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The Chalmers crest is a lion with the motto ‘avance’, French for ‘advance’. On the surface this is pretty standard stuff, a lion being a famous symbol of the Scottish monarchs, while ‘advance’ evokes bravery, being the command for troops to march into battle. The notable thing about this lion though is its colour – black. The Lion Rampant of Scotland is usually red, while the lion who supports the Scottish monarch’s coat of arms (alongside the unicorn) is yellow – although he was a borrowed from English heraldry after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. A more typical Scottish red lion (a half or demi-lion) can be seen on the shield of the chief’s full coat of arms.
Black lions are rare in European heraldry, the two most notable examples being from the Count of Flanders (a black lion rampant) or the Hohenstaufen dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire (three Black lions arranged like the English three lions) or Salzburg (another black lion rampant).
The Chalmers take their name from the office of Great Chamberlain of Scotland and a Hebertus de Camera held the office 1124 to 1153 for King William the Lion, which may be the explanation for the family’s fondness for lions. Several Scottish families can trace their origins to Flanders (Fleming being the most obvious), so the black lion may be a nod to the Chalmers originating from there, but there is no documentary evidence to support this theory one way or the other.
The crest and motto are recorded in Nisbet’s 1722 System of Heraldry, attributed to Alexander Chalmers of Cults (motto then ‘avancez’). He was provost of Aberdeen in 1567. The Cults Chalmers are now the principal family, themselves being a cadet of the Chalmers of Balnacraig.
MKP 15 January 2021