The Mystical Unicorn Of Scotland

What says 'magic'  more loudly than choosing the mystical and powerful Unicorn of Scotland as the country's National Animal? 


The Unicorn. Scotland's National Animal

A country's 'National Animal' should represent the best, and defining, qualities of the nation who chose it.

Scots have a strong sentimental streak under that practical and reserved exterior, and Scottish culture is rich in superstitions, myths and legends. 

So, choosing a heraldic symbol as awe-inspiring as the unicorn makes perfect sense!

Chances are you don't know too much about this fantastic creature, so let's start there. 

(But if you want to jump straight to how, when & why it was chosen CLICK HERE)


Unicorns Abound In History & Legend

The stories and legends surrounding the Unicorn go about as far back in history as the human race.

These beautiful creatures were worshiped by the ancient Babylonians, and written descriptions of them appear throughout ancient history, and as early as the first century AD.

In the 5th Century AD, interpretation of a passage in the Hebrew Old Testament described an animal that scholars believed was a Unicorn.

This may be the beginning of their association with Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, which is the basis for the legends that claimed only a Virgin could tame the Unicorn.

It could also explain the Unicorn's popularity in Christian Art, particularly during the Middle Ages.

Unicorn Poster - From Loves Of The Gods Fresco, Italy

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They were seen in the early writings and drawings of many different countries and cultures, including Greece, Persia (now Iran), Egypt, India and Africa.

The Persians, the Romans, the Greek philosophers ,and even ancient Jewish scholars, all describe a horse-like creature whose single horn had magical properties that could heal any disease or illness.

Unicorns were considered to be very rare and precious, a lunar symbol (ie symbolized the moon), and they were given differing characteristics depending on the culture and country that was describing them. These included:

  • Innocence
  • Purity
  • Boldness
  • Pride
  • Healing Powers
  • Joy
  • Intelligence
  • Virility
  • Nurturing Powers

Although they're often thought of as imaginary, or purely mythical animals, the appearance of Unicorns in the history and writings of so many different countries, over many, many centuries seems to me to be more than imagination or coincidence.

Even today, fantasy fiction and art is full of unicorn imagery, so that fascination continues.

There are many weird and wonderful animals alive in the world today, and many that have become extinct (even in my lifetime). So, how hard is it to imagine a horse with a single horn?

The Scot in me believes that Unicorns truly did live on Earth (and in Scotland) a long time ago. How about you?

The Lady & The Unicorn Poster

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They're considered to be imaginary, or purely mythical animals.

But the appearance of Unicorns in the history and writings of so many different countries, over many, many centuries seems to me to be more than imagination or coincidence.

Even today, fantasy fiction and art is full of unicorn imagery, so that fascination continues.

There are many weird and wonderful animals alive in the world today, and many that have become extinct (even in my lifetime).

So, how hard is it to imagine a horse with a single horn?

The Scot in me believes that Unicorns truly did live on Earth (and in Scotland) a long time ago.

How about you?



The Unicorn Of Scotland As A Heraldic Symbol

Unicorns have been associated with Royalty and heraldry since at least the time of the Romans, and over the centuries their appearance and personality traits have had more than a few 'upgrades'!

The Scottish Coat of Arms featuring two Unicorns

They grew to become an exotic creature... a magnificent horse with cloven hooves, the tail of a lion, and a perfect spiraled horn in the middle of their foreheads.

In Celtic Mythology the Unicorn of Scotland symbolized innocence and purity, healing powers, joy and even life itself.

It was also seen as a symbol of masculinity and power.

Two sides of the same coin as it were, a blend of male virility and female nurturing - perhaps the perfect mix!

It was seen as a wild, freedom-loving creature.

Fierce, bold, proud and intelligent.

Beautiful and courageous.

Dangerous if running free and impossible to capture alive - except if lured into an ambush by a virgin (perhaps another reference perhaps to the Virgin Mary connection).

 You might notice that when he's featured on heraldic symbols, the Unicorn often has chains wrapped around him. This is a 'nod' to this medieval belief that he was a dangerous creature.

To a country as bold, fierce and proud as Scotland, one that was fighting for it's independence from 'oppressors' this was the perfect choice as the 'National Animal' that would appear on heraldic symbols.

It would seem that the Scottish people believed in the reality of the Unicorn.

The connection and respect for him is clear in this 17th century description written by John Guillim in his 'Displays of Heraldry'....

'Some have made doubt whether there be any such beast as this or no, but the great esteem of his horn (in many places to be seen) may take away that needless scruple.

The greatness of his mind is such that he rather chooseth to die than be taken alive; wherein the Unicorn and valiant-minded soldier are alike, which both contemn death, and rather than they will be compelled to undergo any base servitude or bondage they will lose their lives'

It's not quite clear exactly when the Unicorn first appeared in Scottish heraldry, but one of the earliest examples is seen in the 'Royal Coat of Arms' at Rothesay Castle which is believed to have been carved sometime before the 15th century.

Before England and Scotland came under joint rule, Scotland's Coat of Arms featured two Unicorns supporting a shield.

During the 16th century, King James IV of Scotland became King James VI & I when he married Margaret Tudor of England  (the added 'I' referring to his title now as the first 'King of Great Britain', an entirely new country.)

This new country  needed a new Royal Coat of Arms, and it was designed with the Unicorn of Scotland on the right, and the English Lion on the left.

The Lion & The Unicorn - Traditional Nursery Rhyme Poster

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This was supposed to symbolize the accepted union of the two countries.

In real life the actual union was less than friendly, and this conflict was immortalized in the well-known British Nursery Rhyme

'The Lion & The Unicorn'.

So by now I hope you can see why this mythical creature is actually the perfect National Animal for Scotland.

Hopefully you've also enjoyed learning a bit more about the magic and reality of it's role in Scottish heraldry.

If we've whetted your appetite and you want to learn more about Scottish symbolism, here are a few pages that you'll have fun reading!

› The Unicorn of Scotland