A special day for Unicorns

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

Image shows a small marquee in front of the castle walls.  There is one while unicorn inside the marquee and another one in the forefront being petted by a young woman sitting to the side of the animal

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.

People in the Royal Garden with a little girl of about 3 or 4 dressed up as a member of the Royal Court
Photo property of Curiosities, Castles and Coffee Shops

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.

Photo by Curiosities, Castles and Coffee Shops

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.

Celtic Mythology

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
  • Power
  • 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

16th Century

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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  1. I love this, Brenda. Just the perfect amount of magic and mystery. I never knew all this about unicorns 😁
    … and we ask very nicely… for a post on tapestries… please😉
    lovely as always, Brenda 🤍

    • Thank you Destiny. I’m glad you loved it. I enjoyed finding out more about the connection to my own heritage too. I’ll do something on the tapestries too, since you asked nicely 🙂 😘😁

  2. I don’t know about unicorns, but I love that horse in that 2nd photo! He is super chubby and stubby!! 😍

  3. What a fun post! We talk a lot about unicorns in our house so this was so fun to read. And those tapestries niggled a memory – I’ve seen that one in the lower right before but I’m not sure where. I love that unicorns are the national symbol of Scotland. I’m with you – there’s definitely a place in our lives for magic. Thanks, Brenda! <3

      • Legend, by Ridley Scott, with Tom Cruise, Tim Curry, etc was a film my two children watched when growing up. Loved those old 1980s movies like Willow, Ladyhawke, The Dark Crystal, etc. Had them on VHS tapes. May look for DVD copies now. Legend involved a Unicorn as central theme. Worth a look if you haven’t seen it. Cheers and all the best Brenda.

      • Thanks Gray. I’ve got the initial ideas for writing a story which is fantasy based, so im thinking I need to do some reading;and watching films 😁

      • I collected lots of books in the 1980s with that theme. Time life collection of various individual considerations. Giants, faerie, ghosts, dragons, etc. Good source material. Rather like your recent focus on unicorns. Probably have about 100 books regarding science fantasy and historical mythological creatures. And those that were artists too. Like Brian Froud, Patrick Woodroffe, Michael Moorcock, etc. For inspiration really. Sounds like a great idea of yours to write a story on the theme. Can go anywhere it wants with that choice. All the best.

    • thanks Mike and Kellye. I think we all do much the same, we grow up with stories and fairy tales as children, but then don’t consider them much as adults.

  4. Oh my goodness…thank you, Brenda! This was such a treat to read…I read it three times! I love the mix of history, mythology and present-day celebrations…the lore and wonder of it all. Thank you, as always, for sharing your photographs, too. My Scottish heritage is singing and shining…so many things for me to learn. xo and big smiles to you! 🥰🥰🥰

  5. I never knew about the association with Scotland and Unicorns, Brenda. I am glad you had a good day out and look forward to reading more about your visit and the connections with folklore and mythology. (and history)

  6. I am definitely doing Unicorn for my A to Z letter ‘U’. Thank you for the inspiration. 😀 It was an informative post. I wonder and appreciate all the research that went behind.

    I guess they did exist!

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