The lion is a common charge in heraldry. It traditionally symbolizes bravery, valour, strength, and royalty, because historically it has been regarded as the king of beasts.
A “lion rampant” is depicted in profile standing erect with forepaws raised. The position of the hind legs varies according to local custom: the lion may stand on both hind legs, braced wide apart, or on only one, with the other also raised to strike; the word rampant is often omitted, especially in early blazon, as this is the most usual position of a carnivorous quadruped.
The earliest recorded use of the Lion rampant as a royal emblem in Scotland was by Alexander II in 1222; with the additional embellishment of a double border set with lilies occurring during the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286). This emblem occupied the shield of the royal coat of arms of the ancient Kingdom of Scotland which, together with a royal banner displaying the same, was used by the King of Scots until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI acceded to the thrones of the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Ireland. Since 1603, the Lion rampant of Scotland has been incorporated into both the royal arms and royal banners of successive Scottish then British monarchs in order to symbolize Scotland; as can be seen today in the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom. The Royal Banner continues to be one of Scotland’s most recognizable symbols.
The circular belt symbolizes loyalty in Scottish Heraldry.
The prickly purple thistle was also 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 who 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.
Artist: Maxine Miller