Why Is Scotland’s National Animal A Unicorn?


A nation’s “national animal” should show the best and unique qualities of the country that has chosen it. The Scots are known for their worship of myths and legends: ghosts, witches, magic, water monsters, and many fairy tales. The magic unicorn is probably their most beloved species, and it has served as a symbol of Scotland for centuries.

The Unicorn in the History of Scotland

In Celtic mythology and folklore, unicorns are synonymous with purity, nobility, masculinity, strongness, courage and an unrivaled sense of power. According to a famous saying of this period, only virgins can catch a unicorn, because these free-loving creatures are mesmerized by a virgin, they will surrender to the girl and getting ready to sleep in the girl’s lap. The non-Christian, Scotland’s Celtic mythology during this period also recognized the beauty, freedom, courage, and purity of unicorns.


Virgin and Unicorn By Annibale Carracci | © WikiCommons

Some Medieval artworks depict the unicorn, which this creature is often used to denote the virility of virgins, including the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.

The appearance of the Scottish Unicorn

Not long after, The Unicorn had been adopted as an iconical symbol of Scotland. The unicorn was first used on the Royal Scottish coat of arms by William I in the 12th century. In the 15th century, when King James III took power, Scottish gold coins had a unicorn image on them. And so, the Scottish royal coat of arms consisted of two unicorns protecting the shield until 1707, when Scotland and England united and a lion was added. Currently, the Royal Coat of Arms depicts a Scottish unicorn on the left, carrying the flag of St. Andrew and an English lion, carrying the flag of St. George on the right.

Royal Coat Of Arms Used In Scotland | © WikiCommons

Why the Unicorn?

The Scottish unicorn is described as a creature with a white head and body like a horse, and a white mane and hooves of a goat. It has a tufted tail like a lion, and of course, natural unicorn horns arise from the top of its forehead. In recognition of the dangerous beauty of the wild unicorn, it is bound by a gold necklace, often seen through the neck and wrapped around the body. It is possible that the trap symbolizes the power of Scottish kings – they were strong enough to overpower even a unicorn.


Western civilizations believed in the existence of unicorns for about 2,500 years. In 1825, the famous French naturalist Georges Cuvier declared that the unicorn was an impossible thing. He said that it was not feasible for an animal that had a split hoof to have a single horn coming from the top of its head.

“While the theory that a unicorn could not physiologically exist was disproved by Dr. Dove in 1900, due to his experiment with a bull calf, by this point, no one really believed that unicorns existed in the first place,” Ms. Waters said.


Indus Civilisation Seal Of Unicorn At Indian Museum In Kolkata | © WikiCommons

Why then Scotland continues to use this mythical creature as its national animal? Perhaps the tales of domination and chivalry associated with the unicorn overwhelming scientific truth about the existence of it, which led to its selection as a national symbol. Some tales describe how a unicorn visits a water body poisoned by a snake and cleanses water by dipping horns into it, making water safe for other organisms. Therefore, creatures symbolize goodwill and positivity. Unicorns seem to be a supreme animal, given the best possible qualities for any being, and thus it continues to be Scotland’s National Animal, and many Scots are proud to accept it as such.

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