Royal arms of Scotland

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Royal Arms of Scotland
In My Defens God Me Defend
(abbr. In Defens)

The royal arms of Scotland is the official

King of Scots first adopted in the 12th century, and endures as one of the most recognisable national symbols of Scotland. The flying of the arms in banner form is considered one of the great privileges of the office of the First Minister of Scotland as its usage is granted by the monarch for the First Minister to use.[1] Today, the Royal Arms are most commonly referred to as the Royal Banner
, or more commonly, the Lion Rampant.

With the

James VI inherited the thrones of England and Ireland and thus his arms in Scotland were now quartered with the arms of England (which was itself quartered with France) with an additional quarter for Ireland also added (the arms would continue to alter in later years). Though the kingdoms of England and Scotland would share the same monarch, the distinction in heraldry used in both kingdoms was maintained. When the kingdoms of Scotland and England were united under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain
, no single arms were created, thereby maintaining the convention that the royal arms used in Scotland would continue to differ from those used elsewhere.

Poetically described as "the ruddy lion ramping in his field of tressured gold", the arms are still widely used today as a symbol of Scotland, and are quartered in the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom along with the arms of England and Ireland.


The arms feature a red

auld alliance
" with France, but this is unlikely, as this alliance did not come to exist until 1295, when the royal tressure had been firmly established as part of the arms for many years. It was perhaps added merely to make the arms more distinctive, as the symbol of a rampant lion was already used by several lords and kings.

Atop the shield sits the helm and crest. The helm is full-faced of damasked gold with six bars and features gold mantling lined with ermine. Upon the helm sits the crest, depicting the red lion, forward facing and sitting atop the Crown of Scotland, displaying the Honours of Scotland. (The lion wears the Crown of Scotland and holds both the Sceptre and the Sword of State).

Above the crest is the

In My Defens God Me Defend" (defens being the Scots language spelling of "defence"). Surrounding the shield is the collar of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle

The supporters are 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. (In the legend The Hunt of the Unicorn, otherwise known as The Unicorn Tapestries displayed at Stirling Castle[2] and New York Metropolitan Museum of Art,[3] the unicorn denotes Jesus Christ: Christ will be called the son of unicorns, for the unicorn is irresistible in might and unsubjected to man. The Hunt of the Unicorn is a love story involving Christ the unicorn, mankind and a maiden. The chained unicorn represents a risen Christ, in the garden of paradise and the chains around the unicorn represent the chains of Christ's love for the maiden and mankind). Throughout the ages the arms passed from monarch to succeeding monarch with only slight variations in detail. In some early examples the crest depicts the lion without a sceptre and holding the sword at an angle in the dexter paw, the sword blade passing behind the crowned head of the lion. Other versions show the unicorn supporters without their crowns, although being considered dangerous beasts they are always chained.

The compartment features a number of thistles, the national flower of Scotland. (Later versions of the arms were to include a blue ribbon over the compartment, upon which in gold lettering appears the motto of the Order of the Thistle, Nemo me impune lacessit).


Kingdom of Scotland

Lion rampant
on saddle and shield
Arms of Alexander II, as shown in Matthew Paris
's Historia Anglorum, c. 1250
Arms of the King of Scots, from the Wernigerode Armorial
, c. 1475

A form of these arms was first used by

King William the Lion in the 12th century, though no trace of them can be made out on his seal. However, a lion rampant can clearly be made out on the seal of his son, Alexander II. Over the years many writers have claimed them to be much older; even Alexander Nisbet, considered to be one of the more reliable Scottish heralds, claims that a lion was first adopted as a personal symbol by the legendary Fergus, with the royal tressure being added in the reign of Achaius

Throughout the ages the arms passed from monarch to succeeding monarch with only slight variations in detail. In some early examples the lion holds a sword or wears a crown, and the royal tressure has sometimes been interpreted as an orle or bordure. Many of these relatively minor variations will have resulted from the individual efforts of stonemasons, weavers, artists and sculptors throughout the ages in their attempts to create a facsimile of the arms of the period, as well as mistakes and misinterpretations on the part of foreign heraldic artists.

