Part 3






The Universe

The Realm

The Ruler

The State

Religious Authority

Administrative Authority

Armed Authority

The Achievement

Back to Part 1


The State


In some early European realms the state was symbolized by the moon. This was represented as a white disc or a crescent with or without a face, probably symbolizing the head of state. In many cases a crucifix, symbolizing the highest christian religious authority, was represented between a sun and a moon making an all encompassing symbol of christian religious society.  Such emblems are not on Pictish stones. In fact, representations of a moon are lacking altogether on them.

Nevertheless in Scottish iconography there is a symbol available symbolizing a trinity. It is the triquetra or celtic spiral. 

The triquetra is often found in Insular art, most notably metal work and in illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells. It is also found in similar artwork on Celtic crosses and slabs from the early Christian period. The fact that the triquetra rarely stood alone in medieval Celtic art has cast reasonable doubt on its use as a primary symbol of belief. In manuscripts it was used primarily as a space filler or ornament in much more complex compositions, and in knotwork panels it is a design motif integrated with other design elements.

It is suggested that the celtic triskel symbolized Annwn, the moon, Abred, the earth and Gwynvyd, the sun. In christian iconography it was often used as a symbol of the trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. A common representation of the symbol is with a circle that goes through the three interconnected loops of the Triquetra. This circle should emphasize the unity of the whole combination of the three elements.[1]

Indeed the triquetra is very appropriate to symbolize the trinity of the three ranges of authority which make up the state. This rather secular interpretation of the symbol would imply that in those societies employing the triquetra symbol there was a division of the political institutions into religious, administrative and armed institutions. The ringed triquetra in that case, would mean: the Authorities of the Realm (in the same way the ringed cross means the Religious and Administrative Authorities of the Realm). This contradicts the idea that the elements of the triquetra symbolize sun, moon and earth as, in that case, the ringed triquetra is a tautologism containing two symbols for Sun.



The ranges of authority are symbolized in Scotland on the so-called Pictish stones.

The symbols of administrative and religious authority on the stones are of christian origin, the symbol of armed authority at the same time being of pre-christian local origin. Indeed, religious and administrative authority were exercized by a new class of christian clerics partly succeeding the former druids. Far into the 12th century however the ruler only commanded the armed forces.  Of this division of authorities the Pictish/Scottish stones with their administrative/religious and war-sides are a confirmation. A change took place when the Roman Catholic church established itself in Scotland and the king was invested with administrative and armed authority, the religious authority being with the church of Rome and the bishops of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Then the first seal showing the king in majesty was designed for king Edgar (1097-1107).

Because of this division of authorities the triquetra and the ringed triquetra disappeared in the 12th century.


Æ In the head of this essay Triquetra’s encircled on a page of the Book of Durrow, probably Iona, 7th century (Dublin Trinity College MS A 4. 15.)


Ranges of Authority


The ranges of authority are symbolized by a square cross for administrative authority and a latin cross for religious authority. Both may be combined in kinds of celtic crosses making a symbol for a religious-administrative complex. In many cases however the crosses on the “Pictish Stones” are quite ambivalent.


Religious Authority


Pictland was christianized by St. Columba, at once warrior, statesman, hermit, and missionary - the greatest and most typical abbot of the Irish monastic ideal,  operating from Iona.

Columba, himself an Irish Scot, gained great influence over his fellow Scots in Dalraida, and over the Picts of the North. The Britons of Strathclyde were more gradually brought under the influence of the new religion. At the opening of the Seventh Century the Christianity of Iona had a firm hold on many at least of the Chiefs and tribes in Celtic Scotland.




A latin cross on the obverse supported by two cherubim or seraphs and between four totemistic beasts in its corners.

