In Celtic mythology the unicorn was a symbol of purity and innocence, as well as masculinity and power. Tales of dominance and chivalry associated with the unicorn may be why it was chosen as Scotland’s national animal.
The unicorn in the history of Scotland
With Scotland being famed for its love for and long history of myths and legends, it is no surprise that a fabled creature such as the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal. Unicorns have been linked to Scotland for centuries. While the animal is mythological, the ideals it represents are what make it a perfect fit as the national animal for Scotland, and because like this proud beast – Scots would fight to remain unconquered.
The unicorn was first used on the Scottish royal coat of arms by William I in the 12th century. In the 15th century, when King James III was in power, gold coins even appeared with the unicorn on them. When Scotland and England unified under the reign of James VI of Scotland in 1603, the Scottish Royal Arms had two unicorns supporting a shield. When 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.
Why is the unicorn chained?
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 that it could only be humbled by a virgin maiden. It is possible that the entrapment symbolises the power of the Scottish kings – they were strong enough to tame even a unicorn.