IT may seem odd to have a fictitious creature for a national symbol - but why exactly is the unicorn the national animal of Scotland?

It would appear rather symbolic that a country famed for its myths, legends and culture boasts such a creature as their national animal, but a quick look at history shows the true reasons why the unicorn was named as the national animal of Scotland.

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The unicorn has been associated with royalty since the time of the Romans and Persians and was seen as a symbol of innocence and purity, as well as courage, masculinity and power.

Unicorns were written about by the ancient Persians, Romans, Greeks and ancient Jewish scholars. They all described a horse-like creature whose single horn had magical properties. 

The unicorn was first associated with Scottish royalty in the 12th century, with a depiction of a unicorn on the Scottish royal coat of arms by William I, the unicorn has cropped up in Scottish history ever since. In the 15th century, the creatures even appeared on coins. 

During the reign of King James IV which saw Scotland and England unite, the Scottish Royal Arms featured two unicorns and a shield. When James VI became James I of England and Ireland, he replaced one unicorn on the shield, with the national animal of England, the lion, in a message of unity between the countries. 

For centuries, the unicorn and the lion had been portrayed as enemies, but the symbolic gesture has ever since played a part in Scottish and British culture. 

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Today, the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland still has the English lion on the left and the Scottish unicorn on the right. The Royal Coat of Arms for Scotland has them the other way round.  

In more modern depictions, the unicorn is pictured as being chained because according to folklore a free unicorn was a dangerous beast. To others, the chained unicorn is seen as a symbol of Scotland being "oppressed"