Heraldic Latin Mottoes

Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Welsh Evidence

Ursula Georges, alias Ursula filia Georgii, alias Ursula Whitcher

Table of Contents

History of Mottoes
Forming Heraldic Mottoes
Languages of Mottoes Used in Wales
Translations of Latin Mottoes Used in Wales


A few pithy words painted on a flowing scroll beneath a brightly colored shield express ideals and ambitions: the motto is a familiar part of a heraldic achievement. Yet, despite its popularity, the origin and status of the heraldic motto remains obscure. Today, different Colleges of Arms treat mottoes with wildly different degrees of formality: in Scotland , a motto can be registered at the same time as a coat of arms, while in England mottoes are not protected. (Neubecker, p. 203.) Though mottoes are often adopted informally, once adopted, they can be passed down through a family along with a coat of arms. Since mottoes are not consistently recorded, and even antique families may use more recent mottoes, it can be difficult to distinguish medieval and Renaissance mottoes from later innovations.

The current essay analyzes a collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century heraldic mottoes from Wales found in Michael Powell Siddons' The Development of Welsh Heraldry (Siddons, volume III, pp. 171-181.) Siddons' collection includes mottoes in Latin, French, English, and Welsh. This essay includes a complete translation of all the Latin mottoes, and investigates possible motto sources and allusions. Not all mottoes used in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain were part of heraldic achievements. These non-heraldic mottoes offered opportunities to display wit, erudition, and personal ambitions. The heraldic mottoes analyzed here are more straightforward: most would have been readily accessible to an educated man, and nearly all boast of the bearer's virtue, bravery, or piety.

History of Mottoes

Mottoes were engraved on personal seals as early as the thirteenth century. For example, Sir John de Byron used a seal reading "Crede Beronti" or "Trust in Byron" in 1293. (Woodcock, p. 112.) In the fifteenth century, men carried standards into battle adorned with a badge, crest, and a few pithy words. (Woodcock, p. 111.) The impresa, a combination of a symbolic picture with a personal motto, also became popular in the fifteenth century. (Velde, Imprese.) Mottoes first appear in heraldic contexts in the fourteenth century; they did not become common until a century later. (Velde, War-Cries.) Thus, heraldic mottoes have several sources: some are akin to the comments on seals, some record the war-cries and other bold statements which adorned battle standards, and some imitate the witty and intellectual imprese.


War-cries are older than heraldry. Since they were originally rallying cries for a nobleman's troops, most war-cries are very simple. They are usually in their owner's native language (frequently French or Scottish Gaelic), though the Holy Roman Emperor may have used the Latin war-cry "Dexter et sinister!" or "To the right and the left!" War-cries may threaten, invoke a family name or family lands, or call on God for assistance. (Velde, War-Cries.) They often appeared on standards. (Woodcock, p. 112.) Many war-cries were eventually adopted as mottoes. The most famous example is "Dieu et mon droit" or "God and my right", the motto of the English kings: this was supposedly Edward III's rallying cry during the Battle of Crécy in 1346. (Velde, War-Cries.)

War-cries were especially popular in Scotland, where they were known by their Gaelic name "sluagh-gairn", which has been Anglicized as "slogan". (Woodcock, p. 112.) In modern Scottish heraldry, mottoes have a place of honor derived from the more ancient battle-cries, and are registered along with a family's arms. (Neubecker, p. 203.) In England, on the other hand, war-cries were treated with some suspicion. A law passed in 1495 banned private war-cries altogether; the Tudor kings did not wish to encourage too much independence on the part of their subjects. (Woodcock, p. 113.)


Imprese combine a picture and a motto to express an individual's hopes and aspirations. (Young, Tournaments, p. 123.) They first appeared in the French and Burgundian courts toward the end of the fourteenth century; over the course of the following century the genre spread throughout Europe. (Young, Imprese, p. 1.) Unlike war-cries, which served to rally hosts of troops and were frequently passed down in families, imprese were intensely personal. The mottoes curried favour with fair ladies or powerful rulers, or boasted of individual achievement. One noble man or woman might use many different imprese over a lifetime, fitting each to a special occasion or changing fortunes.

By the sixteenth century imprese were intensely fashionable. (Young, Imprese, p. 4) Court displays of imprese overshadowed or even replaced displays of heraldry. (Young, Tournaments, p. 128.) However, the impresa remained an elitist genre. To understand and compose successful imprese, one had to be familiar with Latin, perhaps Greek, and more contemporary foreign languages; one had to grasp allusions to classical poets such as Vergil and Ovid; and one's wit had to encompass involved puns relating mottoes and symbols to each other. (Young, Imprese, p. 3.)

