New Display of the Order of the Thistle at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Release date: 
Thursday, 3 April 2008

A new display celebrating the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, the highest honour in Scotland, will open at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, on 25 April 2008. The Thistle is awarded to Scottish men and women who have made significant contributions to national life. Her Majesty The Queen is Sovereign of the Order, and appointments to the Order,  which  are  her  personal  gift,  are  made  on St Andrew’s Day (30 November). New Knights are installed at a ceremony at St Giles’ Cathedral during The Queen’s annual residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in July. A luncheon takes place in the Palace’s Throne Room to mark the occasion.

Visitors to the Palace will see an example of the robes and insignia worn by Thistle Knights and Ladies at the Order’s services and on other ceremonial occasions.  The green velvet mantle is lined with white taffeta, and the hat is of black velvet with a plume of white feathers.  St Andrew, the patron saint of the Order, is represented on the badge worn from the gold collar of thistles and rue, and on the sash badge set on a broad green ribbon across the left shoulder. The breast star of the Order consists of a silver saltire cross with pointed rays between each of the arms of the cross. In the centre of the star is a gold medallion with an enamelled thistle surrounded by a green border bearing the Order’s motto Nemo me impune lacessit’ (No one harms me with impunity).

The display also includes historic insignia, such as the diamond-set badge and star given as a wedding present to the future King George V by the people of Scotland, and an early 18th-century collar  and  sash  badge  that  once  belonged  to  the  Earls  of  Ailesbury  and  were  acquired  by Her Majesty The Queen.

There is much debate as to when the Order of the Thistle was established.  Legend has it that it was first founded in 809, when King Achaius of Scotland made an alliance with the Emperor Charlemagne.  It was James III (r.1460-1488), however, who adopted the thistle as the Royal plant badge, and the Scottish Arms were henceforth surrounded by a collar of thistles.  James VII and II (r.1685-1689) officially established an order of chivalry in 1687 to reward Scottish peers who had supported the king, limiting the number of Knights to 12.  That year the Abbey Church at the Palace of Holyroodhouse was converted into the Chapel of the Order, but was pillaged by rioters in 1687.  It was not until 1911 that the Order once again had its own chapel, at St Giles’ Cathedral.

The Order fell into temporary disuse after King James went into exile.  His daughter, Queen Anne, revived it in 1703, and it continued to be awarded by the Hanoverian kings to the Scottish nobility. George IV famously wore the insignia of the Order of the Thistle during his visit to Scotland in 1822, and in 1827 the number of Knights was increased to 16.   Today there are also two Royal Knights – HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Duke of Rothesay – and one Royal Lady, HRH The Princess Royal. On St Andrew’s Day 2007, Lord Cullen of Whitekirk and Garth Morrison were appointed Knights of the Thistle and will be installed this summer.

Palace of Holyroodhouse opening times: 22 March to 31 October 2008, daily 09:30-18:00 (last admission 17:00); 1 November 2008 to March 2009, daily 09:30-16:30 (last admission 15:30).

Admission prices* (includes audio tour): Adult  £9.80, Over 60/Student £8.80, Under 17 £5.80, Under 5 Free, Family £25.40 (2 adults and
3 under 17s)
On-the-day tickets from the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Advance tickets from or 0131 556 5100 (a booking fee applies).

*Tickets purchased directly from the Royal Collection entitle you to register for a year’s unlimited admission

Further information and photographs are available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, 020 7839 1377,