December 2 – The Unicorn

As the first University in Scotland, we thought it would be fitting to start the St Andrews Library’s Special Collections advent calendar with the most quintessentially Scottish of fantastic beasts – the unicorn. With its horse-like body and large horn, the unicorn has captured the imagination of people for centuries. It even appears as a watermark in one of our manuscripts!

Leaf from mid-16th century copy of Andrew of Wyntoun’s Chronicle, with a unicorn watermark (msDA775.A6W9 (ms8))

Seal of Mary Queen of Scots attached to an instrument of sasine, 3 October 1546 (msdep121/1/1/2/5a)

Widely used in heraldry, the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. Two unicorns are depicted here on the seal of Mary Queen of Scots attached to an instrument of sasine dated 3 October 1546 (msdep121/1/1/2/5a). They act as supporters for the royal shield on this great seal in natural wax.

Great Seal of Scotland (Charles I) attached to a crown charter, 6 March 1630 (UYUC110/A2/22).

A later example of a royal Great Seal is still attached to a Crown charter dated 6 March 1630 issued on behalf of Charles I, who is depicted on horseback on the reverse (UYUC110/A2/22). This green wax seal dates from after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and shows the lion rampant of England on the right with the unicorn of Scotland and saltire on the left.

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