In Scotland, an "armigerous clan" is a clan without a chief, which is therefore said to bear a coat of arms collectively, rather than having a chief who bears the arms. The validity of this term is dubious, since under Scottish heraldic law, it is impossible for two men to use the same coat of arms, let alone an entire clan of people.
In a clan with a chief, only the chief bears the undifferenced arms; his kinsmen must add some kind of differencing mark so they can be distinguished. For example, in a clan where the chief bore the arms azure, a fess or, a clansman could add symbols above and below the fess. According to those who subscribe to the concept of "armigerous clans", if the chief were to die without an heir, everyone in the clan would then bear azure, a fess or. This would effectively destroy the purpose of heraldry, since it would be impossible to identify someone in a battle or tournament when there were hundreds of distantly related people using identical arms.
The Lord Lyon King of Arms, Scotland's authority on genealogy and heraldry, has said on the subject:
"There is a widespread misconception that a family or a clan can have a family or clan coat of arms. Many heraldic and clan web sites and other media suggest that a person has the right to use the family or clan arms. This is completely incorrect...What is permitted is for a member of a clan to use the clan crest. Usually what is referred to as the clan coat of arms is in fact the personal arms of the chief of the clan which can only be used by the chief.
- Lord Lyon information leaflet 10 http://www.scotarmigers.net/pdfs/info-leaflet-10.pdf
- "The search for clan chiefs". The Court of the Lord Lyon. Archived from the original on 23 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
- "What is a clan?". The Court of the Lord Lyon. Archived from the original on 24 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-11.