Why the Unicorn?

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Since the reign of King Robert III in the late 1300s, the Unicorn has been a part of the official seal of Scotland. Robert III turned to the purity and strength of the Unicorn for inspiration in rebuilding his nation; and the Unicorn was soon incorporated into the royal seal.

 

When James VI of Scotland became King James I of both England and Scotland on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, he drew up a new royal coat-of- arms that included both the traditional English lion as well as the Scottish Unicorn.

 

According to folklore, however, the lion and the unicorn hate each other - a tradition going back to the ancient Babylonians in 3,500 B.C. The fight between the two results from the Unicorn representing spring and the lion representing summer. Each year the two fight for supremacy; and each year the lion eventually wins.

 

In the case of Scotland and England, the fight continued, and a popular English nursery rhyme of the period sums up the animosity. It also recalls old wars between England and Scotland:

 

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn
All round about the town.

 

The lion and the Unicorn remain a part of the British coat-of-arms to this day, supporting the royal shield.

 

The Arms of Scotland
The Arms of Scotland

Royal Arms as used in England
Royal Arms as used in England
Royal Arms as used in Scotland
Royal Arms as used in Scotland

While the unicorn was incorporated into the Royal Arms notice the differences between the version used in England and the one used in Scotland. In the version of the Royal Arms as used in Scotland precedence is given to the Scottish components. The Scottish arms occupy the first and fourth quarters of the shield, those of England being placed in the second quarter. The crest of Scotland is used. The Scottish unicorn forms the dexter supporter, and is crowned; it maintains a banner of St Andrew, while the English lion, on the sinister side, bears that of St George. The shield is encircled with the collar and pendant of the Order of the Thistle. Thistles (and in some representations roses and shamrock also) spring from the ground on which the supporters stand.

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