The prickly purple thistle is the
national emblem of Scotland. Ever present in fields and
pastures throughout Scotland, thistle has been Scotland's
emblem for centuries. The first use as a royal symbol was on
silver coins issued by James III in 1470. The plant, which
grows to a height of five feet, has no enemies because of
vicious spines that cover it like armor plating.
There are many different stories
of how the Thistle became Scotland's symbol, but most point
to the events surrounding the Battle of Largs in 1263. It is
generally forgotten that for more than 600 years most of
Scotland was part of the Kingdom of Norway. By 1263 Norway
seemed to have little interest. King Alexander III proposed
to buy back the Western Isles and Kintyre, still Norwegian
territory. However this re-awoke Norse interest and King
Haakon IV attacked with a large force, but was finally
defeated at Largs. At some point during the campaign the
Norsemen tried to surprise the Scots with a night attack.
They removed their footwear for a silent approach but found
themselves on ground covered with thistle.
It is said their leader steeped
on thistle and cried out. His shout warned the Scots who
then saw off the Norsemen, thus saving Scotland. The role of
the thistle was then understood, and was chosen as
Scotland's symbol, with the motto "Nemo me impune lacessit",
"No-one harms me without punishment" but more commonly
translated as "Wha daurs meddle wi me".