The Thistle & Bee Crest 

Donald MacInnes of Cumbernauld

Today you will have difficulty finding a MacInnes Thistle & Bee Crest in Scotland - why should this be so?  If you seek a MacInnes crest from a Highland dress retailer you are almost certain to be offered the “Bow and Arm” crest and told, “This is the Crest recommended by the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs for MacInneses.”  Let us try to find out why?

In the mid-nineteenth century a great revival of all things Scottish was underway, In 1822 George the Fourth visited Scotland in an event stage-managed by Sir Walter Scott in which the clan chiefs “re-discovered” clan tartans and glittering Highland balls became fashionable. Queen Victoria fell in love with the Highlands and Prince Albert donned the kilt.  Balmoral became a Highland retreat for the royals.

On the scene came two Sobieski–Stuart brothers who claimed descent from the Royal Stuarts. They told of how they had found an ancient book containing the tartans of the clans – acclaimed by most at that period in time, the claims of the brothers are now discredited.

What was not discredited was the beautifully illustrated volume of ‘The Clans of the Scottish Highlands’ by McIan and Logan published in 1845.  McIan, a theatrical actor was a talented illustrator and James Logan was a highly regarded authority on the Scottish Highlands.

In ‘The Clans of the Scottish Highlands’ the famous MacInnes clansman at the battle against the Vikings in Morvern is depicted.   The text also makes clear that “ no history or tradition “ derives the Inneses of Morayshire from the MacInneses of the West Highlands and Isles. -  The Inneses do not feature among the seventy-two clans featured in ‘The Clans of the Scottish Highlands’

The Armorial Bearings given for MacInneses in the book is: “Azure, on stars of six points, of the first. Crest: A thistle, a bee sucking the flower!  Motto: E Labore Dulcedo.”

Most Scottish clan and tartan books followed this lead and the Thistle & Bee Crest with the motto E Labore Dulcedo was used for MacInnes.  The Thistle & Bee appeared on all MacInnes paraphernalia and Highland accoutrements of the time – on kilts pins, cap badges, souvenir mugs and silver spoons.   

Frank Adam in his authorative ‘textbook’ ‘Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands’ published in 1924 gave the Thistle & Bee for the MacInnes Crest.

To this day a coloured plaster cast of the Thistle & Bee sits above the doorway of the home and workshop of John MacInnes of Onich in Scotland who designed the green MacInnes hunting tartan towards the end of the nineteenth century.

As late as 1953 ‘The Clans and Tartans of Scotland’ by Robert Bain cites E Labore Dulcedo as the motto of Clan MacInnes with the Thistle and Bee as the Clan Crest.

The current and oft consulted edition of Fairbairn’s Crests depicts the Thistle & Bee and the E Labore Dulcedo motto for both MacInnes and Innes.

But in 1945 a book entitled ‘ The Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland’ written by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, the then Albany Herald at the Court of the Lord Lyon, gave a Boar’s Head as the true Crest of Clan MacInnes and the motto: ‘Irid Ghipt Dhe Agus an Righ’ (Ask Gifts of God and the King).

The Thistle and Bee Crest and the motto E Labore Dulcedo had been used by the MacInneses for at least one hundred years – why the change by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney?  Part of the answer became apparent, when, forty years after publication; Sir Thomas revised Frank Adam’s 1924 ’textbook’ The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands’ in 1964.  In this publication the Boar’s Head Crest for Clan MacInnes is repeated with the Gaelic motto but it shows that both these features are derived from the eighteenth century unmatriculated Arms of the Reverend John MacInnes of Crathie.

A later revision of Robert Bain’s book ‘The Clans and Tartans of Scotland’ used the Gaelic motto of the Reverend John MacInnes but introduced the Arm and Bow Crest of Malagawatch matriculated in the 1960’s as the Crest for MacInneses.

Today the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs recommends the Arm and Bow for MacInnes.

What had happened to the Thistle and Bee and the E Labore Dulcedo motto?  For a explanation we have to go back to the nineteen thirties and take a look at a rather obscure article that appeared in the 1931 March edition of ‘Scottish Questions and Queries.’  Sir Thomas Innes of Learney wrote the paper.  In this article he criticised Frank Adam for his assertion in the 1924 publication that the Thistle and Bee and the motto E Labore Dulcedo were MacInnesian and that these same items, “without doubt,” belonged to the Inneses of Morayshire.   Further, Sir Thomas maintained that both the motto of E Labore Dulcedo and the Thistle and Bee Crest had been registered by various branches of the Inneses at the Court of the Lord Lyon - one registration as early as the seventeenth century.

When Sir Thomas was appointed Lord Lyon, King of Arms, he sought to rectify the error - as he saw it - in motto and heraldic symbol - hence the changes in the later publications.

A recent check at the Court of the Lord Lyon confirmed – unfortunately - that no MacInnes had ever matriculated the Thistle and Bee or the motto E Labore Dulcedo.

The inference was that McIan and Logan had made a mistake in 1845.  They had used the Arms of the Inneses for MacInnes and subsequent writers had continued to endorse this error until Sir Thomas’ intervention.

Therefore, when our Association recently petitioned for Armorial Ensigns incorporating the symbol of the Thistle & Bee, the one hundred and fifty year old controversy was brought into focus.

After consideration, the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, considered that he could not perpetuated the confusion, and therefore, was not prepared to authorise the use of the heraldic symbol of the Thistle & Bee in a petition for MacInnes Arms.

But what, and where, was the original MacInnes source for the Thistle & Bee cited by Logan and McIan?  Did they just get it wrong?  The text of The Clans of the Scottish Highlands of 1845 makes it crystal clear that Logan and McIan were very much aware of the difference and danger of confusion between the MacInneses and Inneses.  What is certain - is that the MacInneses have used the Thistle & Bee for one and a half centuries and that our research will continue.