The ancient shield of the Chief of Clan Arthur bears three gold antique (or eastern) crowns, set on an azure background. In heraldic symbolism; a crown signifies a royal or seigniorial authority; the colour gold, generosity; and azure or blue represents loyalty and truth. The cross is a later addition to the shield, from the crusades, but the three antique gold crowns are proof of kingship in the ancestry of Clan Arthur - but which king and which kingdoms?
'King' Arthur's blazon is described in 13th Century manuscripts as having displayed three gold crowns set on a blue background, which was later modified to thirteen gold crowns, to represent the thirteen kingdoms of Northern Britain. This raises the question as to which kingdoms the three original crowns represented. Oor Arthur was, by birth, 'Prince' of the 'Kingdoms' of Dalriada, Strathclyde and Goddodin. It is only reasonable to assume that these are the three 'kingdoms' represented on his shield.
It is worth noting at this point, that Uther Pendragon, 'King' Arthur's mythical father, boasted that he was known as Gorlasser (Blue Enamel) because the bright blue enamel of his belt, dazzled his enemies. This is attested in the poem "Death Song of Uther Pendragon" attributed to the Welsh speaking bard, Taliesin.
Another medieval poem 'The Funeral Ode to the Wonderful Pendragon' states that the 'lamenting multitude of the host earnestly yearn for the joyful prize of blue enamel and wish for their Prince!'
Although the MacArthur shield is unique in Scottish heraldry (as far as I know) there are other locations in Europe where similar shields can be found. These further pieces of evidence open up fascinating links to the Clan Arthur story.
The Southern Irish province
of Munster was an ancient kingdom once ruled by the MacCarthys who had
their seat at the famous Blarney Castle. The Province of Munster's shield
is also composed of three gold crowns set on an azure background. Perhaps
it should be no surprise that the MacCarthys at Blarney Castle still
recognise the MacArthur tartan as their own. The Dalriadic ancestry
of Artur MacAeden from the High Kings of Ireland is irrefutable. ( The National Arms of Ireland ).
One explanation offers
the three crowns as representative of the Three Wise Men, but this appears
to be another of the usual later attempts to provide a biblical source
for a Celtic phenomena. The second explanation of the three crowns representing
the Kingdoms of Sweden, Norway and Scania, seems more plausible and
contains a familiar echo. The Norse connections to the Arthurian saga
will be explored further in future articles.