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The Oban Times - - HERITAGE - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

Scot­land’s noble this­tle

THE MOST An­cient and Most Noble Or­der of the This­tle is the high­est hon­our that can be awarded to Scot­tish men and women for ser­vice to their coun­try.

Given that the this­tle is Scot­land’s na­tional em­blem and its prick­li­ness is en­shrined in her motto, ‘Wha daur med­dle wi’ me’, it is not sur­pris­ing that it is com­mem­o­rated in our old­est or­der of chivalry.

There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent leg­ends about how the this­tle be­came Scot­land’s badge. The most pop­u­lar goes back to 1263 when King Alexan­der III, whose fa­ther died on Ker­rera, was de­fend­ing the coun­try from ma­raud­ing Vikings. The story goes that one night the Norse­men tried to sur­prise the sleep­ing Scots near Largs in North Ayr­shire.

In or­der to move more stealth­ily un­der cover of dark­ness, the lead­ers re­moved their footwear. But as they crept bare­foot they came across an area of ground cov­ered in this­tles. One of them stood on a this­tle and shrieked out in pain. His cries alerted the Scots who got to­gether and de­feated the Norse­men at the Bat­tle of Largs, which saved Scot­land from in­va­sion.

The im­por­tant role that the this­tle had played was quickly recog­nised and soon be­came the na­tional em­blem and was used on sil­ver coins as early as 1470 and re­main­ing on some Scot­tish bank notes to this day.

No-one knows ex­actly when the Or­der of the This­tle was es­tab­lished. Some his­to­ri­ans think that it was founded in 809 by Achaius, King of Scots. Oth­ers say that King James V, who re­ceived im­por­tant Ro­man, French and English hon­ours, es­tab­lished the Or­der of the This­tle in 1540 be­cause he was em­bar­rassed that he had no per­sonal hon­our to be­stow in re­turn. As it is recorded that he later con­ferred mem­ber­ship of the ‘Or­der of the Burr or Thissil’ on King Fran­cis I of France, his claim has some merit.

When King James went into ex­ile the Or­der fell into tem­po­rary dis­use but was re­vived by his daugh­ter Queen Anne. Her Hanovar­ian cousins and suc­ces­sors kept it go­ing by award­ing it to the loyal Scot­tish no­bil­ity, but it was left to Sir Wal­ter Scott to rekin­dle the en­thu­si­asm by sug­gest­ing that King Ge­orge IV wear the In­signia dur­ing his fa­mous visit to Ed­in­burgh in 1822.

Since of­fi­cial records be­gan in 1687, only 237 Knights and Ladies have been cre­ated. Orig­i­nally they were drawn from the peer­age un­til the dawn­ing of the Scot­tish En­light­en­ment when they be­gan to be joined and re­placed by out­stand­ing Scot­tish thinkers, lawyers, states­men, politi­cians and sci­en­tists - a trend that con­tin­ues to­day.

Her Majesty The Queen is Sov­er­eign of the Or­der which is re­stricted to 16 Knights and Ladies. Ap­point­ments, which are for life, are the per­sonal gift of the Sov­er­eign and are be­stowed on the Feast of St An­drew, its pa­tron saint.

Knight­hoods have been given to Lord Robert­son of Port Ellen, for­mer Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of NATO and the UK’s Min­is­ter of De­fence; Sir Don­ald Cameron of Lochiel, 25th Chief of the Clan Cameron and Lord Lieu­tenant of In­ver­ness-shire; Lord Maclean of Duart and Morvern, Chief of the Clan Maclean, Lord Cham­ber­lain to Her Majesty The Queen, and Sir Fitzroy Maclean of Dun­con­nel - diplo­mat, soldier, ad­ven­turer and politi­cian and au­thor of Eastern Ap­proaches, al­legedly the in­spi­ra­tion for Ian Flem­ing’s James Bond.

The robes and in­signia worn by the Sov­er­eign and Knights are spec­tac­u­lar. The man­tle is of green vel­vet, lined with white taffeta and tied with large green and gold tas­sels. The mag­nif­i­cent star of the Or­der, em­bla­zoned on the left shoul­der, con­sists of a sil­ver St An­drew’s saltire, with clus­ters of rays be­tween the arms. The broad hat, worn by the Sov­er­eign and the Knights and Ladies, is made of black vel­vet with a plume of soft, white egret feathers. Sus­pended from the neck is a gold col­lar, called the ‘St An­drew’, il­lus­trat­ing, in gold enamel, St An­drew wear­ing a green gown and pur­ple coat, hold­ing a white saltire. When a Knight or a Lady dies the badge and star are re­turned per­son­ally to the Sov­er­eign by the near­est rel­a­tive of the de­ceased.

When King James VII re­vived the Or­der of the This­tle in 1687 he had part of the Abbey Church at the Palace of Holy­rood House con­verted into a Chapel for the Or­der. The fol­low­ing year, how­ever, James was forced to flee the coun­try and the chapel was de­stroyed by an Ed­in­burgh mob fu­ri­ous with him for his al­le­giance to the Ro­man Catholic faith. The Or­der was left with­out a per­ma­nent chapel un­til 1911 when one was added to St Giles’ Cathe­dral by the renowned Scot­tish ar­chi­tect Sir Robert Lorimer. Al­though small, the in­te­rior of the This­tle Chapel is exquisitely dec­o­rated with carved and painted fit­tings of ex­tra­or­di­nary de­tail in­clud­ing an­gels play­ing bag­pipes.

Along its sides are the Knights’ stalls which are capped by richly carved canopies with the shields and crests of each mem­ber ris­ing above. The rich­est ef­fect of all, how­ever, is re­served for the Sov­er­eign’s stall at the west end of the chapel - a colour­ful tribute to re­mark­able Scot­tish work­man­ship.

Pho­to­graph Ju­lian Calder

Her Majesty The Queen wear­ing the robes of the Or­der of the This­tle.

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