Forming Heraldic Mottoes

Mottoes used in heraldry were more peaceful than most war-cries and more straightforward than most imprese. However, they drew on the qualities of each: like war-cries, many mottoes emphasized strength or divine approval, while imprese encouraged mottoes composed in Latin and incorporating classical allusions. An ordinary sixteenth- or seventeenth-century heraldic motto was brief, catchy, and expressed the bearer's bravery, virtue, or piety . The 1622 motto "Virtute, vi, et armis" or "With virtue, force, and arms" is a good model; William Evans, who died in 1589, used "Fortitudo mea Dominus" or "The Lord is my strength," another typical example. (Siddons, pp. 171-181.)

Mottoes were not necessarily original. Both Vaughan of Corsygedol and Wynn of Glyn Cywarch used the motto "Immaculata gens" ("Unstained family"), for instance. Many mottoes were based on familiar proverbs: the motto of John Rowlands of Nant, who died in 1703, for instance, was "Honestas politia optima," the Latin version of "Honesty is the best policy. Some mottoes were based on literary quotations. The Bible was a common source of quotations; most Biblical mottoes seem to have been drawn from well-known books such as the Gospels and the Psalms. Examples from the Welsh data include the c. 1520 "Iac in Dominum curam tuam" ("Throw your care upon God") taken from Psalm 55, and the mid-seventeenth-century "Deus pascit corvos" ("God feeds the ravens"), based on Luke 12:24. Other mottoes were taken from well-known Roman works, such as "Vix ea nostra voco" ("I scarcely call these things our own"), a c. 1559 motto taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses. (Siddons, pp. 171-181.)

Some heraldic mottoes incorporated puns on a family name. Sixteenth- or seventeenth-century English examples include "Cavendo tutus" ("Safe by being wary"), used by the Cavendish family, and "Pie repone te" ("Place yourself piously "), used by the Pierreponts. (Woodcock, p. 113.) One punning example from Welsh heraldry is the French motto "Nul ioy sans payne" or "No joy without pain" which Elizabeth Payne displayed in 1588. Mottoes might also refer to the coat of arms itself. In the early seventeenth century, for instance, Morgan of Arxton used the motto "Nigra sum sed formosa" ("I am black but beautiful"), which is probably a reference to a pure black crest. (Siddons, pp. 171-181.)

Languages of Mottoes Used in Wales

English, Welsh, French, and Latin mottoes were all used in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Wales. The following table shows their relative frequencies:

Language Number of Mottoes Percentage
English 15 7.3%
Welsh 47 22.8%
French 30 14.6%
Latin 114 55.3%

(A few mottoes were bilingual, and are therefore counted twice; one motto, "Odexi du parmer," has been omitted from the analysis because its language could not be identified.)

Latin mottoes predominate. This reflects a widespread literacy in Latin; it may also indicate that the more overtly intellectual imprese mottoes influenced heraldic motto choices. British war-cries were often in French; sixteenth- and seventeenth-century men and women who displayed French mottoes could have inherited them from French-speaking ancestors, or they might have been displaying their knowledge of a foreign language. The bearers of Welsh and English mottoes, on the other hand, presumably spoke these languages at home.

Translations of Latin Mottoes Used in Wales

The following table gives my own translations of the Latin mottoes listed in Siddons, pp. 171-181. Most of these mottoes were connected with heraldry, though a few may have been derived from imprese or carried on standards; the lines between different genres of motto are not always completely solid. The notes comment on important points of transcription or translation, and identify important allusions and references.






A Ieova fortitudo mea a quo timebo

From Jehovah my strength from which I will fear

John Dee


Amo ut invenio

I love just as I find

Perrot of Haraldston

late 17th century

Aspera ad virtutem via fructus dulcis

The way toward virtue is harsh, the fruit sweet

David Edwardes of Rhyd-y-gors

d. 1690

At unimur in viribus

But we are united in strength

At Powys Castle

Auxilium meum a Domino

My help from God

David Yale


Cadens resurgens, forsan decore

Falling rising again, perchance with grace

Lewis Morgan of Gray's Inn


Cingula in uno

Girdle in one, bound in one

Wynne of Foelas

c. 1630

Crux Christi clavis coeli

The cross of Christ is the key to heaven

Vaughan of Cwmgwili, Vaughan of Merthyr Cynog

c. 1673

Da gloriam Deo: [. . . reg] gogoniant i Dduw

Give glory to God

Goodman of Ruthin


Bilingual in Latin and Welsh

Da mihi lucem

Give light to me


c. 1520

Delic'te iustitiam qui indicatis terra

You who value justice with the earth, delight!

