The Order of the Thistle is the highest order that can be given in Scotland and is said to have been established by King James VII & II in 1687.
It is believed that James established the Order to help engage with, and maintain his close relationship with, the Scots. He asked two of his ministers of state to come up with something that would portray both the importance of the people receiving the Order whilst also carrying the air of exclusivity and royal support. Thus, the Order of the Thistle as it is known today was formed.
However, there are some who argue that James VII & II simply resurrected a much older idea. Legend has it that in 809 the Scottish King Achaius gave the Order to Charlemagne. This may have some truth to it as Charlemagne was known to employ Scottish bodyguards but most consider the exchange to be a gift. Reference to an Order of the Thistle crops up again with James III who bestowed the “Order of the Burr or Thissil” on King Francis I of France in the fifteenth century but again there is little evidence to support this. If there was indeed an Order at this time it would appear to be sporadic and was not an enduring cause.
Ultimately it is James VII & II who is largely credited with being the Order of the Thistle creator. The problems don’t end with him though as issues arise when he was deposed in 1688 and his successors to the throne, William and May, did not continue the tradition of the Order of the Thistle. It was however brought back by Marys sister Anne in 1703 after she took the throne and since then it has continued to exist to this day.
As we said earlier the Order of the Thistle is the highest honour in Scotland and is second only to the Order of the Garter in England. It is a special honour to have bestowed upon you as it is a personal gift from the monarch, there is no government involvement. It is also a very exclusive club. Today there are only 16 knights of the Order of the Thistle at one time as well a handful of officials and a few ‘extra’ knights, who are mainly members of the Royal Family.
Knights gather once a year at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, where they wear their ceremonial robes of deep green and display the Order of the Thistle star on their left breast with the motto ‘Nemo me Impune Lacessit’ which means ‘no-one provokes me with impunity’, or who dares meddle with me. This is considered to be the motto of Scotland and appears on the royal coat of arms and on some pound coins.
We hope you enjoyed discovering a bit about the history of the Order of the Thistle. As always please like, share, tweet and comment.
All the best, K & D