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'The Scottish Thistle - A Prickly Tale'

The story behind the Scottish Thistle, the Emblem of Scotland


The prickly purple thistle was adopted as the Emblem of Scotland during the rein of Alexander III (1249 -1286). Legend has it that an Army of King Haakon of Norway, intent on conquering the Scots landed at the Coast of Largs at night to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness the Norsemen removed their footwear.

As they drew near to the Scots it wasn't the only thing hiding under the cover of darkness. For one of  Haakon's men unfortunately stood on one of these spiny little defenders and shrieked out in pain, alerting the Clansmen of the advancing Norsemen. Needless to say the Scots won the day.

The first use of the Thistle as a royal symbol of Scotland was on silver coins issued by James III in 1470

The Scots Thistle

The order of the Thistle

The Order of the Thistle


This order was founded in 1540 by King James V who being honoured with the order of the Garter from his uncle King Henry VIII of England and with the Goldern Fleece from the Emperor, and the order of St Michael from France, resolved to be in the royal mode, and so made the order of the Thistle for himself and twelve knights, in imitation of Christ and his twelve apostles. Then celebrating all the festivals of the orders, he set up their arms and badges over the gate of his palace at Linlithgow, joing St. Andrew with them.

The common badge (shown left) worn by the knights are, a cross surmounted by a star of four silver points, and over them a green circle bordered and lettered with gold, containing the motto "Nemo me impune lacessit", "No-one harms me without punishment" but more commonly translated in Scots as as "Wha daurs meddle wi me". and in the centre is a thistle proper, the whole being embroidered on the left breast.

by John A. Duncan of Sketraw, KCN, FSA Scot.


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