In the reign of James III, the Scottish Parliament made a curious attempt to get rid of the royal tressure, passing an act stating that "the King, with the advice of the three Estates ordained that in time to come there should be no double tressure about his arms, but that he should bear whole arms of the lion without any more". This state of affairs does not appear to have lasted very long, with James III soon re-instating the royal tressure, first without its top, and then in its original form.[4]

Upon the creation of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland in 1672 Charles II registered the blazon of the achievement of the King of Scots as:

"Or, a Lyon rampant gules armed and langued azure within a double tressur flowered and counter-flowered with flowers de lis of the second, Encircled with the order of Scotland the same being composed of Rue and thistles having the Image of St. Andrew with his crosse on his brest y unto pendent. Above the shield ane Helment answerable to his Majesties high qualitie and jurisdiction with a mantle or doubled ermine adorned with ane Imperiall Crowne beautified with crosses pattee and flowers de lis surmounted on the top for his Majesties Crest of a Lyon sejant full faced gules crowned or holding in his dexter paw a naked sword proper and in the sinister a Scepter both erected paleways supported be two Unicornes Argent crowned with Imperiall and goarged with open Crownes, to the last chains affixed passing betwixt their fore leggs and reflexed over their backs or, he on the dexter imbracing and bearing up a banner of cloath of gold charged with the Royall Armes of Scotland and he on the sinister another Banner azure charged with a St Andrews Crosse argent, both standing on ane compartment placed underneath from which issue thistles one towards each side of the escutcheon, and for his Majisties Royall Motto's in ane escroll over all In defence, and under on the table of the compartment Nemo me impune Lacessit."[5]

Kingdom of France


King of France, with those of Mary also being altered to reflect her elevated status as Queen consort of France.[6][7]

Following the death of Francis in 1560, Mary continued to use the arms showing Scotland and France impaled, (with a minor alteration of the arms to reflect her change of status from queen-consort to

had for centuries held a historical claim to the throne of France, symbolised by the arms of France having been quartered with those of England since 1340). Following the marriage to Darnley, the arms of Scotland reverted to the blazon which had preceded the marriage to Francis.

Union of the Crowns

Royal coat of arms of Scotland
Coat of arms of the United Kingdom in Scotland (1837-1952, variant).svg
Coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Scotland.
In My Defens God Me Defend (abbr. In Defens)
Order(s)The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. (Arms feature the collar of the order)

On the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603,

James VI inherited the thrones of England and Ireland. The arms of England were quartered with those of Scotland, and a quarter for Ireland was also added. At this time the King of England also laid claim to the French throne, therefore the arms of the Kingdom of England were themselves already quartered with those of the Kingdom of France. James used a different version of his royal arms in Scotland and this distinction in royal protocol continued post the Acts of Union of 1707
. (Today, the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom used in Scotland continue to differ from those used elsewhere).

During the reign of

Chivalric order of the Kingdom of Scotland.[9] The motto of the Order of the Thistle, Nemo me impune lacessit, appears on a blue scroll overlying the compartment.[10] (Previously, only the collar
of the Order of the Thistle had appeared on the arms).

The addition by King Charles of Nemo me impune lacessit ensured that the

. Henceforth, the versions of the Royal arms used in Scotland and elsewhere were to include both the motto of the arms of the respective kingdom and the motto of the associated order of chivalry.

From the accession of the

internal affairs. The Act declared that the Irish state could be described as a republic, following which the newly created Republic of Ireland left the British Commonwealth. However, the modern versions of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland used both in Scotland and elsewhere, and also the arms of Canada, continue to feature an Irish harp to represent Northern Ireland

Changes to the blazon of the arms

The Dauphin of France, (1558–1559)
The Kingdom of England, (1558-1560)
Kingdom of France
, (1559–1565)
  • Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the blazon of the royal arms of Scotland included elements from the arms of:
The Kingdom of France, (1603–1707)
Kingdom of England
, (1603–1707)
The Kingdom of Ireland, (1603–1707)
The House of Orange-Nassau, (1689–1702)
The Kingdom of France, (1707–1800)
The Kingdom of Ireland (1707–1800)
The Electorate of Hanover, (1714–1800)
The Electorate of Hanover, (1801–1814)
The Kingdom of Hanover, (1814–1837)

As a banner

Royal Banner of Scotland

Since the formation of the

lords lieutenant in their lieutenancies. Unofficially, the royal banner is often used as a secondary national flag, being most often seen at sporting events involving Scottish national teams. (Both the Scottish Football Association and Scotland national football team
use a logo based upon the royal arms).

Current uses

Royal arms in the Thistle Chapel, St Giles' Cathedral
, Edinburgh

The royal arms in their current form were adopted on the accession of

motto In Defens appears as in the original arms, and the Latin motto of the Order of the Thistle, Nemo me impune lacessit, also appears on a blue scroll overlying the compartment. The Scottish unicorn and English lion hold lances flying the banners of St Andrew and St George, in imitation of the two unicorns in the original arms. The unicorn is placed in the dominant position on the dexter side, and the shield is encircled by the collar of the Order of the Thistle instead of the Garter.