William Hughes, Bishop of St. Asaph


Deo et republice

With God and the republic

Sir Roger Puleston of Emral


Deus faveat - Divere foveat

Let God favour - Let him nurture in many ways

Jones of Abermarlais


"Divere" is probably a variant of the Latin adverb "diverse"

Deus pascit corvos

God feeds the ravens

Rhys of Newton

mid-17th c.

Luke 12:24: "Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?" (King James Bible, Vulgate)

Deus primum honos proxime

God first, honor closest

At Powis Castle

Deus sola fortitudo mea est

God is my only strength

Thomas Holland


Compare Psalm 43:2: "For thou art the God of my strength" (King James Bible, Vulgate)

Et mica mihi

And a grain for me

William Blethin, Bishop of Llandaff


Dwm sbeiro (spiro) in Deum spero

While I breathe I hope in God

David Lloyd of the Forest


Spelling influenced by Welsh spellings

Et pullis corvorum invocantibus cum

And to the crying chicks of the ravens

Sir Gruffudd ap sir Rhys

c. 1520

Part of verse 9 of Psalm 147: "He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry." Perseus edition of the Vulgate has "eum" rather than "cum". (King James Bible, Vulgate)

Exitus acta probat

The end approves the deeds

Somerset, Henry, Earl of Worcester

early 17th c.

Common proverb: The end justifies the means

Fer sic ferre

Bear thus, iron one!

Davies of Middleton

early 17th c.

Siddons notes that this is 'his old motto'; the same phrase appears in the Aenigmata of Johann Lauterbach, 1521-1598. (Lauterbach, Johann.)

Festina lente

Make haste slowly

Morgan of Rhiw'perrai

c. 1626

A saying of Julius Caesar (World of Quotes.)

[F]iat Pax, floreat Justicia

Let there be Peace, let Justice flourish

Hugh Holland


Fide et Amore

With Faith and Love

Conwy of Bodrhyddan


Fides et charitas

Faith and charity

Vaughan of Corsygedol

17th c.

Fortitudine et Prudentia

With Strength and Prudence

Edward, Lord Herbert of Chirbury and Castle Island

d. 1648

Fortitudo mea Dominus

The Lord [is] my strength

William Evans, Treasurer of Llandaff

d. 1589

Gloriam Dei cano

I sing the glory of God

Sir David Williams of Gwernyfed

early 17th c.

Hinc labor: hoc opus

From here the labor: this the work

John Dee


Homo proponit Deus disponit

Man proposes, God disposes

Richard Owen of Peniarth


Siddons notes that this motto is found over the mantelpiece at Peniarth

Honestas politia optima

Honesty is the best policy

John Rowlands of Nant

d. 1703

Immaculata gens

Unstained family

Vaughan of Corsygedol


Immaculata gens

Unstained family

Wynn of Glyn Cywarch


In congnidta (Incognita) servo

Unknown I serve

Rhys Morgan of Modlyscwm


Ingenio et Industria

With talent and diligence

Hanmer of Llwynymapsis


Innocentes sicut pueri sagaces sicut serpentes

Innocent like children, wise like serpents

Vaughan, descended from Moreddig Warwyn

Inter hastas et hostes

Between spears and enemies

Sir Thomas Powell of Nanteos

d. 1705

In veritate triumpho

I triumph in truth

Myddelton of Gwenynog


In veritate triumpho

I triumph in truth

Myddelton of Chirk Castle


In via virtuti[s] nulla est via

In the path of virtue there is no path


Invidere sperno

I scorn to envy


late 17th c.

Iac in Dominum curam tuam

Throw your care to God

Griffyth of Penrhyn

c. 1520

Psalm 55, part of verse 22: "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." (King James Bible, Vulgate.)

Iure non dono

I do not give according to law

William Vaughan of Bodrychwyn

c. 1627

Iure non dono

I do not give according to law

Wynn of Llanfair

late 17th c.

