The Lion and the Unicorn

The Lion and the Unicorn

The Lion and the Unicorn are time-honoured symbols of the United Kingdom. They are properly speaking heraldic supporters, appearing in the full Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. The lion stands for England and the unicorn for Scotland. The combination therefore dates back to the 1603 accession of James I of England who was already James VI of Scotland.

Nursery rhyme

Their notorious rivalry in heraldic legend has translated into a famous nursery rhyme:

: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. ["The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book" (1955), p.26.] .

This rhyme was played upon by Lewis Carroll, who incorporated them as characters in "Through the Looking-Glass". Here, the crown they are fighting for belongs to the White King, which, given that they are on the White side as well, makes their rivalry all the more absurd. Carroll subverts the traditional view of a lion being alert and calculating by making this particular one slow and rather stupid, although clearly the better fighter. The role of the Unicorn is likewise reversed by the fact that he sees Alice as a "monster", though he promises to start believing in her if she will believe in him. Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for the section caricature Benjamin Disraeli as the Unicorn, and William Ewart Gladstone as the Lion, alluding to the pair's frequent parliamentary battles, although there is no evidence that this was Carroll's intention. [ [ Picture Origins - Lenny's Alice in Wonderland site ] ]

Literary references

*An 1899 book of this title was written by Richard Harding Davis.
*Derived from the above meaning, "The Lion and the Unicorn", an essay, was written by George Orwell in 1940.
*"The Lion and the Unicorn: Historian's Testament" is a 1969 book by Arthur Bryant.
*Another book "The Lion and the Unicorn", concerning the rivalry of William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, was published by Richard Aldous in 2007.
*This rhyme also appears in Neil Gaiman's Stardust (novel).
*Harold Shand's pub in The Long Good Friday is called the "Lion & Unicorn"


ee also

*Royal coat of arms of Scotland
*Coat of arms of Canada

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