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“‘Do you know, I always thought unicorns were fabulous monsters, too? I never saw one alive before!’
Well, now that we have seen each other,’ said the unicorn, ‘if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.’”
~ Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll, 1871
The Unicorn, the fabled creature described since antiquity, appears in many cultures throughout the ages – and is importantly inked to Scottish mythology. A symbol of masculinity and power, purity and innocence – the Unicorn was first used on the Scottish royal coat of arms by William I in the 12th century. This tartan was inspired by Monoceros (derived from the Latin for unicorn), a faint star constellation lying to the east of Orion in the northern sky on the celestial equator, and is intended to visibly portray the pure white and grey shades of this mythological beast. The yellow pivot, a single gold stripe, represents the horn; the white pivot, and cluster of fine grey stripes, represents the corresponding Monoceros star chart. The unicorn representing Scotland in the coat of arms is always depicted bounded by a golden chain, which is often seen passing around its neck and wrapping all around its body. The unicorn was believed to be the strongest of all animals – wild and untamed, and could only be humbled by a virgin maiden. In heraldry, uniforms are depicted in the following attitudes: rampant (standing on two legs), passant (striding), sejant (sitting), couchant (lying down), courant (running), coward (tail between legs), dormant (sleeping), salient (leaping), statant (standing on 4 legs) , and pascuant (grazing)! 🦄
The unicorn was first used on the Scottish royal coat of arms by William I in the 12th century and began to increasingly appear in representations of Scotland's sovereignty and nationhood.
In the 15th century, when King James III came to power, gold coins were minted with the unicorn on them. After Scotland and England unified under the reign of James VI of Scotland in 1603, the Scottish Royal Arms used two unicorns supporting a shield.
However, after James VI became James I of England and Ireland, he replaced the unicorn on the left of the shield with the national animal of England, the lion, to show that the countries were indeed united.
This historic and ongoing rivalry between the nations was represented in the nursery rhyme "The Lion and the Unicorn":
"The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town.
And when he had beat him out,
He beat him in again;
He beat him three times over,
His power to maintain."
This tartan, by Steven Patrick Sim, represents the Monoceros, the Latin word for unicorn.
The tartan was created to represent Monoceros, a faint star constellation lying to the east of Orion in the northern sky on the celestial equator, 700 light years from Earth. Derived from Latin – the name meaning ‘the Unicorn’ – the star formation was first recorded in 1612 by Dutch astronomer and clergyman Pertrus Plancius. The tartan is intended to visibly portray the pure white and grey shades of the Unicorn; the yellow pivot, a single gold stripe, represents the horn; the white pivot, and cluster of fine grey stripes, represents the Monoceros star chart. The Unicorn (a fabled creature being described since antiquity) appears in many cultures throughout the ages – importantly being linked to Scottish mythology for centuries. A symbol of masculinity and power, purity and innocence – the Unicorn was first used on the Scottish royal coat of arms by William I in the 12th century.
For a list of places to travel in Scotland and see a unicorn, including the gatepost at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, click the antique line engraving of the unicorn constellation!