The Stone Armorial Panels at Kinneil House


(With contributions by Arkady Hodge and Michael Pearce).

This large fine sculpted panel now stands in the cellars of Kinneil House, having formerly been placed at first floor level in a moulded surround set into the northern pavilion that connects the “palace” wing with the “Tower house”.  The panel was taken down in the late 1930s expressly to protect it by placing it inside the guardianship area which did not at first include the tower house; whether or not that was its original position will be discussed later.  The lithology of the stone has not been studied, but it appears to be a very fine grained blonde sandstone.  It measures 1.27m across and 1.92m tall.

The carving is detailed and apart from the loss of the more prominent features, such as the heads of the two supporters and the upper part of a medallion, it is in excellent condition.  The two heads were probably made from separate pieces that were attached to the parent block. The layout consists of two schemes, segregated by a central column.  Each houses an escutcheon emblazoned with a coat-of-arms.  That on the left represents those of James Hamilton, second Earl of Arran, who acted as the Regent of Scotland during the minority of Mary Queen of Scots, and has quarterly, 1st & 4th gules, three cinquefoils ermine, 2nd & 3rd argent, a lymphad (galley) sable, sails furled proper, flagged gules.  The right-hand arms are those of his wife Margaret Douglas and are parted per pale with her husband’s arms on the dexter side and the Douglas line on the sinister, argent, a chief azure three stars of the field.  Each escutcheon is capped by a ducal coronet.  The tinctures noted are, of course, those of convention and have not survived on the stone.

From the coronet above the Regent’s arms hangs the chain of the pendant badge of the Order of St Michael (“order of the cockle”), a prestigious French title of knighthood which he was awarded for arranging the marriage of Mary (Queen of Scots) to the French Dauphin in1548.  This provides a terminus post quem for the armorial panel.  He was also presented with the title of Duke of Chatelherault.  It forms a collar around the arms in the same manner as shown on the 1578 portrait of the Regent now hung at Lennoxlove.  The depiction in stone may have been inspired by the four orders of knighthood displayed on the outer entry of 1535 at Linlithgow Palace; the right-hand order there is that of St Michael.  At Kinneil the lower section of the pendant itself lies on top of the antelope supporter; the upper portion and the links connecting it to the chain having been lost as they stood proud of the main work. 

In sharp contrast to this fine gold chain, Margaret Douglas, the Countess of Arran, is provided with a slender looped rope with tied terminals known as a cordeliere.  The Order of the Cordelier was an order of chivalry created in 1498 by Anne of Brittany, widow of King Charles VIII, and the emblem was often adopted by widows or unmarried daughters–which Margaret was not.

It is notable that Margaret shows her own Douglas arms in full as a daughter of the house of Douglas.  Her father, James 3rd Earl of Morton, died in 1548, but the earldom was not granted to James 4th Regent Morton until 1553. So the design of the pairing of their arms, rather than conjoined arms, and her cordeliere may well acknowledge their claim to the disputed Morton earldom.  This again is an artefact of the particular date of the production of the panel. 

Below these are the corresponding supporters on compartments comprising of hillocks.  The first is an antelope argent, armed, gorged with a ducal coronet, chained and unguled or.  Antelopes were kept at Kinneil in the following century.  The second supporter is a naked hairy savage wreathed with laurel (only the curved lower line of which remains) about the head and holding a club erect proper.

The lower panels beneath each coat-of-arms feature the family mottoes in Lombardic lettering – “THROUGH” for Hamilton and “SICKIR” or sicker, Scots for sure, for Douglas.  The frame saw (usually depicted proper) and the padlock are correspondingly part of the associated crests.  These are set in ansate panels.  Together with the pictograms the mottoes are thus “Saw Through” and “Lock sicker.”  The latter means to “Be sure.”  The former refers to a story concerning the escape from England of Gilbert Hamilton who had just killed John Spencer and was fleeing with his servant from members of the Spencer family seeking revenge.  Shortly after entering Scotland Gilbert reached a forest and, realising that he was close to being captured, he and his attendant changed clothes with two woodcutters. They took a frame-saw and began felling an oak tree.  As his enemies drew near, Gilbert Hamilton noticed that his servant was looking decidedly nervous, and afraid that he might give them away with his frightened stares, he diverted his attention by shouting “Through”, the traditional forester’s exclamation.  The enemy did not see through the disguise.

