Some information on this website may be out-of-date following the death of Queen Elizabeth.

The Order of the Thistle

The Order of the Thistle is the greatest order of chivalry in Scotland, recognising sixteen Knights with the highest honour in the country and recognises Scottish men and women who have held public office or who have contributed in a particular way to national life. The Order is second only in precedence in England to the Order of the Garter.

The date of the foundation of the Order is not known, although legend has it that it was founded in 809 when King Achaius made an alliance with the Emperor Charlemagne.

It is possible that the Order may have been founded by James III (1488-1513), who was responsible for changes in Royal symbolism in Scotland, including the adoption of the thistle as the Royal plant badge.

James II (James VII of Scotland) established the Order with a statutory foundation under new rules in 1687 - to reward Scottish peers who supported the king's political and religious aims.

The Queen is the Sovereign of the Order, and appointments made to the Order are entirely her personal gift, in recognition of men and women who have held public office or have contributed significantly to national life. Current Knights and Ladies of the Thistle include music teacher and ex-Director of St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh, Lady Marion Fraser, and previous Chief Scout of the United Kingdom, Sir Garth Morrison. In addition to the 16 Knights and Ladies, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Princess Royal, and The Duke of Cambridge –  known in Scotland as The Earl of Strathearn –  have been appointed as Royal Knights of the Thistle. 

Motto: Nemo me impune lacessit (No one harms me with impunity)

Chapel: Thistle Chapel, St. Giles' Cathedral

Ranks: Knight or Lady 

Post-nominals: KT or LT

The Thistle Service

Every other year, dressed in their striking green velvet robes, glistening insignia and white-plumed hats, the knights take part in a grand procession to the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle in Edinburgh, for the Order of the Thistle Service. The Knights and Ladies meet for a ceremony at The Thistle Chapel in St Giles' Cathedral, where any new Members are installed into the Order by The Queen. The procession begins in the Signet Library in Edinburgh Town Centre, while just outside the Library in Parliament Square collect The Guard of Honour with the Colours (flags) of the Royal Company, accompanied by the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The Sovereign and the Knights, accompanied by the Chancellor, Dean and Secretary of the Thistle, then process into the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle, where The Queen installs the new Knights. The procession then continues to the Cathedral for the remainder of the Service. 

Following the Service there is a short Reception in the Signet Library, and a lunch at the Palace of Hollyroodhouse.

Tickets to the Service

To be able to view the procession, please apply in advance for tickets by writing to:

Scottish Government Protocol and Honours Team
St. Andrew’s House

You can also email: [email protected]