Scottish Thistle

thistle

One of the most recognisable symbols of Scotland, this symbol on a gravestone typically denotes ancestry to the country. In the most recent census 6.4% of Australians claimed ancestry to Scotland. This is actually a slight rise from the 2006 census. As such, it is not uncommon to find this symbol on a headstone.

The legend surrounding the thistle goes that during the reign of Alexander III (historically between 1249-1286) an invading Norse army landed in Scotland at night intent on conquering the country. To hasten their sneaky approach they took off their shoes and walked barefoot only to then tread on thistles. Their cries alerted the Scots to their position who were victorious in the ensuing battle. As with most national legends there is little historical evidence to support this.

The first historical use of the symbol was the founding of the Order of the Thistle which is currently still the highest honour in Scotland bestowed by the monarchy. It was founded in 1687 by James VII of Scotland and its recipients wore a robe picturing hundreds of thistle motifs. The Order’s motto is nemo me impune lacessit which translates to “Nobody harms me unpunished”.

It is commonly used in tourism campaigns, as the names of businesses and sporting teams as to reflect the wild nature of Scotland and the tough nature of its people. Alternatively, here is Scottish comedian Danny Bhoy’s take on why the thistle is the emblem of Scotland:

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