On the reverse clouds, a walrus or ‘pictish beast’, wild beasts herded and hunted, a sun composed of little whirls and ornaments in the lower register


Meigle 1


This is probably the earliest stone at Meigle, carved perhaps in the late eighth century during the reigns of



Talorc son of Drest



Drest son of Talorgan



Talorgan son of Onuist, also Dub Tholarg



Conall son of Tarla (or of Tadg)


The cross is filled with interlace and spiral decoration and flanked by mythical beasts. On the back are horsemen and animals, and the pictish symbols known as the serpent and the Z-rod, mirror and comb, pictish beast, salmon and dog's head.


Meigle 4




The ornate cross is framed by two elongated animals whose snouts lie along the top of the cross itself. More beasts and interlacing fill the background on either side. On the back of the slab are the crescent and V-rod symbol, and the pictish beast, along with horsemen, serpents and animals. Every available space is filled with interlace.


The Cross in Aberlemno Churchyard




This cross-slab probably dates from the 8th century. It is 2.30 m. high and 30 cm thick. On the obverse the cross protrudes about 10 cm. On it there is a wild cat ((? Felis silvestris - Felidæ) and a hind. On both sides of the cross below there are interlaced animals amongst others sea-horses.

On the reverse a square shield is represented charged with a Z-shaped figure, a disc with two ears and some riders and soldiers with round shields.


Of this type there is also an free-standing cross:


The Dupplin Cross




The Dupplin Cross, about 820, probably originally from Forteviot in Perthshire. The cross was on the loan to the Museum of Scotland from Historic Scotland, and is now housed in St. Serf's Church, Dunning, near Forteviot.


The cross shows:

1. A latin cross

2. on the crossing charged with a sun

3. In base a ruler on horseback

4. Twelve warriors armed with spears and round shields.

5. An inscription which reads: CUSTANTIN FILIUS FIRCUS [.]U[--]AM[...][CD]EFG

6. King David playing the harp


This ‘Custantin filius Fircus’ was Caustantin (789-820) son of Fergus, and a grandson or grandnephew of Onuist or a son of Fergus mac Echdach. His son Domnall may have been king of Dál Riata.


The Diocese of  St Andrews


The bishopric itself appears to originate in the period 700–900. By the 11th century, it is clear that it is the most important bishopric in Scotland.

The name St Andrews is not the town or church's original name. Originally it was Cellrígmonaid ("church of the king's mounth" hence Cill Rìmhinn) located at Cennrígmonaid ("head of the king's mounth"); hence the town became Kilrymont (i.e. Cellrígmonaid) in the non-Gaelic orthography of the High Middle Ages). Today St Andrews has replaced both Kilrymont (and variants) as well as the older English term Anderston as the name of the town and bishopric.

When exactly the name of St. Andrews was given to the diocese is uncertain. Early bishops are called  just bishops and bishops of Scotland. Only from the beginning of the 14th century they were called bishops of St Andrews.


After the archbishopric of York received its first French archbishop Thomas of Bayeux (1070-1100), York was claiming the Scottish bishoprics beyond the River Forth to be its suffragans as part of the hierarchy of the Latin Church. Because Scotland, north of the Forth, had never been in the Roman Empire or part of Anglo-Saxon England, it was difficult for the church of York to produce any evidence of its claim, but it was established that Britannia had two archbishops in the Latin hierarchy. In the time of Giric (1093-1107)), styled as Archbishop in Scottish sources, St Andrews is claimed to be an "apostolic see" and the "second Rome".

Eadmer, an Englishman from Canterbury was appointed to St Andrews/ Cellrígmonaid  by Alexander I (1107-’24) in 1120, but was forced to resign soon after because the king would not agree to make the bishopric part of the English church under Canterbury. Requests were made to the papacy for an archbishopric at St Andrews/ Cellrígmonaid, and although these failed, the Scottish bishoprics were recognised as independent in 1192.

From about the recognition of the independence of the bishopric of St Andrews at end of the 12th century a cross saltire has been associated with the diocese and from the middle of the 13th century the emblem of St. Andrew-on-the-cross with its bishop. The cross saltire may have been an early badge of ecclesiastical rank of an abbot or bishop, referring to St. Columba and the first abbots of Cellrígmonaid. It consists of the greek letter X, the first letter of the name of Christ. It is a reduction of the XX-cypher which was often used by archbishops but also of the XP-cypher which was used by christian commanders.