Justicia regnante nemine obstante

With justice reigning, with noone obstructing

Roger Puleston of Emral


Labora ut in aeternam vivas

Labor that you may live forever

Ap Rhys of Washingley


Lex aliquando dormit, moritur numquam

Law sometimes sleeps, never dies

John Broughton of Broughton

17th c.

Lux Christi clavis coeli

The light of Christ is the key to Heaven

Vaughan of Cwmgwili

Siddons notes, "This is probably mistaken for Crux, etc."

Maior victoria mentis

Victory of the mind is greater

Griffith of Caerwys

Me flos virtutis adornat

The flower of virtue adorns me

Sir Abraham Williams

early 17th c.

Me illi qui mei mihi

Those from me who of me to me

Powell of Hosely


Meliora sperans

Hoping for better

Salesbury of Bachymbyd

early 17th c.

Mihi gloriam sursum

Glory to me on high


17th c.

Morte leonis vita

From the death of a lion, life

Mostyn of Mostyn

early 17th c.

Murus Aeneus sana conscientia

A healthy conscience is a bronze wall

John Broughton of Broughton

17th c.

Nati pro patria mori

Born to die for the fatherland

Puleston of Hafod-y-wern

early 17th c.

Compare Horace Odes III.ii.13: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ("It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country") (Horace.)

Ne quid nemis

Lest anything too much

Jones of Tregîb


Nemis may be an error for nimis "Ne quid nimis" is a Latin proverb from Terence's play Andria, I.1.33 (Shepard.)

Nec miror, nec timeo

I neither marvel, nor fear

Wynne of Coparleni

late 17th c.

Nec temere nec timide

Neither heedlessly nor timidly


1708, 1716

Nec timet nec tumet

He neither fears nor puffs with pride

Wynn of Gwydir


Nec timet nec tumet virtus

Virtue neither fears nor puffs with pride

Nanney of Nannau


Nigra sum sed formosa

I am black but beautiful

Morgan of Arxton

early 17th c.

Siddons observes that this motto presumably refers to the crest

Noli altum sapere

Do not wish to understand the highest

Sir Thomas Morgan of Pen-carn


Non est mortale quod opto

What I choose is not mortal

Thomas Laugharne

late 17th c.

Non mihi glis servus nec hospes hirudo

My servant is not a dormouse, nor my host a leech

Wynn of Gwydir

before 1645

Also appears above the door of the 1616 Manor House in Wymondham, Norfolk. (Barrell.)

Non quant: sed qual.

Not how many: but what sort

Wynn of Garthmeilio

mid 17th c.

Quant and qual are probably abbreviations for quantum and qualis.

Nunc aut numquam

Now or never

Sir Thomas Hanmer


Oriens morior, moriens orior

Rising I die, dying I rise

Sir William Thomas of Caernarfon


Ostentare ingulum pro capite alterius

To stretch out one's neck for the head of another


late 17th c.

Ingulum is probably derived from gula, -ae, which means "gullet" or "throat"

Per hostes per hastas

Through enemies, through spears

Lloyd of Llandeilo Fach

Plane et Sane

Completely and Sensibly

Vaughan of Golden Grove


Posse et nolle nobile

To be able and not want to is noble


c. 1600

Post laborem quies

Rest after labor

John Davies of the Inner Temple


Post tristia laeta

After sad things, happy ones

Gough of Wilsbury


Pro Deo et Lege

For God and Law

Conwy of Bodrhyddan

c. 1627

Qui male cogitat male sibi

Who thinks ill, ill to him


late 17th c.

Cf. the motto of the Order of the Garter: "Honi soit qui mal y pense" ("Shame to him who thinks ill of this"). (Ford.)

Repetunt proprios quaeque recursus

Everything repeats its own returns

Herbert of Montgomery


Rore tonantis

With the rain of the thunderer

Edward Gwynn of Furnival's Inn

d. 1649

Sanguine prostratus vici lentate superbas

Having been lain down in blood, I conquered. Bend the proud women!

Boyle of Hereford

early 17th c.

Sat[is] est prostrasse leoni

It is enough for the lion to have overthrown

Sir Thomas Salesbury

d. 1505

From Ovid, Tristia III.v.33 "Corpora magnanimo satis est prostrasse leoni," "To the great-hearted lion it is enough to have thrown down the bodies" (Ovid, Tristia.)

Satis est prostrasse leoni

It is enough for the lion to have overthrown

Lloyd of Halghton

early 17th c.

