The Lion and the Unicorn

 

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Antique Cast Iron Painted Lion & Unicorn

The Lion and the Unicorn are symbols of the United Kingdom. They are, properly speaking, heraldic supporters appearing in the full Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. The lion stands for England and the unicorn for Scotland. The combination therefore, dates back to the 1603 accession of James I of England who was already James VI of Scotland. By extension, they have also been used in the Coat of Arms of Canada since 1921.

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The traditional legend of enmity between the two heraldic animals is recorded in a nursery rhyme which has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20170. It is usually given with the lyrics:

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town.
The legend of the two animals may have been intensified by the Acts of Union 1707 and it was one year later that William King (1663–1712) recorded a verse very similar to the first stanza of the modern rhyme. This seems to have grown to include several other verses. Apart from those above only one survives:

And when he had beat him out,
He beat him in again;
He beat him three times over,
His power to maintain.

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This rhyme was played upon by Lewis Carroll, who incorporated the lion and the unicorn as characters in Through the Looking-Glass. Here, the crown they are fighting for belongs to the White King, which, given that they are on the White side as well, makes their rivalry all the more absurd. Carroll subverts the traditional view of a lion being alert and calculating by making this particular one slow and rather stupid, although clearly the better fighter. The role of the Unicorn is likewise reversed by the fact that he sees Alice as a “monster”, though he promises to start believing in her if she will believe in him. Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for the section caricature Benjamin Disraeli as the Unicorn, and William Ewart Gladstone as the Lion, alluding to the pair’s frequent parliamentary battles, although there is no evidence that this was Carroll’s intention.

Royal coat of arms of Scotland HERE

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Two crowned and chained unicorns, the dexter supporting a banner of the arms, (only in this instance is the lion depicted facing away from the lance, whereas when flown correctly the lion should face towards or respect the lance or, in most cases, the flag pole); the sinister supporting the national flag of Scotland. The compartment features a number of thistles, the national flower of Scotland.

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Unicorn (coin)

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The unicorn was a gold coin that formed part of Scottish coinage between 1484 and 1525. It was initially issued in the reign of James III with a value of 18 shillings Scots, but rising gold prices during the reign of James V caused its value to increase first to 20 shillings, and then 22.[The obverse of the coin shows a crowned unicorn. The significance is that the unicorn is one of the heraldic symbols of Scotland, occurring most notably in the royal coat of arms of Scotland as crowned and chained supporters.

According to the British Museum, it became the coin favoured by Scottish kings when making gifts to foreigners, as in 1503 when James IV gave 100 unicorns to Lord Dacre, the English ambassador.

A half-unicorn (lower left in photo) was introduced with a value of 9 shillings during the reign of James IV. It also rose in value due to gold prices under James V, first to 10, and then 11 shillings.

The unicorn was replaced during the reign of James V with the gold crown, or Abbey crown, which had a value of 20 shillings.

 

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