The Lion of Scotland and the Thistle

Lion Rampant

The Lion Rampant

There is another Scottish flag that we often see. This one has a gold background and on it is a red lion standing on his hind legs, brandishing his claws and with his mouth open to roar. Around the edge is a Lion Rampant Flagdecorative red double border. The proper name of this flag is the royal standard of Scotland.

In bygone days anyone who used this flag without permission would have been severely punished, perhaps even put to death. It was the flag of the king or queen of Scotland. Only he or she was allowed to use it, and it was hoisted only when the king or queen was there in person. It did not beloto the monarch personally. It was used by whoever was king or queen as the sign for all to see that here was the monarch, not any particular man or woman. The king or queen would have his or her own family badge as well, which was personal.

The lion is called the lion rampant. We do not know exactly when it was first used to identify the king. It is likely that early Scottish kings used a dragon as Scottish Sealtheir symbol. The lion may have begun with William the Lion in the twelfth century, and it was certainly used by his son, King Alexander the Second. We also know that it was used on the Great Seal of Scotland. This was the stamp placed on all official documents to show that they were not forgeries.

Why a lion? Then, as now, the lion was known as the king of beasts, a fierce and noble animal, dangerous to meddle with. It seemed a very suitable symbol for a king. And partly because their country was a small one, and a rather poor one, compared to England or France, the Scottish kings wanted to make a brave show. It did not always work out that way. It was under the banner of the lion that King James the Fourth, one of Scotland's most able kings, died fighting the English at the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513.

In all countries of Europe there was a system to record the special badges and symbols of everyone who had such things. These were the lords and their families, as most of the rest of the population had none. This system was called heraldry. The heralds had several jobs to do. They carried the king's messages. They proclaimed the kings greatness. They also kept a record of each family badge. Coat of ArmsThey worked out a way of exactly describing each badge so it could be drawn and painted by someone who had never seen it. Scotland had its heralds from an early stage and still does. The chief herald is calles Lyon King of Arms (the lion again), and still has powers of his own to prevent people misusing the badges (or coats of arms) that belong to others, and to approve applications for new designs.

Scotland's heralds devised a fine motto to go with the rampant lion. In Latin Pound Coinit reads Nemo me impune lacessir, which means in English "No one attacks me and gets away with it". You can see it in many places, including the edges of some one pound coins.
When King James the Sixth of Scotland also became James the First of England in 1603, a new royal standard was designed that included the symbols of England, France and Ireland as well as the lion rampant. But the lion standard was still used by the king's chief officer in Scotland. As time went by, it was used less and less. But it was too bright and bold to be forgotten, and from the nineteenth century on, it was manufactured in large quantities as a "Scotch standard", with the suggestion that anyone could use it when they wanted to.
Today it is used so widely that we have almost forgotten that it began as a banner that could be used only by the king. Some people even think it is the flag of Scotland.

The Thistle of Scotland...

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