MACTHOMAS HERALDRY: THE HOUSE OF ABERLEMNO
That the ancient chiefs of the clan were armigerous we can scarcely doubt, since any Scottish mediaeval landowner or chief was in those days expected to bear arms more or less as a matter of course. Not only were armorial bearings used in the field for leading and rallying the clan, but also in a generally illiterate age they were invaluable for authenticating documents in addition to, or even in lieu of, a hand written signature.
Unfortunately, no record of any ancient MacThomas bearings has survived. When the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland was inaugurated in 1672, the MacThomas chiefly house was already deep in those troubles, which within another ten years virtually overwhelmed it. Therefore, we need not be surprised that no arms were recorded during that very unpropitious period. It would be pointless to speculate on what the ancient chiefly arms might have been. However, it seems reasonable to assume that they would have incorporated the red lion rampant in a gold field, borne quarterly by the Mackintosh chiefs as the attributed arms of their traditional forebears, the MacDuff Earls of Fife. It will, of course, be remembered that the MacThomas chief's are traditionally derived from the House of Mackintosh.
The last of the ancient de facto MacThomas chiefs was Thomas, fifth son of the renowned Iain Mor. When he died without male issue about the turn of the seventeenth Century and the chiefship became dormant, the representation of the family devolved upon the line of his immediate younger brother Angus. Angus was Iain Mor's sixth son who is claimed to have married a younger daughter of Sir James Balfour of Denmyln, Lord Lyon King of Arms in the reign of King Charles I. It was not until 26th October 1881 that arms were officially recorded in the Public Register in the name of Angus's twice-great-grandson, Patrick Hunter Thoms, D. L., Provost of Dundee and first Laird of Aberlemno in the County of Forfar. The family surname of this branch evolved from MacThomas to Thomas and finally to Thoms.
The arms allowed to Provost Thoms were: Or, a lion rampant Gules, armed and langued Azure, debruised of a chevron Sable, which is to say: a red lion with blue claws and tongue, ramping in a gold field with a black chevron superimposed. It has been suggested that this is the traditional MacDuff coat differenced by the addition of the black chevron of the Balfours, and indeed this would be highly appropriate for the line springing from Angus MacThomas and Elizabeth Balfour, of which Provost Thoms was then head.
Unfortunately the crest granted at the same time, viz. A demi-unicorn Ermine, armed, crined and unguled Or, supporting a shield also Or, (in other words: an ermine coloured demi-unicorn, with golden horn, mane and hooves, and holding a golden shield) was not so appropriate, being clearly based in error upon the almost identical crest of the totally unrelated Welsh Thomas baronets of Wenvoe. The motto borne above this crest was Virtutis Praemium (i. e. "the reward of virtue").
It should be understood that in Scottish armorial law any given armorial bearings can only belong to one person at a time, and descend from father to eldest son' ad infinitum. All the other, junior, members of the family (or "cadets" as they are technically called) have no right to arms whatever, unless they obtain from the Lord Lyon a suitably differenced version of their paternal coat (the process is known as "matriculation"). Even the eldest sons, when they succeed are, strictly speaking expected to re-matriculate in the Lyon Court, in order to establish their right by succession. Therefore, it was under these circumstances that the bearings of Thoms of Aberlemno were re-matriculated on 13th February 1884 in the name of the second laird, George Hunter MacThomas Thoms, Sheriff of Orkney, Zetland and Caithness. On 11th October 1946, Patrick Watt Thoms, Younger of Aberlemno (that is to say, heir apparent) re-matriculated these same armorial bearings debruised by the three-pointed green label of an eldest son. (2) Patrick Watt Thoms succeeded as the fourth laird on 17th May 1958, and resumed the surname of MacThomas on 24th October the same year.
The only cadet matriculation off these arms is that of Harry Duncan Thoms, T. D., who matriculated on 10th February 1955. (3) He was given the Thoms of Aberlemno coat, differenced by a bordure engrailed Gules, that is to say a red scallop-edged border round the edge of the shield; and a red collar was placed round the neck of his demi-unicorn crest. He was at the same time allowed the motto: "Never Say Die." When in 1967 the lairdship of Aberlemno became officially merged in the chiefship of the clan, the arms of Thoms of Aberlemno became a quartering in the coat of The MacThomas of Finegand.
R. F. P.
We gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness to Burke's Peerage Limited for the loan of the block of the bearings of Thoms of Aberlemno for the illustration on page 8, originally published in Burke's Landed Gentry, 1952 ed.
1) Although, if the owner of the arms so wishes, he can designate some other member of his family to succeed him, in which case the eldest son would merely be treated as a cadet.
2) A narrow horizontal band across the shield near the top, having three square ended vertical pieces hanging down from it. This is the mark of the heir apparent or (in Scotland) presumptive to the arms in question.
3) With special remainder to his nephew, Gavin Malcolm MacThomas Thoms who thus bears his uncle's arms differenced by a 3-pointed label as heir designate of tailzie.