Scotland’s Unicorn

Did you know that the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal? It was adopted as our national animal by King Robert in in the late 13000’s.  It’s no surprise really when you think how steeped in myth and legend the country is. And, though it is a creature straight out of fable, it does represent ideals synonymous with those of Scotland: Pride and a fierce desire to remain unconquered. It also stands for wildness, masculinity, nobility, chivalry and dominance, qualities important to Scottish kings, centuries ago. 

And did you know that there were once TWO unicorns on the Scottish Royal coat of arms? The Unicorn first appeared in the 12th century under William 1 and when James III came to power in the 15th century, gold coins were added below the Unicorn. Much later, when Scotland and England unified under the reign of James VI of Scotland in 1603, the Scottish Royal Arms sported two unicorns, holding a shield.  However, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Ireland, he replaced the unicorn on the left with a lion (the national animal of England) to demonstrate unity between the countries.(I have always thought it ironic that the lion and the unicorn have been age old enemies in folklore, since Babylonian times).

If you look at the first picture, above, the Unicorn in the Scottish coat of arms is always shown bound by a gold chain that snakes around its body. Given that the unicorn was reputed to be the strongest of all animals, this seems to suggest that Scotland has the power and strength to ensnare a unicorn.

You may wonder at the meaning of  “Nemo me impune lacessit”, the motto of the kingdom of Scotland, which is written below the two animals. It translates as “No-one provokes me with impunity “. Translated into Scottish Gaelic, it is closer to “No one who harms me goes unpunished.”

So being a Scot, I thought that it was fitting that I should create a couple of unicorns of my own, though these are unchained, gentle animals romping through fields or at rest among flowers, as unicorns should be. This is certainly more in keeping with how unicorns are portrayed today; more benevolent creatures. I read somewhere that a medieval cookbook had been discovered containing instructions on how best to cook a unicorn. That’s if you could catch one!

The first of my unicorns is a 8 inch square mini quilt with a simple pattern. I wanted a use for some lovely floral fabric scraps I found online, and the soft pink stars and  gold fabric that I couldn’t seem find a place for. They seemed to fit together here. The unicorn is embroidered entirely with stem stitch and the pink plants in the centre square are embroidered with chain stitch. I realise I have given him a white eye and so you can’t really see it. Somehow introducing such a hard colour as black didn’t feel right.

The second mini (below) is also 8 inches square but a bolder design in bolder colours. I tried a polyester wadding in this one, to see how puffy the result would be and whether I would like it. Hmm, I’m not sure, I think I prefer the flatter  one above. The gingham and check binding were a nightmare. I tried to keep the number of squares even all the way around but it was so difficult. At some points keeping the pattern the same would have meant a change in the width of the binding, which was not acceptable. Perhaps in a frame, with only a fraction of the binding showing, they would look ok but although bindings like these can look striking, I will certainly be avoiding them in future.

I have  embroidered the body, mane and tail of this unicorn in stem stitch again, but this time I have used a variegated thread to introduce some of the colours that are in the background fabric. The hoofs are satin stitched.

Amazingly, the unicorn was believed to be real, all across the world, for thousands of years, until in 1825 scientist Baron George Covier suggested it was hardly feasible for an animal with a split hoof to have a single horn emerging from its head. By 1900 it was thoroughly disproved by Dr Dove’s experiments with a male calf.

You wonder how something that didn’t exist could hold so much fascination and power for so long. Merchants used to sell ‘unicorn horns’ for huge sums of money, or they were given as gifts to kings because were said to have the power to purify; to provide an antidote to poisons.

We would still like to believe in them a little I think, especially as in our culture they have long been depicted as beautiful, noble, creatures. This was not the case everywhere. The Greeks and Romans thought they were more like antelopes and in some other countries they were perceived to be smaller, goat like animals.

They are very popular among children these days. I know a little girl or two who dreams of unicorns and loves to see them galloping across her duvet or keeping watch over her from the wall.

I wonder how long the Unicorn will stay with us in this new, kindly, form.

Till next time….

4 thoughts on “Scotland’s Unicorn

  1. I learn’t about the unicorn in the Scotland when we visited Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and saw the statue in the old Parliament square – think I have the correct place, definitely Edinburgh.
    My daughter-in-law was laid up in bed this time last year, so I bought her a colouring book with unicorns in, my granddaughter aged 8 at the time has not yet forgiven me why I gave her mummy the unicorn book and not her
    Julie xxxxxx


    • Hi Julie, ha ha, that’s a funny story, you will have to get your granddaughter one, or something larger like a poster of one, so that all is forgiven. It’s years since I’ve been in Edinburgh and didn’t know there was a statue of a unicorn in the old Parliament square. I will Google it to see if I can find a photo.


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