Tuesday, 25 April 2017

U is for Unicorn …



The most familiar of the heraldic mythical animals is the Unicorn, which pairs up with the lion as a Supporter of the royal coat of arms.

The gentle and pensive maiden has the
power to tame the Unicorn:
Fresco by Domenico Zampieri (1602)


I’m sure we all recognise the Unicorn from our childhood – as that beautiful white beast conjured up in so many tales.



Unicorn Statue on Council Offices,
Bristol



In heraldry the Unicorn is drawn with 

the body, head and mane of a horse, 
the tail of a lion, 
the beard of a goat ...
with its own distinctive horn.





The Unicorn Penned - number 7
of the original tapestries now
in the Cloisters
The origins of the Unicorn myth were that it was the fiercest beast in the forest, so fierce it would rather die than be captured …


A series of seven tapestries: "The Hunt of the Unicorn", dating from between 1495 and 1505, bought by JD Rockefeller, now hang in The Cloisters in New York, were probably woven in Brussels or Liege.




Stirling Castle - with one of the
copied tapestries in situ

Historic Scotland commissioned a copy of a set of hand-made tapestries for Stirling Castle as part of a project to furnish the castle as it was in the 16th century.





Fee of the blog Wee White Hoose gives a wonderful post about The Unicorn: Scotland’s National Animal … including some lovely photos … and is well worth a read.  

The Royal Coat of Arms England on the left ...
        the Scottish one on the right 

Then of all the mythical animals, the unicorn seemed to be the most likely to exist in reality … with explorers hoping to find its habitat well into the 19th century.




That is U for Under the radar, the Unique Unicorn … from Aspects of British County Rare Breeds …


Counties with the letter U … 
(note some Counties have been retired!, or amended over historical local government … but some I’ve included)
England: None
Northern Ireland: None
Scotland:  None
Wales:  None


My post on the Skeletons found and identified in the kitchens of Stirling Castle when it was being restored ... 


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

63 comments:

Courtney Turner said...

I didn't know it had the beard of a goat and the tail of a lion. Also, I've finally realized that your focus has been on animals with a UK perspective. Took a while : ) Maui Jungalow

Elephant's Child said...

Sadly I cannot access Fee's blog.
Unicorns and dragons need to be real. Or so I have always thought.

dolorah said...

Such a beautiful creature, full of its own history. i'm not sure it is real, but its seems likely. I need a bit of fantasy to keep me sane in the real world :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Courtney - I'd forgotten about the Unicorn having those facets of other animals. Yes - perhaps I should have put a note in at the beginning of each of the posts - I think I did that back in 2010 and on ... to remind people of the British Rare Breed focus ... ah well!

@ EC - I've corrected the links - hope they work now .. and I'll delete the notes I've made shortly ...thank you for letting me know ...

Yes it'd be great if dragons and unicorns were real - and it's possible a similar animal was before evolution kicked in ...

@ Donna - the Unicorn is a beautiful animal isn't it ... and it would be wonderful if it was real, yet is a delight in its mythical state ...

Thanks so much - please let me know if the link doesn't work .. cheers Hilary

Annalisa Crawford said...

I agree - it certainly feels like an animal that could exist! Who knows what mad scientists will be able to do in the future - bit of horse DNA, bit of Rhino... all stirred around in a test tube...?

SENCO Cat Herder said...

Unicorns see to be even more prevalent today - and why not? Such a fascinating animal and a unique post :)
http://pempispalace.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/t-is-for-terrible-teacher.html

Sophie Duncan said...

I've always loved the unicorn, and the idea of it being a fierce animal makes sense, with a horn like that.

I remember this rhyme in my nursery rhyme book:

The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town

Sophie
Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - Dragon Diaries

Sarah Zama said...

The Unicorn is indeed a fascinating animal. There have been several theories abotu what actual animal could have inspired it. I love the one about the narvalo, a whale-like dweller of the sea with just the exact horn as we usually se on unicorns :-)

@JazzFeathers
The Old Shelter - 1940s Film Noir

Bob Scotney said...

A unicorn it had to be. It would have been remiss of you not to have chosen it.

bazza said...

My elder daughter (all grown up) is a big fan of unicorns. When we were at Audley End House last year they had white horses dressed as unicorns just wondering around. We were having a coffee and she looked out of the window and nearly spat her coffee out with surprise and delight!
I was in Stirling Castle many years ago. Can't remember the tapestries sadly.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s rare Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Susan Scott said...