The panels are framed by composite fluted baluster-style columns with panelled plinths and Corinthian capitals having simple acanthus leaves. These are typical of the mid-sixteenth century (Tudor period) and appear in various forms on many elaborate tombs (such as that of Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey). The pierced horizontal bands are also typical.

The armorial stone would have been brightly painted when first incorporated into the architectural scheme of the House. The conservation team at HES identified several colours, but as they were all lead based most, but not all, were considered to be nineteenth century in date (but see below). Colours found include black, orange, white and red. Some of the probable colours can be deduced from the heraldic background and features such as the wild man, saw, antelope, were normally depicted proper – that is in natural colours. The Regent’s portrait of 1578 is also a help. The colour of the architectural surround should not have upstaged the heraldry, where the brightest colours would have been used, as by convention of the lapidary and herald the colours related to the virtues of precious stones. Having the virtue of courage was like holding a ruby and being painted red all at the same time. The Scottish ‘Deidis of Armorie’ c.1494 makes this point. This overall gay colour scheme would have contrasted with the smooth bright white plaster facade of the Tower house.

A text of 1556, called ‘Ffier Mark Hamiltonis Historie’, appears to have been written with the aim of making Kinneil central to the origin of the Hamilton dynasty’s patriotic appeal and rise to power. According to this legitimising account ‘Gilbert Hamtoun’, former captain of Bothwell Castle, slaughtered his commander ‘Aylmer de Valence’ at Kinneil Muir. For this Robert the Bruce awarded Gilbert the arms of three cinquefoils on the red bloody field of Kinneil. The coincidence in the date of writing and that of the armorial panel is surely significant. This family mystique was intended to complement the architectural program at Kinneil.

At St Andrews there is a fragment of a very fine stone armorial with a mermaid and the tassels of the Cardinal’s hat, which compares in artistry with this piece, showing perhaps greater finesse than the slightly earlier sculpture at Stirling. Unfortunately its original setting is not known. Cardinal Beaton had strong family links with the Hamiltons and also with Sir James Hamilton of Finnart’s widow, to whom he paid a regular pension. For a time Beaton and the Regent represented opposing political poles, and in 1544-6 James 3rd of Arran was the Cardinal’s hostage at St Andrews. However, during this period Regent Arran visited Beaton at St Andrews and paid (from public household money) for some of the masonry works at St Andrews Castle including a minstrels’ gallery (NRS E31/13) – so their exchange of artistic patronage continued. It should also be remembered that Sir James Hamilton of Finnart had been appointed keeper of Linlithgow Palace in 1526 and was responsible for the outer gateway there.

Most coat-of-arms of this period were displayed immediately over a doorway or archway, commonly placed centrally to provide symmetry. This made them the focus of attention on the approach and allowed them to be seen in detail. They were often placed on a courtyard entrance or a gatehouse. Examples of the former occur at Burleigh Castle in 1582 and Craigmillar; and of the latter at Tolquhon Castle in 1589. The latter actually has two armorial stones, placed one above the other – that of James VI naturally occurring on the top. It is not as elaborate as that at Kinneil, but the quality is very good. The large horizontally arranged three panelled setting in the gatehouse at Balcomie is of a similar date.

The architectural approach to Kinneil in the mid sixteenth century is not known – the present layout dates to the late seventeenth century. There may have been outworks with defensive features to match those at the rear of the house. However the obvious location for the Kinneil armorial panel would have been at the centre of the imposing tower house block where it would have stood out from the white plastered façade. The small setting for a panel occurs at the precise centre of the main façade of Sir James Hamilton’s tower house at Craignethan in the 1530s, though this is only three storeys high. Tom Addyman pointed out the remains of one or possibly two settings a little to the north of the exact centre of the main tower house façade at Kinneil. This may have originally extended southwards, but anything in this position would have been removed by the insertion of the later fenestration. It would place it between the second and third storeys, which though a little high, would still allow the observer to make out much of the detail.

