The Royal Mint is to unleash the legendary Unicorn of Scotland onto a range of collectable coins celebrating the 10 ‘Queen’s Beasts’ of British heraldry. The mythical creatures – which include griffins, lions, dragons and falcons – have stood guard throughout hundreds of years of British royal heraldry, and can be seen all round Britain in some surprisingly ordinary places in our daily lives, from pub signs to passports and city badges to sport. Now The Royal Mint is to celebrate the Queen’s Beast creatures in commemorative coin form, launched one beast at a time.
The designs are by Royal Mint coin designer Jody Clark – best known for his ‘fifth portrait’ of The Queen on UK coinage – and have been inspired by the Queen’s Beasts sculptures by James Woodford RA that watch over the Palm House at Kew Gardens.
The sculptures were originally created for the coronation ceremony of Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II held in Westminster Abbey in 1953, to symbolise the various strands of royal ancestry brought together in a young woman about to be crowned queen. The originals can today be found at the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec, while the Portland stone replicas, also carved by James Woodford, are at Kew.
Jody said: “Although the unicorn is not real, it shares the same appearance as a horse, so I could draw on reality a little. It has been represented many times in heraldry, so I revisited sculpture and heraldic designs for inspiration.
“I was interested to find that there are certain rules to bear in mind – for example the unicorn always has a cloven hoof. I wanted to add some movement to my design, and for the unicorn to be doing more than just supporting the shield. I showed the beast leaping over the shield a little, and there is movement in the chain, making the design more dynamic.”
The coins can be found at http://www.royalmint.com/queensbeasts and are available in a range of finishes, from ‘mint condition’ Brilliant Uncirculated collectables, to Silver proof and Gold Proof editions. The Unicorn of Scotland is the second creature to appear on The Royal Mint’s commemorative ‘Queen’s Beasts’ range following the launch of the Lion of England coin in November 2016. A Brilliant Uncirculated edition of the Lion of England is also being issued.
The Unicorn of Scotland
In 1603, James VI of Scotland also became James I of England – uniting the thrones for the first time. The new king took the Lion of England and one of the Scottish unicorns as supporters for the Royal Arms and they have remained in place ever since. The origin of the unicorn as a regular supporter of the Scottish arms is unknown, but it has been associated with Scotland from the 15th century, struck on gold coins called ‘unicorns’ for their design of a unicorn supporting the shield of Scotland.
The Unicorn of Scotland, milk-white with gold hooves, horn and mane, has always had a coronet around its neck like a collar, with a gold chain attached. It’s thought that the chains were to show a great beast tamed to serve the king; certainly, as with most chained beasts in heraldry, its strength is emphasized rather than diminished by their shackles. It holds the royal coat of Scotland, with a red lion rampant (the most fierce stance) on a gold background, which has been unchanged since Alexander III.
Jody Clark, Designer
Jody Clark is a member of The Royal Mint’s team of graphic designers and engravers and is best known for his ‘fifth portrait’ of The Queen on UK coinage. Jody has worked on notable projects such as the medals struck to celebrate the 2014 Ryder Cup and Nato Summit, whilst his contemporary interpretation of the iconic Britannia was chosen for the celebrated coin’s 2014 collection.