Lion and the Unicorn, The
DESCRIPTION: "The lion and the unicorn, Fighting for the crown, The lion beat the unicorn All around the town." Details of the battle, and of the beasts' reception, may follow
EARLIEST DATE: 1691 (according to Opie-Oxford2)
KEYWORDS: animal battle royalty
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Opie-Oxford2 304, "The lion and the unicorn" (1 text)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #123, p. 103, "(The Lion and the Unicorn)"
Montgomerie-ScottishNR 39, "(The lion and the unicorn" (1 text)
Jack, p. 97, "The Lion and the Unicorn" (1 text)
Dolby, p. 110, "The Lion and the Unicorn" (1 text)
NOTES [329 words]: I've never heard this sung, but Lewis Carroll and other sources list it as a song, not a poem, so here it files.
The song definitely predates Lewis Carroll, appearing in several nursery rhyme anthologies, but I have been unable to determine exactly which, so I have to use Carroll as the earliest date.
Various theories revolve around this piece. Typical is the claim that it refers to the conflict between Scotland (whose arms featured a unicorn) and England (marked by lions). But both the Baring-Goulds and Martin Gardner in The Annotated Alice note that there was a traditional mythological rivalry between lion and unicorn over who would be the King of Beasts. Given that the lion is a carnivore and the unicorn presumably an herbivore (and how does it get its mouth to the ground with that thing on its head?), I suppose it's logical that the lion wins. - RBW
Opie-Oxford2: "MS inscription dated 1691 beside a woodcut of the royal arms with supporters in a copy of The Holy Bible, 1638 (Opie Collection), 'the unicorn & the lyon fiteing for the Crown and the lyon beat the unicorn Round About the town'" - BS
If the poem did arise in that period, one suspects it has to do with the quarrel between England and Scotland over the Covenant, Charles I, or Charles II, with Scotland wanting to retain its Stuart King (while putting some restraints on his behavior), whereas England was trying to get rid of the monarchy.
On the other hand, the Opies suggest that the original second verse referred to the lion beating the unicorn three times. This argues against the seventeenth century date. Contrary to Scottish folklore, the English won most of the battles with the Scots -- except in two periods: During the reign of Robert Bruce, when the Scots won Bannockburn and made many successful raids deep into England -- and during the reign of Charles I, when the Covenanters successfully defended their religion against Charles I's attempts to make them Episcopal. - RBW
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