Crest Meaning: Borthwick

Posted by admin 22/07/2020 0 Comment(s)


The Borthwick Crest consists of a Moor’s head in profile and the Latin motto ‘Qui Conducit’.


In 1522 a seal of William Lord Borthwick had a horse’s head as its crest. It changed during the reign of Queen Mary and the Worman Manuscript of 1565 describes the crest as ‘a moor's head proper banded argent and sable, the band having long floating ends’. The motto was 'Qvy condy' (R.R. Stoddart, Scottish Arms being a Collection of Armorial Bearings 1370-1678, pp.55,100). This crest for the Lord Borthwick in the 1590s Hague Armorial roll shows a Moor with a hat like that described above. The probable meaning of this is explained below. 


The crest and motto seem to have changed again the following century. In the 1680s Sir George MacKenzie recorded in his Families of Scotland notes that the crest of the Borthwicks was a ‘savage head’ with motto ‘Qui Conducit’. There was no wreath for the head any more. This was also how Nisbet described it in his 1722 System of Heraldry. A heraldic ‘savage’ at this time did not have connotations of race. MacKenzie would describe the term seval times in his 1680 book the Science of Heraldry, equating the ‘savage’ to the ‘wild man’, such as seen in the Livingston Crest or Murray. Both Mackenzie and Nisbet would use a much more racialised term for other armorial features, such as those for Moir, Halyburton and the Company of Scotland, all indicating that Borthwick was meant to fit with the Wild Man motif at this time. The Wild Men figures were usually wreathed in oak leaves and carrying clubs. These were especially popular as supporters for coats of arms. The Hays had two wild men supporters, for example, who carried yokes, which recalled their supposed ancestors’ action in an early battle. The wild men here are representing the progenitors of their family, something like Romulus and Remus did for the Romans. So the ‘savage’ was usually an abstract representation of simple virtue and strength, but also primitiveness. They also became something of a metaphor for Highlanders (either idealised or patronisingly) so several major Highland landowners could often be found with these chaps somewhere in their heraldry. The Latin Motto ‘qui conducit’ translates as ‘he/she/it who leads/unites and it could be that the crest was remiagined to represent the founder of the Borthwicks in this guise. 


However, by the middle of the eighteenth century the Borthwick crest had shifted into something racial. Mr Kimber’s 1767 Peerage of Scotland uses an explicitly racial term to describe the Borthwick crest, the only instance in his entire work, while the other arms are still described as ‘savages’ in the wild man mould. Note the difference between the term used at this time and the term 'Moor' used in the sixteenth century. Moors were understood in the early modern period specifically as the Muslim inhabitants of North Africa. The term used by Mr Kimber more generally referred to people of sub-Saharan Africa.


Borthwick Coat of Arms

Depiction of Lord Borthwick’s arms in the 1769 Rider’s British Merlin: for the Year of God 1769.


What changed in between? The original line of Lords Borthwick died out in 1675 and the title was not fully reestablished until 1734 with Henry Lord Borthwick, who lived until 1772, after whom the lordship fell vacant again.


This head in its original form was most likely a reference to the legend of Sir William Borthwick, who is reputed to have fought and died at the Battle of Teba in modern-day Spain, in the Christian Crusade against the Moors, and the Sultan of Granada, Muhammed IV. Borthwick and a number of other knights, led by Sir James Douglas, were carrying the heart of Robert the Bruce, as on his deathbed, Bruce had asked that his heart be taken on crusade. At Teba the Scots were hacked to pieces, and before he died Douglas flung Bruce’s heart over the Moorish lines, while shouting ‘now pass thou onwards before us, as thou wast wont, and I will follow thee or die’. Borthwick is supposed to have beheaded the Moorish leader, although this is simply untrue - more likely this was a story used to explain the crest. There is no contemporary mention of Borthwick being present, only later mentions and we should hold them with some scepticism, but belief in this story, or one like it, probably lay behind the 1560s version of the crest, then its 1760s reversion (albiet with mistaken depictions). The poet John Barbour (1320-1395) mentions Douglas, Keith Sinclair and two Logans being at the battle, no more. We've not been able to find the first mention of a Borthwick being at the battle. 


Another story tells of a Borthwick becoming Grand Chancellor of the Knights Hospitallers and it was this man who supposedly gave the crest and motto to the family. This story seems to be made up as well, appearing in Celebrities of the Day: British and Foreign for October 1881.


So here we have a crest with four variations. The modern rendered returns to the 1560s version with wreath. 


MKP 22 July 2020, revised 22 August 2023