The National Animal of Scotland

What's the national animal of Scotland?

And the answer: Unicorn.

Mary, Queen of Scots’ coat of arms at Falkland Palace. Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland.

A mythological horse-like animal with a single horn on its forehead, the unicorn has been featured in stories and artwork around the world for millennia. In Celtic mythology, the unicorn is a symbol of purity, innocence and power. Legend says they have strong healing powers, using their horns to purify poisoned water.

Though mythological, the image of the brave, independent unicorn has persisted for millennia. Dating as far back as the ancient Babylonian and Indus civilizations, the unicorn has represented the untamable and the proud – both images to which Scots are particularly drawn.

As such, the unicorn has been the national animal of Scotland since around the mid-1500s. In the age of heraldry – the period in which groups of people could be distinguished by a crest or coat of arms – the unicorn was introduced to the royal seal. However, when King James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, he replaced one of the unicorns with the national animal of England, the lion, as a display of unity between the two countries. These two "kings of beasts" were immortalized, forever locked in a battle for the title.

Did you know?

The first known depiction of a unicorn, found in the Lascaux Caves of modern-day France, dates to around 15,000 BCE. Or so people thought, until they realized that the so-called Lascaux unicorn had two horns, drawn confusingly close together.

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