National Animal of Scotland

Can you guess the national animal of Scotland?

The lion?

No.

The haggis?

No.

The unicorn?

YES!

Turns out, I learned something new about Scotland. The official national animal of Scotland is indeed the unicorn.

Unicorn national animal of scotland

On our trip to Scotland last year, finally knowing this fun fact about Scotland, unicorns popped up everywhere. This beautifully painted rendering is on a wall just outside the gate to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.

The adoption of the unicorn goes back in Scottish heraldry to William I in the twelfth century when the Scottish coat of arms bore a unicorn.

In Celtic mythology, the unicorn is associated with purity and innocence as well as power and masculinity. Wild, the most powerful of creatures, and untamable, legend has it that only a virgin maiden can subdue a unicorn. This myth lends to the connection in lore between the unicorn and the Virgin Mary.

The Scottish unicorn is always depicted chained to a golden crown around his neck. A free unicorn is thought to be a dangerous beast, and apparently, the powerful Scottish Kings could entrap and master the unicorn.

Mercat crosses in Scottish market towns sometimes bear unicorns. I found two: outside St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh and Melrose.

unicorn mercat cross

unicorn mercat cross

In 1603, when, under the reign of James VI of Scotland, Scotland and England unified, the Scottish Royal Arms was changed to two unicorns supporting a shield, as seen on a column of the ruined Melrose Abbey. 

_DSC0339

That same James VI became James I of England and Ireland and again changed the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom to replace the unicorn on the left with the lion, the national animal of England. The Scottish version of the Royal Arms places the unicorn on the left and both animals are fittingly crowned.

Englands Royal Arms

April 9th is National Unicorn Day.

(Photo of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom on England’s House of Parliament courtesy of Pixabay.)

 


2 thoughts on “National Animal of Scotland

  1. What? How cool is that? I’ll answer my own question. Very cool! Now I’m wondering if heraldic (is that the right term?) animals are always portrayed as rampant. If you ever see a unicorn in the wild when you visit Scotland, I expect a photo.

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    1. 😎 Well, as is not infrequent, I had to look up how you were using “rampant” in the sentence! Learned something new from you again. I didn’t know rampant also means “rearing.” The “on one back foot” part would make it really aggressive! So appropriate for heraldry design. Or the Ferrari rearing black horse. I once had a horse go rampant with me on it!

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