From Ovid, Tristia III.v.33 "Corpora magnanimo satis est prostrasse leoni," "To the great-hearted lion it is enough to have thrown down the bodies" (Ovid, Tristia.)

Scutum invincibile fides

Faith is an invincible shield

John Davies of Middleton

early 17th c.

Sedo Redchi ett Ledchi (Cedo Regi et Legi)

I cede to King and Law

Edward Don Lee


Semper Virtute constans

Always steady in virtue

Bevan of Pen-y-coed


Sequere iustitiam et invenias vitam

Follow justice and find life

Over fireplace at Corsygedol

late 16th c.

Sequor meliora

I follow better things


c. 1684

Si Deus nobiscum quis contra nos

If God is with us, who is against us?

At Hafotty, Llansadwrn

c. 1530

Sic pro fide

Thus for faith

Owen of Creuddyn


Sorte mea contentus

Content with my lot

Lloyd of Bodidris


Spes mea Christus erit

My hope will be Christ

Powell of Penkelly


Spes mea in Domino est

My hope is in God

Mytton of Weston under Lizard

c. 1520

Spes non frustratur sperantem

Hope does not deceive the hoper

James Morryce

mid-16th c.

Spes potentior viribus

Hope is more powerful than force

Guillim of Westbury

mid-17th c.

Stimulos dat emula virtus

Emulous virtue gives spurs

Powell of Hosely


Sustine ac abstine

Keep up or keep away

John ap William ap Dafydd of Euarth


Ve corde duplici

Or with double heart

Sir William Thomas


Velit ad sidera virtus

Let virtue want to the stars

Powell of Park

early 17th c.

Velle quod vult Deus

To want what God wants

Jones of Dol-y-moch, Ffestiniog


Veritas liberavit

Truth will set free



Viat post funera virtus

Let virtue live after death

Jones of Castell-march


Viat is probably a mistake for vivat

Vim vi opprimere iustum

That just force crush with force


Vince fide

Conquer with faith

Gabriel Parry of Llwynynn, Ruthin


Vincit veritas

Truth conquers

Rowland Meyrick, Bishop of Bangor


Virtus invicta

Virtue unconquered

Richard Parry, Bishop of St. Asaph


Virtus sola nobilem facet

Virtue alone makes him noble

Thomas Langford

early 17th c.

Virtus unica Nobilitas

Virtue is the only Nobility

Williams of Carmarthen

Virtute deget, non sanguine nite

He lives in virtue, not in shining blood

Evans of Oswestry and Treflach

early 17th c.

Nite is probably a variant form of nitente

Virtute deget, non sanguine nite

He lives in virtue, not in shining blood

Evans of Rhiwabon

A branch of the above Evans family; nite is probably a variant form of nitente

Virtute et circumspectu

With virtue and attention

Price of Kingston upon Thames


Virtute et sanguine

With virtue and blood

John Herbert of Mortlake


Virtute et sanguine

With virtue and blood

Morgan of Pen-coed


Virtute non sanguine

With virtue not with blood


early 17th c.

Siddons notes that this is "the motto of Smith's coat."

Virtute, vi, et armis

With virtue, strength, and arms

John Salesbury of Saithmarchog


Virtutis comes invidia

Envy is the companion of virtue

Blayney of Gregynog


Vis unita fortior

United force is stronger

Gerard Eyton of Eyton


Vive ut vivas

Live that you may live

Owen of Shrewsbury

early 17th c.

Vi virtute virens

Flourishing in strength and virtue

Wynne of Foelas

early 17th c.

Vix ea nostra voco

I scarcely call these things our own

Mansel of Muddlescomb

c. 1559

From Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII.141: "For as for stocke and auncetors, and other such like things/ Wherof our selves no fownders are, I scarcely dare them graunt/ To bee our owne." (I have given Arthur Golding's 1567 translation.) (Ovid, Metamorphoses; Golding.)


In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Wales, mottoes displayed with heraldry vaunted the bearer's virtue, strength, bravery, or piety. More than half were in Latin: others were in languages a Welshman would have found familiar, such as English, Welsh, and French. Heraldic mottoes were not original: instead, they drew on familiar proverbs and well-known literary texts to elaborate on familiar virtues. Some did incorporate puns or other witty references to the bearer. Though heraldic mottoes were influenced by both war-cries and imprese, their straightforwardness and emphasis on virtue make them a distinct genre.


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By Ursula Whitcher, alias Ursula Georges