When I climbed Kilimanjaro (MANY years ago) I looked out for the fabled unicorn as a friend had requested me to do - I thought I saw it at the faaaar edge of the horizon but not close enough to say with any certainty. Such myth and mystery around this beautiful creature ... thanks Hilary, lovely pics.

DeeDee said...

Unicorn and Rainbows go hand in hand is what I have dreamt about always :-)

A Peice Of My Life

NotesinaBook Blog said...

I didn't know there were no U counties!

Dropping by from the A to Z Challenge
http://www.notesinabook.com

Vinodini Iyer said...

A Unicorn exudes of mystical qualities. I did not know that it was considered as a national animal of Scotland. Great piece of information, Hilary.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Unicorns are amazing magical animals :-) Happy A-to-Z-ing.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Annalisa – as you mention they’ve found a ‘sort of rhino-horse’ in Siberia with a horn and shaggy coat … perhaps some fossils will appear sometime …

@ Senco – I think as children we fall in love with the idea of the beautiful Unicorn, thus lots more tales about them … or research into their remains – if there are any …

@ Sophie – I agree they are adorable creatures aren’t they – and their myth of protecting themselves with their horn would be sensible.

Brilliant – I’d forgotten this rhyme til you left it for us … such a great little gem of a nursery rhyme … love it!

@ Sarah – yes, we keep searching for the elusive Unicorn … while the Narvalo, or in real life the Narwhal, does have that real looking unicorn-style horn … one day we might find out …

@ Bob – yes – couldn’t do anything else could I.

@ Bazza – oh what fun to find yourselves at Audley End … and then to have the surprise – I bet your daughter nearly spilt her coffee … with surprise and lots of delight …

I think your Stirling Castle visit was too early … they’ve only recently dug the kitchens up and found the skeletons and then after that ordered the replica tapestries … but another visit seems to be on the cards?!

@ Susan – oh what fun … I’d never heard of the fabled unicorn frequenting Kilimanjaro … I’m sure it was there in the distance happily disappearing into the landscape of Africa …

Yes the unicorn is a creature of myth and mystery which still beguiles …

@ DeeDee – you are probably right about the unicorn being hand in hand with a rainbow – sounds a delightful picture …

@ NIAB – nope, no U counties – sadly some Unitary Authorities now … political boundaries will change apparently …

@ Vinodini – yes the mystical qualities of serenity surrounding the beloved Unicorn. This was Fee’s brilliant post that alerted me to it being the National Animal of Scotland … it’s a lovely post …

@ Ronel – they are magical creatures … things dreams are made of …

Cheers to you all – and thanks for visiting … Hilary

Jz said...

Hilary!
High Five!
We did the same U. :-D
Great minds and all that, don't you know?
(Of course, yours isn't silly and mine is but that's kind of us in a nutshell anyhow...)

I hadn't known the official composition, that's really fun.

Sue Bursztynski said...

There are some theories about the disappearance of the unicorn. Mine is that they were wiped out during the Middle Ages, with all those hunts.

Then there's that song by the Irish Rovers, in which they get left behind when the Ark leaves because "them unicorns was hidin', playin' silly games!" I've even seen a rather poignant cartoon with two unicorns gazing through the rain as the Ark departs...

I love unicorns. I've used them in my own writing. In my one and only novel so far, there is a young man who becomes terribly embarrassed when his fat, cheerful hill pony, in the Otherwold, turns out to be a unicorn. His friend laughs his head off, of course. ;-)

Leslie Moon said...

still looking for unicorns in corners of the world (where they might hide.)

A lovely choice for U.

Thanks again for your visits - Cheers

Jean Davis said...

The Unicorn is rare indeed! Those two coats of arms are so very similar! I like how the unicorn gets a crown even with its horn.
Discarded Darlings - Jean Davis, Speculative Fiction Writer, A to Z: Editing Fiction

Laurel Garver said...

The unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters in NYC are a marvel to behold.

It's interesting how unicorn lore changed over time. Once fierce and more species-mixed, to simply a horse with a horn who preferred hanging out with milky-skinned virgins. (Freud would have a field day with that!)

Laurel's Leaves: U = Unexpected

Darla M Sands said...

So glad I found you via your comment on Scattergun Scribblings. I've cherished unicorns from childhood and still use a beach towel bearing them. ~grin~ Now I'm off to read Wee White Hoose! Happy Blogging.

http://darlamsands.blogspot.com/

Nilanjana Bose said...

