The motto of Scotland - Nemo me impune lacessit

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of August 2023
Motto of Scotland - Nemo me impune lacessit

‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ or ‘No one provokes me with impunity’ is Scotland's national motto.

What is it about the Latin language? Everything sounds so beautiful and poetic? The Romans really knew how to create a language! Let's find out more about the motto, its origin and its use throughout the centuries in the kingdom of Scotland.

Origin of the motto of Scotland

The motto is said to originate as far back as 1263 with the "guardian thistle" legend. Alexander III, king of Scotland, was in charge of the realm's defence against Viking invaders from Norway. King Haakon IV was hell-bent on retaking Scotland for the Kingdom of Norway and sent a large fleet of longships to the Scottish coast.

The Battle of Largs

Forced ashore in fierce storms, the Norsemen landed on a beach near Largs in Ayrshire. Looking to capitalise on their surprise invasion, a raiding party of Vikings attempted an advance on the Scottish positions under cover of darkness. Removing their footwear to sneak more stealthily, one unlucky Viking stood on a thistle and cried out in pain, alerting the Scots to their presence. This warning was vital and allowed the Scots to repel the Norse invasion.

Realising the importance this wild prickly flower had in Scotland's victory that day, the thistle was made the national emblem of Scotland.

Around this point in time is when the motto is first phrased:

"No one harasses me with impunity", with the "me" being the thistle and anyone who tries to touch "me" will get the pointy end of a thistle barb. The motto was later adopted by the Scottish army instead... ie "don't mess with us or else!".

Breakdown of the Latin phrase

So what do the Latin words of the motto mean exactly?

  • Nemo - Nobody/me

  • Me Impune - with impunity

  • Lacessit - provokes/attacks

Variations of the motto

The motto was not only spoken in Latin and English but also in Scots and Scottish Gaelic:

  • Scots - ‘Wha daur meddle wi me’.

  • Scottish Gaelic - ‘Cha togar m’ fhearg gun dìoladh’.

Both roughly translate into "No one can harm me unpunished".

In France, the city of Nancy has a very similar motto - Non inultus premor - "I cannot be touched unavenged" and is again linked to the thistle; a symbol of Lorraine (a region of northeastern France). Perhaps there are some historic links with Scotland.

Royal Stuart dynasty

‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ was also used by the Royal Stuart dynasty of Scotland, appearing on minted coins in 1578 from at least the reign of James VI. The monarchs of House Stuart ruled Scotland from 1371 to 1603. The Jacobite rebellions arose in response to the House of Stuart being deposed and the crown passed to the House of Hanover in 1714.

The Order of the Thistle

The highest honour the queen can grant in Scotland is to become part of the Order of the Thistle. Sixteen knights or ladies hold this honour, that the queen herself personally bestows to those who have held public office or contributed to national life in Scotland.

King James VII of Scotland founded the order in 1687 to reward those who supported his religious and political values.

‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ is the adopted motto of The Order of the Thistle, and the thistle itself is the Order's primary emblem. There are currently two vacancies available if you fancy yourself as a knight or lady of the realm.

Star of the Order of the Thistle
Star of the Order of the Thistle.

The Royal Coat of Arms

Since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, Scotland has had its unique royal coat of arms specifically for use in Scotland, which contains Scottish elements within its design.

The ‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ motto is visible at the foot of the design, along with other Scottish features such as the Lion Rampant, The Flag of Scotland - The St Andrews Cross, unicorns in chains, the Sword of State and Sceptre of Scotland.

Additionally, there is an abbreviation of the royal coat of arms motto ‘In my defens God me defend’ to simply "In defens" at the top of the design.

Scottish royal coat of arms.  Scottish Heraldry. Latin Nemo.  Scottish Royalist officer.
The present Royal coat of arms for Scotland showing motto.

Edinburgh Castle

The next time you visit Edinburgh Castle, glance upward at the main entrance. Scotland's Latin motto ‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ appears in gold lettering upon a blue scroll. This external decoration was added in 1888, along with a faux crown and a decorative Lion Rampant royal banner on a shield.

Motto above the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Scottish heraldry.
Entrance to Edinburgh Castle, with motto proudly displayed.

Royal Regiment of Scotland

The motto is used for three of the Royal Regiment of Scotland Scottish regiments (established in 2004 as part of the British Army) and features prominently on their regimental cap badge.

Other armed forces

Many armed forces from around the world also adopted the motto:

  • Australia (Victoria Scottish Regiment).
  • The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, a reserve infantry regiment.
  • South Africa - Cape Town Highlanders Regiment.
  • North America - 1st Battalion, 24th Marines of the United States Marine Corps.
  • Belgium - 1st Squadron of the Belgian Air Force.
  • India's Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.


The moto appeared (this time in the future tense: Nemo Me Impune Lacesset) on a 1778 $20 American dollar bill from Georgia. In Scotland, it featured upon merk coins minted during the 1600s as well as modern one pound coins during the 1990s and in 2014.  If you are interested in learning about Scottish currency, please see my dedicated guide.


So there we go, now you know the meaning of Scotland's motto ‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ and a brief overview of its history and usage.

Further reading:

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

Claim Your Free 6 Day Travel Itinerary:

Simply enter your email and we'll send it your way!

Free Scotland travel itinerary

Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?


Merv Grant
18th of December 2023 @ 01:11:32

Very informative article - thank you for making it available. And yes, I will look up next time I return to the Castle as suggested.