The oldest representation of a cross saltire in connection with St. Andrews is on the seal of St. Andrews Priory from about 1190. It is engraved on the dexter side of a building representing St. Andrew’s cathedral with St. Rule’s tower, together with a latin cross on its sinister side. On a like seal from the middle of the 13th century the tower between the cross saltire and the latin cross are surrounded by the legend: SIGILL EGLESIE SANCTI ANDREE APOSTOLI IN SCOCI.


The seal of St Andrews Priory, c. 1190

 (St. Andrews Manuscript ms30276).


 13th century seal of St. Andrews Cathedral.

St. Andrews Cathedral between cross saltire and latin cross. The symbol of the Trinity in base. Legend: SIGILL ECLESIE SANCTI ANDREE APOSTOLI IN SCOTTI [2]


The Bishop of St. Andrews (Scottish Gaelic: Easbaig Chill Rìmhinn, Scots: Beeshop o Saunt Andras).


The Augustinian account of the foundation of the most eastern diocese of St Andrews, written between 1140 and 1153, on a book-cover (cumdach) writes about the titles of the bishops:

[...] From ancient times they have been called bishops of St Andrew, and in both ancient and modern writings they are found called "High Archbishops" or "High Bishops of the Scots". Which is why Fothad, a man of the greatest authority, caused to be written on the cover of a gospel book these lines:


'Fothad, who is High Bishop of the Scots, made this cover for an ancestral gospel-book'.
So now in the ordinary and common speech they are called Escop Alban, that is, "Bishops of Alba"

The Bishop of St Andrews, came to be regarded as the chief cleric of the kingdom of Scotland, ahead of the Bishop of Glasgow (2nd), the Bishop of Dunkeld (3rd) and the Bishop of Aberdeen (4th).

On the seals of their bishops St Andrews crucified appeared in the middle of the 13th century. The bishops however were styled Episcopi Scottorum until the beginning of the 14th century when their title was changed into Episcopi Sancti Andree instead.


Eassie stone

Square cross with seraphim for supporters

Shandwick stone

Latin cross with seraphim for supporters


In spite of the fact that it is  uncertain when the name of St Andrews for the diocese was introduced, the veneration of St. Andrews at least dates from early 12th century.

The earliest known account about the introduction of the veneration of St. Andrews is in the 1165 AD Register of St. Andrews. It tells that “in 823 AD a Pictish army under Angus Mac Fergus, High king of Alba, along with a Scots detachment led by Eochaidh Mac Ersin, King of Dalriada (the grandfather of Kenneth Mac Alpin, the first High King of Scotland), was surrounded by a much larger force of Angles under Athelstane. Some historians claim the encounter followed a cattle raid by the Picts.

Before the battle, King Angus prayed to God for a victory, despite his smaller army. During the battle clouds appeared, forming a white diagonal cross against a blue sky - the very cross on which St. Andrew was martyred. Angus promised that if St. Andrew helped his forces to victory, then he would make St. Andrew his kingdom’s patron saint. The Picts and the Scots defeated the Angles and St. Andrew became Alba’s patron saint. When Kenneth Mac Alpin, who may have been at the battle with his grandfather, united the Scots ad Picts and named the new kingdom Scotland, Andrew became the patron saint of the whole realm.”

The register of St Andrews was begun during the term of office of Bishop Richard the Chaplain (1163-’78) who was the chaplain of king Malcolm IV (Máel Coluim IV †9 December 1165) before becoming bishop of St. Andrews. The story reflects in a way the laborious relations of Malcolm IV and his broter William (the Lion) with Henry II of England. The vision of the sign in the sky is directly borrowed from Eusebius of Ceasarea (†339 ca) about the vision of the cross by Constantine in his Vita Constantini, Book IX.


After the (attested) introduction of his veneration it took about a century before the figure of St. Andrews appeared on the seals of the bishops.

