Scotland’s Elusive Unicorns

A few conversations on Twitter going on about Scotland’s unicorns and why they’re chained. I had previously asked my late friend Harry, see 09/04/2018 @ 23:17, about Scotland’s having taken on the unicorn as the national animal. He was a heraldry professor & fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, but couldn’t tell me definitively why the unicorn was adopted. I know he’d sent me a letter with his scant findings but I’m unable to put my hands on that just now. He had given me, at a later a point, a scrap of paper with some books he wanted me to track down for him, which I found it just there in a notebook and happens to have some of his notes from his wee bit of research.

Harry Unicorn Thoughts

So I looked at the collection wondering which publication were most likely to yield information about Scotland’s unicorns or more on why, in the Royal Seal, they’re chained. I decided on about 5 different titles of which only one came close, having seals and coins depicted, ‘Pictorial History of Scotland‘ (1884-1888). I started with it’s sister publication ‘Pictorial History of Scotland‘ (1859), being easier to flick through but near impossible to scan.

Knowing “the earliest known illustration of the unicorn as a supporter of the arms of Scotland is said to be on a gold coin of James III., and issued about the year 1483,”1 I headed straight for his chapter. Nothing about unicorns, no coins or seals depicted. So, I went through what there was and that’s what constitute the following scans. You’ll perhaps notice that the seals and coins are attributed to kings up until James I. [1406-1437] then jumps forward a century, missing Jameses II.-V., to Mary, Queen of Scots [1542-1567].

However, now what I’m curious about is what the four wolf/fox/dog-headed snakes coming out the corners of David II.’s (scan 3, pic. 6) and Robert Bruce’s (scan 5, main pic.) thrones are? Also the two dragons(?) beneath the throne of same seal of David II. as previously and Robert II. (scan 6, pic. 1)? Comment below if you’ve knowledge and please include sources, if possible, so the information can be followed up on.

 

Scottish Seals & Coinsa

James Taylor D.D. (1884), ‘Pictorial History of Scotland’, Vol.1, London: H. Virtue and Company, p.96a;
“A silver coin and the Great Seal of Alexander I.”
and
“A silver coin and the Great Seal of David I.”

Scottish Seals & Coinsb

James Taylor D.D. (1884), ‘Pictorial History of Scotland’, Vol.1, London: H. Virtue and Company, p.136a;
                       “1. Seal of Malcolm IV.                         3. Coin of William I.
                        2. Seal of William I.                             4. Privy Seal David I.
5. Seal of Edward Baliol.”

Scottish Seals & Coinsc

James Taylor D.D. (1884), ‘Pictorial History of Scotland’, Vol.3, London: H. Virtue and Company, p.280a;
“1. Great Seal of John Baliol.              4. Silver Coin of Robert II.
 2. Silver Coin of David II.                 5. Coin of John Baliol.
 3. Coin of John Baliol.                        6. Great Seal of David II.”

Scottish Seals & Coinsd

James Taylor D.D. (1884), ‘Pictorial History of Scotland’, Vol.3, London: H. Virtue and Company, p.320a;
“1. Great Seal of Alexander II.             3. Seal of Euphemia Wife of Robert I.
 2. Coin of Alexander II.                      4. Coin of Alexander III.
5. Great Seal of Alexander III.”

Scottish Seals & Coinse

James Taylor D.D. (1884), ‘Pictorial History of Scotland’, Vol.6, London: H. Virtue and Company, p.208a;
“Seal Coins and Skull of King Robert Bruce.”
Scottish Seals & Coinsf
James Taylor D.D. (1884), ‘Pictorial History of Scotland’, Vol.1, London: H. Virtue and Company, p.264a;
“1. Great Seal of Robert II.              3. Coin of Robert III.
 2. Coin of Queen Mary.                 4. Coin of James I.
5. Great Seal of Robert III.”

 

1  From ‘Scots Lore‘ chapter ‘A Mediaeval Architect. His Work at St. Andrews and Melrose.’

2 thoughts on “Scotland’s Elusive Unicorns

    1. What would that then signify? Scan 2 shows a resting lion & a lion rampant, in Scan 4 you’ll see Euphemia was a fan of lions rampant, Scan 5 has 2 lions on the reverse of Robert Bruce’s coin and again in Scan 6.
      Do you suppose Scotland adopted the unicorn to be the enemy of her already chosen heraldry symbol, the lion rampant?
      You could be on to something but I’m not sure yet what 😉

      Like

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