The Arms of the Marquess of Ailsa

Article written by Iain Kennedy 10th April 2006 after visiting the Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Copyright © 2006-2008 Iain Kennedy last update 8th October 2008

The Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh holds the Official Register of Arms for Scotland and has done since 1672, when an Act of Parliament was passed requiring holders of Arms to officially register them.

The arms of the Chief of the Kennedys, the Marquess of Ailsa, were presented for matriculation in 1899 and the text of the entry is reproduced below. It is important to stress that the textual description - the 'blazon' - constitutes the official definition of the arms, the accompanying illustration does not. The illustrated arms are one artist's interpretation, so far as such intepretation can be stretched. Another artist, as long as he or she adheres to the blazon, can interpret it differently and be no less authentic. Therefore, I have it directly on authority from the Court of Lord Lyon that there is no official or definitive illustration of the Marquess of Ailsa's Arms.

Only the holder of the title associated with the arms - in our case the Marquess of Ailsa - is permitted to bear these arms. Others who wish to show their allegiance to the Chief of the Kennedys are permitted to bear the 'Crest (Badge)'. This consists of an illustrated reproduction of the Crest part of the blazon, surrounded by a fairly standardised belt and buckle and the armorial motto. The same rules of interpretation apply to the Crest badge as to the arms themselves - artistic interpretation is permitted as long as the blazon is adhered to. Such a Kennedy Crest appears on the homepage of this site.

Anyway, I now reproduce the text of the entry for the Arms of the Marquess of Ailsa as they appear on the Official Register.

"The Most Honourable Archibald Kennedy Earl of Cassillis and Baron Kennedy in the Peerage of Scotland and Marquess of Ailsa and Baron Ailsa of the Isle of Ailsa in the Peerage of the United Kingdom having by petition to the Lord Lyon King of Arms of date the twenty sixth day of July current represented that he and his ancestors in possession of the foresaid titles, have for several centuries used certain Ensigns Armorial but that the same have been omitted to be registered in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland in obediance to the Act of Parliament 1672 cap. 21 and the said Petitioner having prayed that the said Arms might be now matriculated in the said Public Register in his own name in compliance with the provisions of the said Act of Parliament, the Lord Lyon King of Arms by Interlocutor of this date Granted Warrant to the Lyon Clerk to matriculate in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland in the name of the Petitioner, the Most Honourable Archibald Kennedy Earl of Cassillis and Baron Kennedy, Marquess and Baron Ailsa of the Isle of Ailsa the following Ensigns Armorial viz:-

Argent, a chevron Gules between three cross crosslets fitchee Sable all within a double tressure flory counter flory of the second Above the shield is placed his Lordship's Coronet thereon a helmet befitting his Degree with a Mantling Gules doubled Ermine and upon a wreath of his Liveries is set the Crest a Dolphin naiant proper and in an escrol over the same this Motto: Avise la fin and upon a compartment below the shield are placed for Supporters two swans proper beaked and membered Gules

Matriculated the fifteenth day of September 1899

Francis Grant

Lyon Clerk"

The most important heraldic terms to know from the above are that naiant means swimming and proper refers to a natural colour. 'Avise la fin' is roughly translated 'consider the end'.

Note the wording of the motto which can be taken as authentic 'Avise la fin'. A number of permutations are in circulation such as 'Avisez la fin' or, quite often, 'Avise le fin'; these are not correct ('fin' is feminine so should always be 'la fin').

Whilst at the Court of Lord Lyon I also looked over some ancient books about the Kennedys and one page caught my eye, from an anonymously authored book published in 1849 entitled 'Historical Account of the Noble Family of Kennedy Marquesses of Ailsa and Earls of Cassillis with Holders of some of the principle Cadets thereof' (this book appears in Moss's bibliography with no author listed there either):

'In an MS book of blazonry and depiction in their proper colours of the arms of the nobility during the reign of Queen Mary in the Advocates Library those of the Earl of Cassillis are represented as they are now; the motto however is 'Avise a fin' instead of 'Avise la fin' which may be something different'.

As a note of the perils of trying to rely on a particular source for authenticity, I need only mention that Michael Moss, in his book about  Culzean Castle and the Kennedy family, has a frontispiece colour illustration of the arms which (before today's visit) I would have guessed to be as authentic as anyone's - but they differ significantly from those illustrated at Lord Lyon's Court.

The Court of Lord Lyon does not permit copying in any way from the Register so I have not been able to reproduce the illustrated arms which I found there. You may visit the Court which is in New Register House directly opposite Waverley Station in Edinburgh but be advised that there is a charge to view the register. The staff are extremely helpful and kind. Update 8.10.08. Digitised copies of the entries are now online at ScotlandsPeople, however they are a rather pricey £10.