Beard of a goat? All this time and I've never noticed :) Of all mythical creatures, unicorns and dragons - can't beat them. Magical!

Nila
Madly-in-Verse

Shirley Corder said...

Hilary, I loved this article. We visited Stirling Castle about 12 years ago, and they were busy working on one of the tapestries. What a massive job, and how intricate the work. I've actually written a devotional message on the project.

Deniz Bevan said...

I recognise that penned Unicorn image! I had a sticker book of unicorns when I was a kid, showing historical depictions of unicorns. Some of those images have seeped into my subconscious... Still love unicorns because of that book.

FinnBadger said...

Great stuff today. And these days unicorns seem to be more popular than ever.

Phillip | U is for Unexpected

bookworm said...

A mythological creature at last. Enjoyable post. I like unusual socks and yesterday I wore one with unicorns on it. The Unknown Journey Ahead agingonthespectrum.blogspot.com

C.D. Gallant-King said...

And now it's a drink from Starbucks with a million calories!

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

U - Underground SNOWLAB

Andrea Ostapovitch said...

I used to be quite obsessed with unicorns. As a matter of fact, I used to be able to draw them very well. So well in fact, that it earned me extra marks with my English teacher. I guess he liked unicorns too.

Sara C. Snider said...

Interesting that the search for unicorns carried on until fairly recently, relatively speaking. Such beautiful animals, the world would be a better place if they existed. Unless, of course, it turns out they have a nasty temperament. ;)

A to Z 2017: Magical and Medicinal Herbs

Trudy said...

The unicorn is Scotland's National Animal??? I feel even prouder of my Scottish ancestry now... they know a good thing when they see it.

Trudy @ Reel Focus
Food in Film: Ugli Fruit

Anabel Marsh said...

Glad to see our national animal recognised! At least two unicorn sculptures around Glasgow that I can think of.

Birgit said...

I love the unicorn...it really is majestic and I was so happy to actually see those tapestries...they are truly beautiful. I have a feeling that the origin of this animal come from a goat or something that had one horn. You can't have a mighty goat and since humans love building things up, they created a horse....which sounds good to me.

Jacqui Murray said...

It had to be unicorns, didn't it? It's sad to see one penned. I can't even put a collar on my dog. It helps that the pup is too afraid to run away!

Rebecca Douglass said...

Like dragons, unicorns seem to have some special appeal. Part of their appeal to the writer, of course, is versatility: they can do so much, and you can pick the parts of the legends you like best! Though unicorns seem to be more defined in early literature. I'd forgotten about the goat and lion elements, but I do see them in the tapestries!

There's healing in the horn, too, isn't there (in some stories)?

And of course that whole virgin and unicorn thing does open up some lovely Freudian analysis :D

The Ninja Librarian’s Favorite Characters

Deborah Weber said...

Unicorns and dragons - magical beasts indeed. I'm ready for them to make their appearances again.

Liz A. said...

I wonder if there was a unicorn once that has since gone extinct. Otherwise, where did they come up with it? Well, imagination, sure...

Lynn said...

I adore knowing that the Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland! :) I am of Scottish and Welsh heritage according to my Ancestry.com DNA test (plus a mix of other countries thrown in for good measure, but the UK is predominant.)

Loved reading the post about the remains found under Stirling Castle, too!

Chicky Kadambari said...

Didn't know about the goat and lion bit.
My first intro to unicorns was in Harry Potter. In the book, they've been described as the purest of all living creatures. I had no idea that they were the fiercest.
Happy AtoZing!
Chicky @ www.mysteriouskaddu.com

lissa said...

I didn't know any of this about unicorn, I just like them for for being a mystical creature that might or might not existed. great U post.

have a lovely day.

~ my U post - Unpopular list ~

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jz – yay … High Five … great minds as you say! Mine is just what I could find to fit my theme –you had lots of fun facts … made me laugh … I was so glad Sophie put the rhyme up …

@ Sue – you could well be right … but I think I’ll disagree … we’d have known if they were actually around …

I didn’t know about the Irish Rovers song … very poignant if the two unicorns were left gazing at the Ark’s departure … how sad!

They are lovely creatures aren’t they … oh dear poor fat cheerful hill pony … I’d rather like to be him – he’ll be prettier being a unicorn!

@ Leslie – I think we’re all keeping our eyes open to see one of those beloved creatures … one day perhaps!

