Bruces of Skelton
The first Lyon coat known is that recorded among the Scottish coats in the Armorial de Berry assembled for Charles VII of France by Gilles le Bouvier in the 15th century ~ Argent a lion Azure, overall a riband Gules (in France a single lion was then always rampant) and shown below.
This was assigned to “Le seigneur de Lion” and the timing of le Bouvier’s visit to Scotland, 1450-55, suggests that it was then borne by Patrick Lyon, 1st Lord Glamis. The riband was certainly a difference commonly in use as such during the early years of heraldry, and here it implies quite clearly that Lord Glamis, Chief of the Name in Scotland, recognized that the right to the undifferenced arms, Argent a lion rampant Azure, lay somewhere else in the family.
On the left below we have the arms of Lyon as they are emblazoned today, and on the right the earliest Lyon arms on record. The red tongue and claws on the left became permanent somewhere along the way, and the double tressure flory-counterflory was introduced, with royal permission, to mark the royal marriage that had taken place a few generations earlier. The use of the double tressure allowed the riband to be discarded as an unnecessary difference.
The first listed in The Complete Peerage is Sir John Lyon, Thane of Glamis, who obtained the barony of Kinghorn by marriage with the Lady Jean, daughter of Robert II (and who was father of Sir John Lyon of Kinghorn, the father of the Patrick, 1st Lord Glamis mentioned earlier). He was quite a remarkable man, appearing to have arrived from nowhere to become an Auditor of the Chamberlain, Secretary to King David II, Keeper of the Privy Seal and then, nine years after his arrival and one year after marrying the King’s daughter, Chamberlain of Scotland to King Robert II.
The 1764 edition of Douglas’s Peerage of Scotland gives him, on the basis of an undated charter granting the lands and baronies of Forteviot and Forgundenny in Perthshire, a father also named Sir John, but this was omitted in the later edition. So we have only the mystery of why an unknown could rise so high in such a short time (when royal marriages were affairs of state and not arranged lightly), and we have only one clue ~ the arms.
The riband and the engrailed bends and the royal tressure shown above are all charges added to the basic coat of Argent a lion rampant Azure, and although that would not necessarily be obvious to a casual observer today, in the 15th century (and, we must assume, earlier, for these would have been the arms of his forebears of the name of Lyon) all who saw the Lyon arms would know that they were a differenced version of that basic coat (shown below). Only our newest readers may fail to recognise this coat as that of the Bruce family, Lords of Skelton in England from the late eleventh century.
The possibility that anyone could in the 15th century and earlier have used arms that proclaimed such a connection without just cause can be dismissed immediately. Heraldry in those years was far too important a system of communication to be abused in such a way, especially at the Scottish court itself, the centre of the nation. In those heraldry-literate times Argent a lion rampant Azure meant Bruce of Skelton, the family from which had sprung the forefathers of Robert the Bruce, father of David II, the king that John first served. And although the Bruce line in Scotland had borne the Annandale arms, they had not forgotten their blue lion. It appeared on a silver chief in the Annandale arms borne by the father and great-grandfather of Robert the Bruce, and on his tomb (as shown below).
So, to summarize, we have a stranger becoming Secretary to the King and bearing a differenced version of that King’s own family’s original arms, a man with no history who goes on to marry a daughter of that King’s successor and to possess one of the highest offices in the kingdom. He cannot have been a stranger, he must have had a history, and there is thus an unanswerable case for him having been a kinsman of the royal family.
Let us look at the descendants of Adam de Brusee, Lord of Skelton.
Peter de Brus, 7th Lord of Skelton, took a sizeable force to Scotland in 1269 to support King Alexander III. Did his Uncle Roger, of whom nothing is known apart from his presumably landless existence, accompany him and, if so, did he remain in Scotland, rewarded with lands, or perhaps marriage to an heiress, by a grateful King whose great-great-grandfather had granted Annandale to his family, and who had himself approved the marriage that brought the Earldom of Carrick to Roger’s kinsman, the father of King Robert I?
Roger, as the younger brother of Peter, 6th of Skelton, could have differenced the arms at that time with the addition of a simple charge overall. The Abbey of Gisborne founded by the 1st Lord of Skelton took his arms and differenced them with a bend Gules. The difference of a riband Gules, a typical choice for a younger son, explains the Scottish coat.
We cannot prove with certainty that the Lyons descend from Roger de Brus. He is at best only a possible candidate. The first Lyon could easily have been another unknown Bruce cadet, or an acknowledged cadet of illegitimate descent, but the heraldic evidence points firmly to a Bruce origin. The change of surname in that period is not necessarily of much significance. The Boyds claim to descend from a Stewart younger son whose blond hair gave him the name of Robert Buidhe, and it is quite feasible that if the incoming Bruce’s good fortune took him to lands or to an heiress in the highlands (around what later became Glenlyon), where non-patronymic surnames were still novel, he could readily have acquired his new name from the lion on his shield and banner.
© 2002 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates