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 armour 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. It was
deemed unwarlike to attack an enemy in the darkness of the night,
instead of a pitched battle by day; but on one occasion the invaders
resolved to avail themselves of this stratagem. In order not to be
heard they removed their footwear for a silent approach but found
them on ground covered with thistles.
As they neared the Scottish force unobserved It is said their leader
stepped naked footed on a superb prickly thistle and instinctively
uttered a cry of pain. His painful shout warned the Scots who
discovered the assault and ran to their arms, and defeated their
Norse foe with a terrible slaughter, 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 in Scots dialect as
"Wha daurs meddle wi me".