Stirling Castle was on my things to do list and when I saw they were holding special unicorn days I had to visit and I thought it would be a fun day out. I knew that the Unicorn is the official animal for Scotland but I didn’t know why. So I explored at Stirling Casle, and via Google, keep reading to find out what I discovered, starting with the fact that we actually have National Unicorn Day on 9th April.
The Unicorn first appeared as a Scottish symbol in the 1200s when it appeared on the Royal Coat of Arms of William I and the connection between Scotland and the Unicorn was born.
National Unicorn Day – 9th April
A special day to celebrate these mythical animals was created in 2015 and its primary purpose is given as raising awareness of and celebrating the history of unicorns as a part of human mythology. The explanation, however, that captures my attention most from daysoftheyear.com is to “help adults remember how much more fun life can be when they let a little magic in”. Anyone familiar with my blog won’t be surprised the idea of magic pulled me in
Stirling Castle in Central Scotland are having a special Unicorn Weekend, yesterday and today, and I went along yesterday to explore the castle, learn a bit more about unicorns and meet the two special guests visiting.
I’m not sure which is which but our two little Unicorns are Tinkerbell and Princess. I guess we want little unicorns for little people.
The children, who were all dressed up (many but not all as unicorns) were judged for the best outfit and the little girl in the photo below won. Her prize was to get her photograph taken with the unicorns. I suspect there were some disappointed little girls, missing out on a magical opportunity.
Scottish National Animal
The Unicorn is the National Animal of Scotlnd and once you become aware of this, it can be seen in many places. I was amazed at how often I saw it once I was tuned in at Stirling Castle, even on the roof of the Great Hall.
The attachment to the unicorn can most closely be linked to the 16th Centruy and has taken its foundation from celtic mythology.
There has been some suggestion that the unicorn was chosen as a counter to the lion appearing on the English coat of arms. The lion and the unicorn are considered in myth as natural enemies but there is no evidence of this having been a reason prior to the Union of the Crowns in 1603 when the two animals appeared together on the new Coat of Arms. Also, Scotland also had the Lion Rampant as our symbol well before this time.
Given the strong Celtic roots in Scotland, I’m not surprised that our ideas of the unicorn stems from Celtic mythology. The traits associated with the Unicorn are:
- Purity and Innocence
- Proud, untamable, fiercely independent and difficult to conquer
It was also believed that the only people who would be able to tame a unicorn would be a virgin maiden or a king. You’ll notice the unicorns in the various pictures are in chains – this is believed to symbolise either that it has to be restrained because it is still a wild animal or that the King has tamed it.
Royal Coats of Arms
Although the first recorded use of the Unicorn on a Scottish Coat of Arms dates back to the 13th Centrury, it is during the 16th Century that we really saw it taking hold. The Scottish Kings put 2 unicorns onto the Royal Coat of Arms, each as a standard bearer – one with the saltire (the St Andrew’s Cross) and the other being the Lion Rampant. The lion rampant represents Scotland too, and like the Saltire predates the adoption of the Unicorn.
However, prior to the unicorns appearing on the Coat of Arms they were already appearing on Scottish gold coins.
Regrettably, I have been unable to find a definitive explanation as to why we have the unicorn as our national animal but I did uncover that in this period most European monarchs were adopting rare and exotic animals as their national symbols. Its also likely that in the 1500s people would not consider the unicorn as a mythical creature. So, given Scottish history and nature, adopting the unicorn for its symbolism, may have seemed appropriate.
Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England
At the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England’s death in 1603 James VI of Scotland ascended to the English Crown and Scotland and England have since shared the same Monarch. On accepting the Crown of England, James moved his Court to London. With the Union of the Crowns a new Royal Coat of Arms was created, this one sporting the Lion of England and the Unicorn of Scotland. Interestingly when the King’s coat of arms is displayed in England, the Lion is on the Left, with the Unicorn on the right; but when in Scotland its reversed, with the Unicorn appearing on the left.
The Court represented at Stirling Castle is that of James V, so before the Union of the Crowns, so this Coat of Arms has not been represented. However, here are of couple of examples for you to review.
The Stirling Tapestries (The Unicorn Tapestries)
Hanging within the Royal Palace of James V at Stirling Castle we can find a series of 7 reproduced tapestries depicting the Hunt of the Unicorn. The originals can be seen in the Cloisters Museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The originals were probably commissioned by either the French Nobility or the French Monarchy and made in the Southern Netherlands between 1495-1510 based on an analysis of the fashions worn by the people depicted in the tapestries. It is also believed that although the tapestries are displayed as one collection, they likely derive from 2 separate sets.
Could unicorns be based on fact?
Narwal have for many years, been mistaken for unicorns and in the past hunted for their horns whicgh were ground and sold as unicorn horn dust.
There was also the Siberian Unicorn (Elasmotherium Sibericium) which was discovered in fossilised remains, the most recent to be discovered date back to 29,000 years ago. While this animal is related to the modern day rhinocerous, it had fur and a single horn on its nose, just like the unicorn. You can see an artist’s impression at the National Geographic Kids website.
Whatever the realities of the Unicorn, I’m happy to accept the mystical idea of this beautiful, magical, enigmatic symbol of purity and spirited independence and proud to have it as a symbol representing my country, the nation of Scotland.
I hope you enjoyed finding out about unicorns. Join me again for my visit to Stirling Castle, and if you ask nice, I might also do a separate post about the tapestries.
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