The arms of the

inescutcheon, are the arms of the heir apparent to the King of Scots, namely the royal arms of Scotland with a three-pointed label

The coat of arms of the Government of Gibraltar correspond to the British royal arms in that they also feature the Scottish arms in the second quarter of the shield and use the unicorn as the sinister supporter, with the Gibraltar's own coat of arms under the motto Dieu et mon droit.


royal arms of Canada
correspond to the British royal arms in that they also feature the Scottish arms in the second quarter of the shield and use the unicorn as the sinister supporter. The Canadian version also mirrors the Scottish version in that each supporter not only supports the shield but also a lance displaying a flag.

Both the

lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia
also feature the Scottish arms on an inescutcheon).

The royal tressure appears on the arms of numerous Scottish families and institutions as a mark of royal favour, known in heraldry as an augmentation of honour; prominent examples occur in the arms of the cities of Perth and Aberdeen. In 2002, the Queen granted arms to the Monarchist League of Canada which featured a royal tressure with maple leaves instead of the usual fleurs-de-lis. A royal tressure with roses and thistles can be found in the arms of the Marquis of Aberdeen and Temair.

The arms of the Archdiocese of Mechelen used to be the same as those of Scotland. They were quartered with the

Saint Rumbold was the son of a Scottish King and thus his arms were identical to the Scottish arms.[11]

The coat of arms of the town of Sankt Wendel in Saarland combines elements of the Scottish flag and the Scottish coat of arms. Four lilies, taken from the Scottish royal coat of arms, on a blue background, are reminiscent of Saint Wendelin. Legendary tradition describes him as a Scottish king's son. In 1465, the parish of St. Wendel sent two parishioners to Scotland to research the legend of Saint Wendelin's royal Scottish origins. After allegedly positive confirmation, the Scottish lion coat of arms was used in the seal of the parish of St. Wendel. The blue-silver/white flag of Sankt Wendel takes up the blue background of the coat of arms of the city and the silver/white of its lilies as well as the colors of the Scottish flag.[12][13][14][15]

Coat of arms of the United Kingdom in Scotland (1837-1952, variant).svg
Coat of Arms of the Duke of Rothesay.svg
Coat of arms of Nova Scotia.svg
Blason de l'Archidiocèse de Malines-Bruxelles (Belgique) avec ornements extérieurs.svg
DEU St.Wendel COA.svg
Arms of King Charles III
used in Scotland
Arms of Prince William, Duke of Rothesay used in Scotland
Province of Nova Scotia
Arms of the
Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels
Coat of arms of the Saarland town of Sankt Wendel in Germany

See also


  1. ^ "The 9 bizarre laws that still exist in Scotland – and you've probably already broken some".
  2. ^ "The Stirling Tapestries". Stirling Castle. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  3. ^ "The Unicorn Tapestries". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  4. ^ McWilliam, John (March 2018). "The Royal Arms of Scotland". The Heraldry Society.
  5. ^ Fox-Davies, Charles (1915). The Book of Public Arms. p. 712.
  6. ^ "Scottish Coins". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015.
  7. ^ Scottish Coins ~ Mary (1542–1567)
  8. – via Google Books.
  9. ^ British Monarchy web site
  10. )
  11. ^ "Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussel - Arms, armoiries, escudo, wappen, crest of Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussel". Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  12. ^ Kurt Hoppstädter: Die Wappen des Saarlandes, I. Teil, Hrsg.: Historischer Verein für das Saarland e. V. in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Landesarchiv der Regierung des Saarlandes (Zeitschrift für saarländische Heimatkunde, 3. Jg., Heft 1–4), Saarbrücken 1953, S. 87–88.
  13. ^ Hermann Lehne, Horst Kohler: Wappen des Saarlandes, Landes- und Kommunalwappen, Saarbrücken 1981, S. 216–217.
  14. ^ Stadt St. Wendel, Webseite: Stadtwappen/-signet. Abruf am 17. Februar 2021.
  15. ^ Walter Hannig: in: Karl Schwingel (Hrsg.): Festschrift für Karl Lohmeyer, im Auftrag des Ministeriums für Kultus, Unterricht und Volksbildung herausgegeben, Saarbrücken 1954, S. 268ff.

External links