The White Hart or White Stag (hart being an old Scots word for a dear or a stag) is a popular emblem for the City of Edinburgh. The legend dates back to the 14th of September 1128, King David the 1st sat on the Scottish throne and he loved to hunt. David would regularly move the Royal Court to Edinburgh, at that point little more than a small fort and farming community, to go hunting in the ancient forest of Drumsheugh which covered the land we now call Holyrood Park.
The King had been warned by many of his advisors not to go hunting that day as it was the Day of the Holy Cross, a day typically reserved for worship and not for hunting. The King ignored this advice and lead a group of nobles deep into the woods searching out prey.
Not long into the hunt the party spotted a great white hart between the trees in front of them, digging his heals in the King gave chase leaving his lords behind. The white hart took off like a bolt but in a clearing turned to face the King and charged, goring the Kings horse throwing David to the ground.
David lay flat on his back, his horse dying besides him convinced he too was about to lose his life but as he looked up towards the hart it is said the King saw the image of a burning cross between the stags antlers and at that point he knew he would not die that day as God was on his side.
God himself had decided that the King of Scotland was so important that he personally intervened, giving David the strength to pick up his great sword and bring down the beast that was threatening his life, or so David said and conveniently no one else was around at the time to collaborate the Kings story.
That night St Andrew came to David in a vision with a suggestion as to how the King could show gratitude to God and to help mark the site where this religious intervention had taken place and in 1128 a small monastery was established at the foot of Arthurs Seat. This monastery would grow into Holyrood Palace which to this day remains a distinctive landmark of Edinburgh.
Images of the White Hart can be found right across Edinburgh particularly in the Canongate area of the city, close to the Abby. If you are on one of our free walking tours your tour guide may well take you down to the Grassmarket where you have the White Hart Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Scotland with its own fascinating history. The White Hart Inn has hosted figures as famous as Robert Burns and as infamous as Burke and Hare. You can learn much more about these characters on our Whisky and Folklore Tour where we have many more stories similar to that of the White Hart of Edinburgh.