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Green, purple and sharp...why are Thistles our national emblem?

by admin 11 May 2017
Green, purple and sharp...why are Thistles our national emblem?

Growing abundantly throughout Scotland, the beautiful but viciously sharp and prickly purple thistle has proudly carried the title of Scotland's national emblem for hundreds of years. But why was it chosen in the first place?

Silver Thistle stretched canvas by Gillian Kyle

‘Jaggy Thistles’ Stretched Canvas Print in Silver

Well, it all dates back to the Battle of Largs in 1263…

For centuries, great swathes of the North of Scotland belonged to Norway, however, by 1263 our Scandinavian cousins seemed to have lost interest in these wild territories and King Alexander III wanted to take the Western Isles and Kintyre back into Scottish ownership. When he proposed to buy back these lands he unwittingly and unfortunately rekindled bad feelings with the warmongering  Norse King Haakon IV.

In the summer of 1263, the Norwegian King (now wanting more and more of Scotland under his control) set off with many fleets of longships to invade the Scottish coast.  Lashed by storms and gales the Norwegians were forced onto the beach at Largs in the middle of the night.

Jaggy Beasties Print – Indigo

In an effort to surprise the sleeping Scots and to help them move stealthily under cover of darkness the Norsemen removed their footwear...legend has it that one of the men stood on a thistle and his shrieks warned the Scots of the imminent danger. The Norwegians were fought and defeated, saving Scotland from invasion. To pay homage to the vital role that the thistle played in smiting the invaders, it was honoured as Scotland's national emblem.

Detail of Lilac Thistle Canvas print by Gillian Kyle

‘Jaggy Thistles’ Stretched Canvas Print in Lilac

The ‘Order of the Thistle’ is the highest honour in Scotland and was founded in 1540 by King James V. It's related to the famous Scottish saying "No-one harms me without punishment" and the phrase is often worn as a badge of honour in a thistle design. It's more commonly translated in Scots as "Wha daurs meddle wi me”. So, you can take it as a warning that you better not mess with us Scots!

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