Welsh, Ysgall. - French, Chardon. - German, Distel. - Dutch, Distel. - Italian, Cardo. - Spanish, Cardo. - Danish, Tidsel. - Polish, Bodiac. - Russian, Oset. - Illyric, Oset, Badetj, Kravacsac.
Syngenesia. Polygamia cequalis.
The thistle is so intimately connected with Scotland, that I cannot offer to the reader any account of the plant, until I have introduced some notice of its selection as the emblem of that country, derived from the materials which tradition and history have placed at our disposal. These two authorities, which are but too often placed in antagonism where they should rather serve to explain each other, offer us very different accounts of the cause - as well as of the date - of the first adoption of the Scottish emblem.
There can be no very good reason for rejecting - in default of all credible testimony - the old legendary tale of the Danes who stole by night into the camp of the sleeping Scotch; but were defeated in their intention by the chance occurrence of one of their number having trodden, with naked foot, upon the sharp spines of a thistle, which made him cry out from pain; and thus warned the unconscious sleepers of their danger. If this account be not the true one, its chief error may consist, not - as is usually supposed - in attributing too early a date to the first choice of the emblem, but rather in placing its adoption so late as the first invasion of Britain by the Danes. The simplicity of clothing which prevailed at that period, when, if regimental uniforms were unknown, warriors were at least attired in the most uniform costume, would necessarily make it desirable that opposing parties in the battle-field should wear some distinguishing mark, enabling them to discriminate between friend and foe; and it may not be going beyond the bounds of probability to suppose that the thistle was selected by the Scot, simply as a hardy and frequent plant; which, in the most desolate and sterile district, should readily be found when required, even in sudden affrays.
We might, therefore, without inaccuracy, read when, for where, in the lines of Campbell, substituting also grew, for grows;
"Triumphant be the thistle still unfurled;
Dear symbol wild! On freedom's hills it grows, Where Fingall stemmed the tyrants of the world, And Roman eagles found unconquered foes;"
- a passage which is often erroneously supposed to attribute the adoption of the symbol to Fingall, in his defence against the Romans.
Much of the controversy on the subject has apparently arisen from confounding the use of the symbol, and the establishment of the order, of the thistle; although even the last, and more modern, event has been a fertile source of dispute. Dr. G. Johnston, of Berwick-upon-Tweed, points out that, according to Pinkerton, the first notice of the badge of the thistle in Scotland is contained in Dunbar's "Thris-sell and the Rose;" which was written on the occasion of the marriage of James IV. with Margaret Tudor, in the year 1503. In this composition the author mentions the plant as being chosen by that king, and as being emblematic of every kingly attribute; telling us that he -
* * "callit scho all flouris that grew on field, Discerning all thair fassionis and effeiris:" until he took notice of "Theawfullthrissell * * And saw him kepit with a busche of speiris; Considering him so able for the weiris, A radius crown of rubeis scho him gaif, And said, 'In field go forth, and fend the laif.'"
Many historians, however, agree in attributing the establishment of the Order of the Thistle to the Scottish king, Achaius; who, in the ninth century, is supposed to have made a treaty, offensive and defensive, with that "thatenreichsten Mann" of Von Platen, Charlemagne; while Lesley, Bishop of Ross, assures us that it dates from the battle between Athelstan, King of Northumbria, and Hungus, King of the Picts; on the eve of which, he says, the Order of St. Andrew, or the Thistle, was instituted, to commemorate the appearance of that saint in the heavens, as an earnest of victory to his countrymen.
Such are the marvellous tales of olden time. But when we quit them we do not find ourselves on more certain ground. Some writers assert that it owes its origin to Charles VII. of France, who died the year of the accession of James III. of Scotland, and to whose reign the existence of the badge has been successfully traced back by Sir Harris Nicholas, who meets with "thistles" in this monarch's "roll" of jewels. The order is said to have been re-instituted in 1687, and in it the old legendary account of its origin under Achaius is gravely alluded to.
We may here remark, in passing, that the thistle is by some persons considered to be the Bourbon emblem; and, as suck, to be introduced very frequently in the scrolls and other ornaments of the Bourbon Chapel in the Cathedral of Lyons. There is, however, every authority for believing its occurrence, in this instance, to be in accordance with that species of emblematic punning which was, as before observed, at one period esteemed the most courtly and delicate mode of conveying a compliment. In short, Pierre de Bourbon, the son in-law of Louis XI., when he built this chapel, used the thistle allusively, in reference to the cher don (chardon) of the king who had given him his royal daughter as a bride. Such were the puns which men in those days were not ashamed to perpetuate in all the architectural dignity and durability of stone!