The typical attitude of the crucified St. Andrew reminds the seraphs or cherubs which were used as the supporters of the (latin) cross on some pictish stones, together symbolizing the head of the diocese of St. Andrews.


Cherub [3]

The emblem of the bishops of St. Andrews then, is a pastiche of their badge of ecclesiastical rank and the representation of these angels, supporters of the cross, making the bishop himself a supporter of the (latin) cross and of christianity.

Somewhat later there is a proof that he was considered to be the patron-saint of Scotland when he appeared on the seal of the Government of Scotland.


Seal of bishop Gamelin (1255-’71)

Seal of bishop William Fraser 1292 [4]


Great seal appointed for the Government of the realm

after the death of Alexander III, 1290-‘92


Image: St. Andrew crucified on the cross saltire in a field strewn with trefoils. On the reverse the arms of Scotland.

L.: andreas : scotis : dvx : est : & : compatriotis. (Andrew is the leader of the Scots and their compatriot).  [5]


Fragment of a seal from a charter by Stephen, Prior of St Andrews,

granting land in St Andrews to John of Lindsay, lord of Balcrody, dated 1381

(St Andrews Muniment UYSL110/PW/115).


St. Andrew, Patron Saint of James III

On a painting from Hugo van der Goes

National Galleries of Scotland


Administrative-Religious Authority


Columban, however, by his individualism and austere puritanism, came into conflict not only with the Merovingian rulers of Gaul but also with the local ecclesiastical administration; his limitations exemplify those of the Irish monastic system as a whole and explain why, in the end, it was supplanted by the ordinary administrative system of the church. This occurred in Pictland in 710 and on Iona in 716.


Cossans Cross-Slab


Aberlemno Road Cross



Aberlemno  Road Cross-Slab


This stone has until recently been thought to date from the late eighth century. More recent comparative analyses have suggested that it may be of a later, mid-ninth-century origin.

On the obverse is a Celtic cross charged with a sun and supported by two angels and totemistic beasts in base. On the reverse a symbol of heaven and a thunderbolt, the ruler and his retinue and two beasts in base.

The cross symbolizes the religious and administrative government by the grace of God symbolized by the angels, messengers of God.  On the reverse is the ruler being the commander of the armed forces


The high Crosses


The monastery of Iona was an Irish foundation and throughout the 7th and 8th centuries continued to be peopled by Irishman (‘Scotti’). In front of mediaeval abbey church there stand today two wheeled High Crosses, dedicated to St. John and St Martin. The cross is of the same from as that sculptured on some of the slabs but are standing clear now. They occur nowhere in the Pictish area, but in the west country only, and in Ireland. The Kildalton Cross on Islay is the only other to survive complete, although for Iona sundry detached and broken parts, and a legend, testify to the existence of many in Celtic times. These High Crosses date from the 9th to 10th centuries, which is the era of the House of Alpin (842-1034). (Æ See also:  Ireland


St. John’s Cross

Kildalton Cross

St. Martin’s Cross


Administrative Authority


St. Andrews Cathedral cross slab

(St Andrews Cathedral Museum)


Meigle 2



Created in the ninth century, this great square cross used to stand near the entrance into the churchyard of Meigle. The angular cross with its projecting bosses may have been modelled on a portable jewelled metal cross, and its shaft is carved with vibrant animals, the back of the slab bears horsemen, warriors, beasts and an image of the biblical story of Daniel in the lions’ den.

This refers to Daniel 6:2-4:

 Darius decided to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, stationed throughout the realm, 2  and over them three administrators, including Daniel. These satraps would be accountable to them so that the king would not be defrauded. 3 Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. 4 The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.


The stone is a representation of the ‘distinguished administrator’, or even the successor of the emperor (!), his administrative authority symbolized by the square cross on the obverse.




Square cross on a pole. In chief a bird with a wafer in its beak symbolizing the Holy Spirit between two clerics kneeling, two quadrupeds at their feet.

