The Convention of  

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Hereditary offices


As chieftains, feudal barons by tradition appointed certain hereditary or lifetime officers of their household and court, and these have recognised armorial additaments. The keeper of the castle, for example, may apply to the Lord Lyon for the grant of a key proper in bend behind his arms, and the baron baillie, who presides over the court when the baron himself is unable to attend, has in the past been granted "a flat cap of justice environed by two guards of braid in the livery colours of the feudal baron".

Although the heads of Scotlandís 330 Ancient Families which had chiefs recognised by the Crown before the Union are clearly defined for legal purposes - the holder of the undifferenced arms is the preferred claimant for the title of chief - the status of the chieftain is less clear-cut. Those who have a following by virtue of long-standing divisions within a large family (for example,

Cameron, Campbell, Fraser, MacDonald) may be considered chieftains, but feudal barons were also treated as such by Lyon Court because they were assumed to be lairds who controlled large areas of the country and had a numerous tenantry, even though these might not bear the same name as the baron. For this reason, barons wear two eagle feathers, chieftain-fashion, in their bonnets when in full Highland dress. Armigers wear one feather, the recognised chiefs (members of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs) display three feathers. The wearing of eagle feathers is not covered by any ancient laws - the usage is entirely by custom - but the prerogative is strongly defended by the chiefs.

Some of Britainís most draconian laws, laying the onus on the accused to prove his innocence rather than the prosecutor having to prove hisguilt, are concerned with wildlife - and eagle feathers are included in the legislation. Chiefs and chieftains consider it wise to have a letter from someone authorised to keep eagles in captivity, or a licensed taxidermist, stating that the bonnet feathers come from a legitimate source. Although Britainís wild eagles cast more than 30,000 tail and wing feathers during their annual moult - all of them blowing about on hill and moor - no allowance was made for this by the law-makers and it is assumed that if the armiger is in possession of an eagle feather, he killed the bird to get it.