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  From Elaine Mitchell

The Unicorn is most probably used because all ‘Royal’ crests used the unicorn. The clans, far back were ancient Scottish kingdoms, and each of the families had a seat at the council of Scottish chiefs. The members of this family of history have played an active part first against England but later as ambassadors and governors and in many other ways.

Scotland, arguably, has the richest and most regulated form of heraldry in the world and as a result it can boast that it possesses the purest system of heraldry in existence today. Although a coat of arms belongs only to the original grantee and his direct heirs, and its display is regulated by The Court of the Lord Lyon with the full power of the law to prosecute transgressors, Scotland is quite possibly unique in that practically everyone can enjoy heraldry in the form of the clansman’s crest badge. 

The unicorn is a mythical horse with a straight horn projecting from the forehead. According to the 13th century 'Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume' by Clerc de Normandie;

"The unicorn has but one horn in the middle of its forehead. It is the only animal that ventures to attack the elephant; and so sharp is the nail of the foot, that with one blow it can rip the belly of the beast. Hunters can catch the unicorn only by placing a young virgin in its haunts. No sooner does he see the damsel than he runs towards her, and lies down at her feet, and so, suffers himself to be captured by the hunters. The unicorn represents Jesus Christ who took on Him our nature in the virgin's womb, was betrayed to the Jews, and delivered into the hands of Pontius Pilate. It's one horn signifies the Gospel of truth."

The Unicorn has been used in heraldry for a very long time, however it is not the legendary Unicorn, more of a creature created by a committee. 

It has the head of a horse, beard of a goat, legs of a dear, and tail of a loin. Some also have much of a loins mane and the legendary unicorns horn.

There are many other creations popular in heraldry. The calygreyhound which has parts from an eagle, antelope and ox; Griffins half eagle and half lion; Bagwyns part horse and part goat and pantheons panthers with hides marked with stars.

This pose is known as the Unicorn Rampant, and probably is the most widely used view, but often as supports rather than on a coat of arms.

Although the stories about Unicorns have been around from early Greek and Chinese times and probably far before, there use in heraldry is likely to have come about at the time of the crusades.

Scotland has a legend of a Unicorn like creature, the Baiste-na-scoghaigh of Sky, a great, lumbering one horn creature related to the Bicorne, a two horned animal that dines on hen pecked husbands. 

  It would appear that this is what the heraldic Unicorn is based on, rather than the graceful creature of mythology.

The Queens coat of arms shows a Unicorn of this design as a supporter. On the left is a loin, the symbol of England and on the right the Unicorn the symbol of Scotland.

Since the reign of King Robert III in the late 1300s, the Unicorn has been a part of the official seal of Scotland. Robert III turned to the purity and strength of the Unicorn for inspiration in rebuilding his nation; and the Unicorn was soon incorporated into the royal seal.

When James VI of Scotland became King James I of both England and Scotland on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, he drew up a new royal coat-of- arms that included both the traditional English lion as well as the Scottish Unicorn.

On the Arms of the Kings of Scots, the Unicorn is far more prominent. however it is still as a supporter, with another mythical creature appearing on the shield.

It is also as supporters that we find the Unicorns of the city of Bristol coat of arms and that of the Goldsmiths Company.

Scotland is probably unique in having a heraldic court, that is a part of the legal system and doing daily business, the court of Lyon King of arms,  has many officers, now mainly ceremonial, one of these is the Unicorn Persavant, and his badge of office is on the right below, probably one of the better images of a unicorn used in heraldry.

 Next we have the crest of the Ramsay clan. The clans, far back were ancient Scottish kingdoms, and each of the families had a seat at the council of Scottish chiefs. The members of this family of history have played an active part first against England but later as ambassadors and governors and in many other ways.

Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom


The Royal Arms we see today have evolved over nine centuries, since Richard the Lionheart chose three lions to represent England. This symbol on the King's shield would immediately identify him in the midst of battle.

The full version of the Royal Coat of Arms is now used only by the Queen in her capacity as the Sovereign. In the version used by the government and consequently as the official coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the crown is shown resting directly on the shield, with the helm, crest and mantling not displayed (like in the black and white photo above).The Queen has a separate version of her arms for use in Scotland, giving the Scottish elements pride of place.  

Destiny and its Chain

Despite all the lack of success, James III had a lengthy reign, twenty-eight years, its last years no happier for the country than were the earlier ones. His nobles grew ever more rebellious, demanding reforms. They managed to get a promise of betterment out of James, at Blackness Castle, formal enough to be called the Pacification thereof – which the King promptly went back on. In fury the lords got hold of the heir to the throne, James, Duke of Rothesay, aged fifteen, and rose in arms. The monarch gathered what support he could and marched to meet them. The two armies met at Sauchieburn, south of Stirling, in June 1488.

It was a fierce battle, with the King on one side and his elder son on the other. But James was no hero and when he saw the tide turning against him he quietly left the field alone and rode off, a failure to the end. He got as far as the mill of Bannockburn, ironical location for his tragedy, when, reluctant to ford the burn, his horse threw him, and crashing to the ground in his heavy armour, he was stunned. The miller and his wife found him and dragged him into a nearby stable. There, when he came to, in pain and misery, he declared that he was the King, and dying, and commanded the miller to find him a priest to shrive him ere he died.

The miller, naturally, could not produce a priest at short notice. But then up rode a party of armoured knights to whom he appealed for help. These were some of the rebel lords, led by Lord Gray, the same who had first suggested belling the cat. They had observed the King riding off and come after him. When Gray heard that the monarch was there, needing a priest to shrive him, he declared that he would shrive James Stewart, and going to the stable he drew his dirk and stabbed the King to death there and then.

It was shortly after this ghastly deed that the fifteen-year old Duke was brought to the scene, and seeing his father's gashed body lying there he knew a great sorrow and regret. He had never got on with his father, but recognised how he had allowed himself to be used by the lords against him.

Turning away, stricken with guilt, he saw a length of harness chain hanging from a hook on the stable-wall and impulsively taking this down he tied it round his waist and loins, beneath his armour and doublet, vowing to wear it there to his dying day to remind him of the part he had unwittingly played in his father's death. Some historians have scoffed at this story, as a mere picturesque legend. But if they were to consult the Lord High Treasurer's Accounts for the next reign they would discover more than one entry written: 'To ane link to the King's chain — so much': this as James IV's girth        increased with middle age.       

So now a new James Stewart was on the throne and a notably different one; for despite the terrible disaster at the end, he was to prove one of the best monarchs Scotland ever had. Young as he was, right away he began to take order with the lords who had hitherto used and bullied him and even at his coronation he was leaving no doubts as to who was now in charge. It is significant that from the first there was no question of regency.