On this stone the symbol of armed authority is missing




On the reverse are an eagle and a walrus, a hunting scene, David and his harp, a rider hunting a deer.

The harp of David refers to


1 Samuel 16 David in Saul’s Service

14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you.16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.” 17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.” 19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. 21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” 23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.


Meigle 5.

This small slab was intended to stand as a headstone for a grave. The cross is carved in high relief with engaging animal heads adorning its pedestal, and a single horseman occupies the back of the slab. Two pictish symbols are deeply incised on one of the narrow faces of the stone, a mirror-case and a pictish beast.


St. Vigeans N° 7.

Reconstruction drawing of the cross and its base.


Armed Authority






Armed authority initially was symbolized in christianity by the XP-cypher, introduced by Constantine the Great at the battle of the Milvian Bridge. In Spain for example, the XP-cypher was used until far in the middle ages. Other societies had a sword for symbol of armed authority and this was also introduced in the Frankish empire in the 9th century Ottonian Era. The scottish symbol for armed authority as on the stones, was a representation of a thunderbolt. A thunderbolt was a symbol of armed authority in many non-christian societies but was usually represented there as a double bident or -trident and has developed through history into a fleur de lis, also known from the Roman Empire. In Ireland it consisted of two spirals with arrows in between. In Scotland a different shape of thunderbolt was designed somewhat related to the Irish thunderbolt. This consisted of two clouds or whirls separated by a Z-shaped line which represents the flash itself.


Pictish Symbol Stones - examples of Z-Rod and Double disc designs



In Christian times the thunderbolt for symbol of armed authority was replaced by a sword. It appeared for the first time in the 9th century on the portrait of king Donald II (889-900). On the seals of majesty of the later kings it is kept upright in the right hand of the sitting ruler from where it disappeared on the 2nd seal of Alexander III (1249-’86). On the equestrian seals it appeared in the time of Alexander II (1214-’49) and it remained there until the time of James VI.


In 1502 a sword, called a Sword of Honour, with a scabbard was ordered by King James IV from the Edinburgh cutler Robert Selkirk. This was carried by the crowned king in his right hand, the following year at a meeting of the Parliament. However the native-made Sword was soon superseded by another as Pope Julius II presented James IV with a sword in Holyrood Abbey on Easter Sunday 1507. This Sword and its scabbard were made by Domenico da Sutri and are still a part of the Scottish regalia. [6]


Sword and scabbard of Domenica da Sutri


The Royal Guard


Extremely rare gold Unicorn of James III, struck in Edinburgh, Scotland c. 1484-88


The gold Unicorn was introduced during the latter part of the reign of James III, although the king’s titles and name are absent from the coins of this issue, their place held by a repeated Latin legend, EXURGAT DEUS ET DISSIPENTUR INIMICI EIUS, translating to mean “Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered” (Psalm 68:1). The arms of Scotland supported by the unicorn and its motto are probably the achievement of the Lord High Constable of Scotland, an office made hereditary for the Earls of Erroll in 1453. As the unicorn was a badge of a high military official the achievement with the two unicorns for supporters, introduced a few years later, would mean the ‘Ruler of Scotland by the grace of (supported by) the Lord High Constable” (the Guard).


Arms of the High Constables of Holyroodhouse (1513-’42)

originally fixed above the entrance of the Gatehouse of  Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.


The High Constables of Holyroodhouse are a small corps of ceremonial guards at the Sovereign's official residence in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. Dating from the early sixteenth century, they now parade whenever the Sovereign, or the Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, is in residence. They form part of the Royal Household in Scotland.


The Black Watch


Æ Tartan Uniform




The earliest Scottish shields known are square and decorated witth knobs and spirals. In the 9th century round shields occurred. These developed into the Highland Targes which were a part of the equipment of  the Scottish warriors until the middle of the 18th century. In the orders for the Highland Army of l0th and 11h October 1745, given at Holyrood House, Colonel Lord Ogilvy orders that all the officers of his regiment shall "provide themselves in targes from the armourers in Edinburgh." The older targets fared badly after the Disarming Acts. A description of the weapons in Dunvegan Castle in 1773, says there is hardly a target now to be found in the Highlands. After the Disarming Acts the Highlanders made them serve as covers to their buttermilk barrels. One of the finer specimens was rescued from a coal-cellar in 1870.