Illus 4: Reconstruction Drawing of the east elevation of Kinneil House, c1570.

Alternatively we may have had a similar layout as Tolquhon and Craigmillar where a Royal coat-of-arms surmounted those of the owner.  In that case the existing armorial stone would have been located on the first floor where a later window now lies, with one or more sculpted stones above.

The moulded surround for the armorial panel when it was located in the north pavilion is identical to that in the south pavilion.  Both have roll mouldings on three sides with a straight chamfered lower edge to shed rain water.  This suggests that both settings date to the 1670s when the south pavilion was constructed.

Illus 5: The 1550s Armorial Panel in the North Pavilion at Kinneil in 1935 shortly before its removal (RCAHMS).


The Kinneil armorial stone thus dates to the 1550s and is one of the finest and most significant to survive from this period. It is a reflection of the grandeur of the House and of the political power wielded by Regent Arran.


The second armorial tablet is also kept in the basement at Kinneil House.  Its origin has recently been debated but there is little doubt that it too is from Kinneil House and that it came from the corresponding setting in the south pavilion.  Its size and quality are appropriate and it was described in a visit to the house by the Edinburgh Architectural Association in 1897.

It is made from a fine grained sandstone block 1.23m square and weathering has removed all traces of the former paintwork.  Unlike its predecessor it does not have the heavy architectural framework and consequently appears less cluttered.  As the grand façade of Kinneil House would have been whitewashed it is likely that the background of this stone was similarly treated causing the painted relief sculpture to stand out even more.  Its positioning provided symmetry to that façade and it is therefore not surprising to find that the coat-of-arms depicted are those of the creators of the “Noble Front to the House” and its embellishments (Robert Sibbald in 1710).

Illus 7: The East Façade of Kinneil House, 1780.

They are the arms of Duke William and Duchess Anne – quarterly, 1st and 4th gules, 3 cinquefoils, ermine for Hamilton; 2nd and 3rd argent, a ship with her sails trussed up, sable for Arran; 2nd ground quarter argent, a man’s heart gules, ensigned with an imperial crown or, and on a chief azure, three stars of the 1st for Douglas; 3rd ground quarter as 2nd; 4th ground quarter as the 1st. The two supporters are antelopes which should be argent, but I have shown then proper so that they stand out from the background, armed unguled (i.e. having hoofs of a heraldic tincture different from that of the body) ducally gorged and chained Or. Above the escutcheon is a large ducal coronet for the Duchess, surmounted by a small one for the Duke. The top of the crest is an oak tree rutted and penetrated transversely in the main stem by a frame saw proper, the frame Or. This is an emblem of the House of Hamilton and the equivalent for Douglas (a salamander in flames) is absent. It goes with the motto on the ribbon below which bears the word “THROUGH.”

Anne Hamilton was Duchess of Hamilton in her own right following first her father’s execution and then her uncle’s death from wounds received at the battle of Worcester in 1651. Her subsidiary titles were Marchioness of Clydesdale, Countess of Arran, Lanark and Cambridge, Lady Aven, Innerdale, Machanshire and Polmont. Her husband, William Douglas, 1st Earl of Selkirk, was created Duke of Hamilton in 1660 for his lifetime, which ended in 1694. In heraldic terms it is clear that Duchess Anne takes precedence on the coat-of-arms, which is not only appropriate in terms of titles but also because Kinneil was a Hamilton possession.

Illus 8: The blank setting in the South Pavilion for the coat-of-arms.

In 1686 George Wallace was employed to paint several architectural features at Kinneil House using a range of material including white lead, chalk, lamp black and “16 pynts of lintseed oyl for culloring thre great gates, stone and timber work within the tower head, old armes and blind window, all 3 times over” at a cost of £44 14s.  He had previously worked at Holyroodhouse and Hamilton Palace.  Having apprenticed to a herald painter he was the right man for the armorial stones.

The 17th century armorial stone must have been removed from the south pavilion at an early date and certainly prior to the visit of 1897.  The back of the recess in which it must have been placed is harled suggesting that once it had been removed there was no intention of returning it.  Indeed, upon seeing the blank setting several historians suggested that the stone had never been cut.

G.B. Bailey (2021)