A Scottish ‘Unicorn’

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HMS Unicorn’s figurehead

Unicorns are the heraldic supporters of the Scottish Royal Arms, and an earlier Unicorn ship was the flagship of the old Scots navy.  Almost every Scottish town has a Unicorn carved on the pinnacle of its ‘Merkat Cross’.

There could be few more appropriate ships to preserve in Scotland than HMS Unicorn.

HMS Unicorn’s figurehead represents a Unicorn wearing the heraldic naval coronet, with alternating sails and sterncastles.  He supports a gilded cartouche between his front legs bearing the present-day Royal Arms, differenced for use in Scotland, with the Scottish lion rampant in the first and third quadrants, the three English ‘leopards’ courant in the second quadrant and the Welsh harp in the fourth quadrant.

A Unicorn is not simply a horse with a single horn.  The mythical Unicorn had the legs and beard of a goat, and the figurehead therefore has cloven hooves.  Had his hindquarters been carved, he would have had a lion’s tail!