Targets were carried by some of the men of the Black Watch when first embodied in 1740, and Grose mentions that he remembered "many private men of the old Highland Regiment in Flanders, in the years 1747 and 1748, armed with targets which, though no part of their uniform, they were permitted to carry."

Nowadays they are sometimes shown as a part of the national costume.

In the 12th century the shields of mounted knights were of the common European shape: at first of the so-called Normandic shape and from the beginning of the 13th century triangular as was the fashion in the rest of Europe.


Three Warriors7th-8th cent (?)

Brough of Birsay, Orkney


Eassie cross slab


Four warriors bearing Targes, 9th cent.   


Æ See also:  The Highland Targe or Target (Shield)




From about the middle ages the clan chiefs began to have a coat of arms. They were put on record in medieval Rolls of Arms for example in Caerlaverock Roll and in Gelre Armorial.


The King of Scotland and his Vassals

Gelre Armorial, fol. 64, n° 679. 1360 ca


Coats of arms began to be put on record systematically in Scotland in the 14th century by the institute of the Lyon King of Arms. Of the office of Lyon there is a reference in 1318. Froissart records that, in 1327, Robert de Bruce defied Edward III by the mouth of a Herald called Douglas, and in 1333, when Edward was at Alnwick, a Herald called Dundee came before the King to announce that he had been sent to parley by the Scottish lords and bishops. The Scottish Herald derives his name from ‘the national escutcheon’. The precise date of his institution is not known. He is not recorded at the Coronation of Alexander III at Scone on 13 July 1349, but played a prominent role at that of Robert II on 26 March 1371. In the early days he was probably subordinate to the Marshal and the Constable, but his dependence on them cease early, and he came to hold his office immediately from the Sovereign. The list of office holders known by name starts with Henry Greve (1399 ca.) and continues to the present day with  Reverend Canon Dr Joseph Morrow (2014-). The title of Lord Lyon King of Arms dates from 1662.  An Act of 1672 ordered the matriculation of all arms in Scotland, and expressly authorized Lyon to grant armorial bearings ‘to virtuous and well deserving persons’, and his authority in these matters was reserved entire in the nineteenth article of the Treaty of Union.

The earliest Scottish heraldic register is the ‘Book of Blazons’ compiled by Sir David Lindsay of the Mount in 1542. [7]

In 1985 294 coats of arms of Scottish chiefs were collected and represented by Don Pottinger on a poster called ‘Scotland of Old’. [8] Nowadays many of the clans have their chiefs coats of arms and their own tartans. The summing up of these coats of arms and tartans is beyond the scope of this article.



The Hay Arms and Tartan

The Gillivray Arms and Tartan [9]




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© Hubert de Vries 2015-02-09



[1] Wikipedia: Triquetra

[2] N° 66.

[3] Shrine of St. Maurinus. 1170 ca. Cologne, Church of St. Pantaleon.

[4] (=Gray-Birch 1907).

[5] Gray-Birch, Walter de: History of Scottish Seals. Stirling & London, 1905.  Fig 15

[6] Burnett, Charles J & Christopher J. Tabraham: The Honours of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1993.

[7] Woodcock Thomas & John Martin Roninson: The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford, 1988. Pp. 152-155. Also: Fox-Davies, A.C.: The Art of Heraldry, 1904. Pp. 18-19.

[8] Moncreiffe, Sir Iain; Pottinger, Don (1985). Bartholomew's Clan Map of Scotland. Edinburgh: John Bartholomew and Son. ISBN 0851527329.

[9] Tartans from Grimble, Ian: Scottish Clans & Tartans. London 1993/2002. The arms of Hay and Gillivray from Don Pottinger op.cit. 1985