@ Jean – thank you for confirming that I placed the Unicorn in the right theme … of Rare Breeds! The two Coats of Arms representing the two Kingdoms are likely to be similar … but the Unicorn with its crown is pretty special …

@ Laurel – I’ve never seen the Cloisters tapestries … one day I hope to rectify that …

This post is bringing out the lore isn’t it – wonderful blogging commenters … oh ok … Freud would have had a field day – think about all the media frenzy we’d have had if it was today …

@ Darla – good to meet you and thank you for coming over … oh how lovely to be so passionate about unicorns – Fee’s blog piece is a really good one …

@ Nila – I know … the mix of heraldry characteristics is interesting isn’t it – and as you say … we can’t beat dragons or unicorns – magical and mythical creatures …

@ Deniz – oh what fun to be taught history that you remember with the unicorn stickers… they really have sunk in haven’t they … I bet that book will be passed on to the littlie …

@ Phillip – Unicorns certainly happen be long lived in our memories, minds and imaginations … popular for ever …

@ Bookworm – what fun that you have a pair of socks … one of which features a Unicorn. I had to bring Unicorns in … even if not a Rare Breed in my terminology … !

@ CD is it a drink c/o Starbucks … not something I want to try (ever!) … it is and Jz mentioned it too … yugh!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Andrea – congratulations on your drawing abilities … wish I had that talent … but so glad you enjoyed the unicorn post …

@ Sara – I think the search (research) for unicorns still carries on – if they were found … it’d be amazing – as you say so beautiful if they existed … no, they’d never have a nasty temper!!

@ Trudy – yes – oh that’s good you can feel proud of your Scottish Ancestry … they certainly do know a good thing don’t they …

@ Anabel – thank you for confirming your Unicorn as the Scottish National Animal … and oh I didn’t spot the unicorn sculptures that can be found in Glasgow …

@ Birgit – seeing the Unicorn Tapestries must be quite extraordinary – I’d love to do that. It’s very likely that our ancients ‘created’ the lore for the unicorn and how it’s made up …

@ Jacqui – yes probably … even though it’s meant to be Rare Breeds … but I fit the brief – so, with licence, Unicorns it is … - yes poor Unicorn being penned in … sad at its end. Lucky puppy dog to be able to roam free …

@ Rebecca – you’ve told me more than I know – putting everyone’s thoughts into words – clarifying so much. I think you’re right about the healing horn –

- then again another mention of Freudian analysis …

@ Deborah – they are both magical beasts … it would be good if they’d both reappear … but what else would pop up ?!

@ Liz – there may well have been … but that white skin worries me! Different kinds of horses, cows or goats spotted and ‘woven’ into the magical beast as a Unicorn … clever naming too …

@ Lynn – that’s great … something extra special for you to tag onto when discussing your heritage … we’re all a multi mix of different races … I think I must be true Brit – look and feel like it … but who knows !!

Oh thank you for checking out the Stirling Castle post – I loved that story …

@ Chicky – I’d forgotten the goat and lion parts too …

Harry Potter introduced you to Unicorns – I suppose if you’re going to find unicorns … Harry’s the chap to do it! Folklore that they were the fiercest …

@ Lissa – good to see you … well I’m glad I’ve added a little to your knowledge to the beautiful beast that might have been or might be perhaps …

Thanks everyone so much – the Unicorn has entranced hasn’t it … and we’ve remembered lots of childhood memories … fun to read with the extra additions … cheers Hilary

Keith's Ramblings said...

I can't imagine the unicorn being fierce, although one I met was not happy when I used it as a coat hook! Nice one Hilary!

Another day in Amble Bay!

Rhodesia said...

From a small child I always wished to see a Unicorn :-) If only they were real. Another lovely post Hilary. Have a great week Diane

sage said...

Not that I have spent much time contemplating unicorns, but I never knew that had a goat's beard!

http://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2017/04/u-is-for-ursa-major.html

Nick Wilford said...

Well, who knows? We can't really rule anything out. They're more likely than some other mythical creatures!

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

So many legends, so much beautiful artwork, Hilary. I am quite fond of the seven tapestries portraying The Hunt of the Unicorn, their history as well as the mystery surrounding their origins and meaning.

Jo said...

I didn't realise the unicorn was a Scottish symbol. New one on me. I always loved the little poem about the Lion and the Unicorn.

Sharon M Himsl said...

Aren't they beautiful? Maybe we'll find evidence one day they actually existed.

"Female Scientists Before Our Time"
Shells–Tales–Sails

Rhonda Albom said...

Thanks for the historical commentary on the origins of the fabled unicorn. I must show it to my daughter who wears her blue unicorn onesie with pride :)

Paula Kaye said...

