The Order of the Thistle
, more correctly known as 'The Most Ancient
and Most Noble
Order of the Thistle ' is the highest honour in Scotland
, and across the Commonwealth
, it is second only in precedence to the Order of the Garter
. No one knows exactly when the Order was founded, some legends tell of the order having existed since 809 when King Achaius
made an alliance with Emperor Charlemagne
, others claim that James III
started it when he adopted the thistle as the Scottish
royal plant. Another tale places its origination at the time when James V
awarded the 'Order of the Thissil' on Francis I
in 1535. All that is known is that, whenever it was founded, at about the time of the Reformation
, the Scottish chivalrous orders died out.
It was James VII of Scotland who re-established the Order in 1687 with an entry in the statute books for it to be reconvened under new rules. His aim was to provide a reward to loyal Scottish peers who supported his political and religious aims. This statute limited membership of the order to the Monarch and twelve other Knights 'in allusion to the Blessed Saviour and his Twelve Apostles'.
After James VII's abdication, one year after founding the Order, it fell back into obscurity until in 1703 it was revived for a second time by by Queen Anne. This revival lasted slightly longer, even surviving the rebellions of 1715 led by Prince James and of 1745 led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, when the pretenders to the throne awarded the Order of the Thistle to their exiled allies. The Order was again brought into the public eye when George IV issued a statute in 1827 to increase the complement of Knights Brethren at 16, and in 1887 a statute enabled ladies to join the Order. In 1962, King Olav V of Norway became the first foreigner to be admitted to the Order for over 200 years.
The Order's patron saint is St Andrew, who is featured on the official insignia, along with a silver saltire with a gold medallion at its centre contained in an enamelled representation of the thistle surrounded by a green border on which the the Orders motto, 'Nemo me impune lacessit' (No one harms me with impunity). Recipients are also entitled to use the suffix KT.
In 1911 the Order finally received an official chapel, adjacent to St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. When practical, a service of the Order is held each year during the week when The Queen is in residence at Holyrood House.