen : Discharge 1637-1638. “….mater of armes persewit be the Lord Lyon aganes the toun”’ Spalding Club Miscellany, V, 151, Aberdeen, 1852. 
  3. Innes of Learney, ibid, footnote, p239. ‘The gentlemen may be corporate personae’.
  4. Ibid. p. 222.
  5. Ibid. p 80.


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