Ah yes, the beloved unicorn. Sorry I have missed so much of your A to Z I hope to catch up! Life just gets in the way some times, doesn't it?

Claire Annette said...

I want to believe that unicorns are real. They are surging in popularity these days. I'd love to see that tapestry.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Keith – I know I think of a docile creature coming up to nuzzle my hand – oh ok the coat hook wouldn’t look so good ..

@ Diane – it would be lovely to spot a Unicorn out in a meadow with the sun shining down, clear blue sky and just be at peace with the world …

@ Sage – I’d forgotten the characteristics … so was glad to include them …

@ Nick – I know and you’re in Scotland and they are your National Animal … fossils might be found …

@ Gail – stuff of legends; the 7 tapestries must be amazing to see and to read more about their origins from Arras in France – the medieval centre for tapestry …

@ Jo – I hadn’t taken into account the Unicorn played a major role in Scottish lore … I guess I should have done as it appears in the Coat of Arms …

@ Sharon – perhaps one day we might find fossils …

@ Rhonda – it’s interesting checking out some of these things for the post – and then having commenters add to the occasion. Oh good – I hope your daughter enjoys the post …

@ Paula – no worries – good to see you now … and the beloved Unicorn features in all our hearts …

@ Claire – it would be lovely if Unicorns were found … a meadow full of them grazing – ever hopeful I guess. The tapestries are an extraordinary series …

Thanks so much to you all – lovely to see you here and to read your comments – cheers Hilary

suesconsideredtrifles said...

One of my favourite books has a unicorn in it. I can't tell you the title as that might spoil it for anyone, who hasn't read it. I made a unicorn outfit for one of my now grown-up children to wear at a fancy dress parade. I got the tail wrong, though. I thought it was a horse's tail!
Sue from Sue's Trifles

Pamela Wright said...

Hi Hilary, I absolutely love unicorns and have quite a few around the house. I was very happy to find they were so important to Scotland, it's like I've moved to their spiritual home.

Pamela @ Highlands Days of Fun

Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar said...

I've read about unicorns in stories. It would be fascinating to read more on the legends that surround them.

Michelle Wallace said...

I love the mysticism that surrounds the unicorn.
Judging from the pics above, those tapestries are beautiful...imagine seeing them in real life...

Debbie D. said...

Fascinating, majestic creatures.I didn't know about them having goat-like beards nor that they may have actually existed! Thanks for the insight, Hilary.

Truedessa said...

Ah, I have to like unicorns they are indeed mythical and magical. In a dream I saw one with wings.

Christine Rains said...

I've not heard unicorns described that way, but I can see it now. I had quite a collection of them when I was a teenager.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Sue- I'm sure we all had books with unicorns in - though I must say I can't remember mine. Oh how clever to make a Unicorn outfit for your children to wear when they were little - oh how funny about the tail!! It'll be a good joke in the years ahead ...

@ Pamela - it's interesting that the Unicorn 'belongs' to Scotland - but I'm sure we'd all think it would represent us all in the UK ... Lovely you've Unicorns around ... and you sound like you're ecstatically happy being in Scotland ...

@ Cynthia - there must be plenty of stories about Unicorns ... and children's stories ... enjoy when you find some to read ...

@ Michelle - the mysticism is still there isn't it for the Unicorn. The tapestries I think must be incredible to see in real life - at the Cloisters in New York, or the replicas in Stirling Castle ...

@ Debbie - I'd forgotten the description of the Unicorn, but it's added to the post ... and introduced heraldry in to the equation ... they're not sure about their existence, but it is possible ...

@ Truedessa - how wonderful to dream about Unicorns and with wings - and you remembered your dream ... they are mythical, magical and dreamlike!

@ Christine - I expect many a girl had Unicorns around their childhood homes ... but am glad the heraldic description explained it well ..

Thanks everyone - funny old life: the Unicorn wins the comment contest here- I think! I must say I've learnt ... cheers Hilary

diedre Knight said...

Ironically, I recently ran across the Rockefeller family while researching homes of vintage icons. It's good the tapestries are in a museum, given the sort of luck that plagued the Rockefeller family.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diedre - it is interesting how we are on track for one thing and then something cross-references ... I love it. Interesting note on the Rockefeller family - which I don't fully understand - I guess it means at least these works of art are not locked up in one of their houses ... and are available for the public to see. I'm just glad copies were made for Stirling Castle - to put the restoration in true perspective of life back then. Cheers Hilary