Robert Murray Stamp Shop, 5 & 6 Inverleith Gardens, Goldenacre, Edinburgh EH3 5PU
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8 June 1999
Scottish Definitive Stamps

The history of the stamps of Scotland took a major step forward with the issue of the four new definitive stamps. After some months of discussion, public comment and consultation, four stamps appeared showing images of Scotland which, while being thought by some at home to be a bit on the "teatowel" side, are certainly attractive, colourful, and take recognisable images of our nation around the world.
The four stamps are;
 "2nd" (19p, for inland second class) - the Saltire Flag
 "1st" (26p, for inland first class) - the Lion Rampant
 "E" (30p, for European letter rate) - the Thistle
 64p (foreign postal rates) - Tartan

On the day of issue, we serviced a number of first day covers, some to be just a little bit different from the normal, others to be something very special.

Special Handstamps {a} to {g} All first day covers are on Royal Mail illustrated envelopes, with set of four stamps, and are unaddressed or with soft pencil address.
{a} Lochawe, Dalmally, special handstamp, showing Lion Rampant £3.75

{b} Glencoe, Ballachulish, special handstamp, showing Thistle £3.75

{c} Glasgow special handstamp, showing flying Saltire Flag £3.75

{d} Balmoral, Ballater, special handstamp, showing piece of Tartan £3.75

{e} Edinburgh special handstamp, showing Thistles £3.75

{f} Edinburgh special handstamp, showing Celtic design £3.75

{g} Edinburgh special handstamp, showing small Thistle, along with text THE PEOPLE OF THE

Registered ("Special Delivery") with Counter Datestamps {h} to {k} All first day covers are on Royal Mail illustrated envelopes, with two sets of stamps, plus appropriate extra odds to make up the postage rate, are unaddressed, and have a special cachet. Please see descriptions and background notes below.
{h} Saint Andrews (for the Saltire) £15.50

{i} Haddington (for the Saltire) £15.50

{j} Holyrood (for the Lion Rampant, and for the Parliament) £13.50

{k} Letham, Angus (for the Thistle) £18.50

Background notes to appropriate posting places.
 The Saltire Flag The flag represents the Cross of Saint Andrew against a blue background. Saint Andrew was Christ’s first missionary, and when condemned to death by the Romans in 60AD, chose this form of cross (the story goes) as he saw himself as being unworthy of a cross of the same type as that on which Jesus had been crucified.
In the 8th Century, Saint Rule (Saint Regulus) experienced a vision in which he was told to take certain of Saint Andrew’s bones to the most westerly part of the known world. (Fife !). He came ashore with the relics at a place called Kilrymont, which through its saintly associations became known as Saint Andrew’s.
Some years later, in 832AD an army of Pictish soldiers, led by Angus mac Feargus (High King of Alba), along with some Scots under Eochaidh (King of Dalriada), were in East Lothian surrounded by a superior (or so they thought) army of Angles, with the Nurthumbrian warrior Athelstan at their head. King Angus, seeing their predicament, thought prayer worthwhile. Apparently as a result of this, white clouds in the blue sky above them formed the shape of the saltire. Angus promised that if they won the day with Saint Andrew’s help, he would be adopted as Scotland’s patron saint. The Picts and Scots were victorious, and from that day, the Saltire became the flag of Scotland (and possibly the oldest in use in Europe and the Commonwealth).
Fifty covers were serviced at Saint Andrew’s, Fife, having been taken to the shoreline at or near where the relics were landed.

Fifty covers were serviced at Haddington. These were taken to the village of Athelstaneford (where, unfortunately the sub post office had been temporarily closed), the scene of the battle.

The Lion Rampant The red heraldic lion on a yellow background was introduced by King William the Lyon (1143-1214, reigned from 1165) to his arms. It henceforth became the symbol of the Kings of Scots. The flag, although in popular general use, is strictly the Scottish royal standard.
Fifty covers were taken to the site of the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, and to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the seat of the royal family when in Edinburgh (and where the Lion Rampant flag is properly flown when they are in residence), before being posted at Holyrood sub post office.

The Scottish Thistle There are various versions of the story which led to the thistle being adopted as the emblem of Scotland. They all have the basic storyline of a group of warriors or an army being alerted to an imminent attack. The attackers, barefoot so as to sneak up unheard, stood on prickly thistles, and the ensuing expletives gave the game away. An attack on Edinburgh Castle, the battle of Nechtansmere, and the battle of Luncarty, are all often quoted as contenders for the origin of the story. We go for Nechtansmere, if nothing else because the Pictish King Angus mac Feargus (already mentioned for his participation at Athelstaneford) is said to have originally founded the Order of the Thistle in 787AD, and Nechtansmere is the only serious suggestion of the thistle tale to have happened before that date. (In fact, James Mackay, in a 1999 article about thistles in postmarks, specifically mentions Nechtansmere as "a strong contender".)
At the battle of Nechtansmere, on 20 May 685AD, an important battle was fought at Dunnichen, a little west of current Letham in Angus. The Picts of southern Scotland had been coming under the control of the Northumbrians, who had captured Edinburgh in 638AD. King Ecgfrith of Northumbria had advanced into largely unoccupied Pictland, until he met the forces of the Pictish King Brudei. The Picts pretended  to run, lured the Northumbrians into an area between a hill fort and a marshy area, and there the Northumbrians were well and truly routed, their king killed, the majority killed or captured. This battle had a major influence in the formation of a united Scottish nation.
Fifty covers were posted at Letham, having first been taken to the scene of the battle at Dunnichen. None of these covers have particularly good postmarks, but they are the best available due to the lamentable condition of that office’s handstamp.

Page last updated Wednesday 24 July 2002. Copyright Robert Murray 1999 to 2017.

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