Extremely rare gold Unicorn of James III, struck in Edinburgh, Scotland c. 1484-88
The gold Unicorn was introduced during the latter part of his reign, although the king’s titles and name are absent from the coins of this issue, their place held by a repeated Latin legend, EXURGAT DEUS ET DISSIPENTUR INIMICI EIUS, translating to mean “Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered” (Psalm 68:1). Both the legend and the absence of the royal name may be explained, in part, because of the political rivalries of the day, for James as a young king (age 9 when coronated) exhibited immaturities which caused his alienation from the nobility who surrounded him. He was born during May of 1452. His mother, Mary of Gueldes, commanded his kingdom until she died in 1463. He was never popular among his subjects, and most of his nobles despised him as weak and disaffected. He was much alone. At age 18, he married Margaret of Denmark, through whose dowry Denmark ceded the Orkney and Shetland islands to Scotland.
Despite this marriage, he was effete and preferred his boyfriend, John Ramsey, to his wife, which enraged his nobles. He treated his brothers poorly and was incessantly threatened by Edward IV of England, who had allied himself with one of James’s brothers and invaded his land twice. At age 36, he was either murdered or died at the end of a battle of rebellion led by his nobles, who had championed and then selected as monarch his eldest son, Prince James.
Impure as these players upon the royal stage may have been, James’s Unicorn was nearly pure gold (22.5 ct) and in the next two reigns the coin became the principal gold issue, trusted and valued as being of high gold content. This piece was struck at Edinburgh, depicts the mythical beast supporting the royal shield showing a lion rampant on it, and a large annulet appears before the unicorn’s rear hooves. James Stewart may have been less than regal in real life but his golden Unicorn has continued to be one of the most prized of all Scottish coins.
More about Unicorn coins…
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