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The Motto

The following is an excerpt from Burke's General Armory, pages xv-xvii

The Motto is, according to Guillium, "a word, saying, or sentence which gentlemen carry in a scroll under the arms, and sometimes over the crest." It had its origin, most probably, in the "cri de guerre," or the watchword of the camp, and its use can be traced to a remote period. Camden assigns the reign of Henry II. as the date of the oldest motto he ever met with, that of William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, who encircled his shield with the legend, Lege, lege; and the same antiquary mentions the old seal of Sir Thomas Cavall, who bore his arms a horse, and for his motto , Thomme credit, cum cernitis ejus equum. Other authorities, however refur to several cases, thta ofTtrafford andTrafford in particular, and carry up the mottoes to a much earlier epoch. Be this as it may, their generalusage may be accurately dated, if not from an earlier period, certainly from the institution of the Order of the Garter; and after that celebrated event they became very general,and daily gained in public favour. during the wars of Henry V., Henry VI., and Henry VIII., innumerable mottoes graced the shields of the warriors of the time, and in the curtly days of Queen Elizabeth devises were especially fashionable.

Mottoes may be taken, changed, or relinquished, when and as often as the bearer thinks fit, and may be exactly the same as those of other persons. Still , however the pride of ancestry will induce most men to retain, unaltered, the time- honoured sentiment which, adopted in the first instance as the memorial of some noble action, some memorable war cry, or a record of some ancient family descent, has been handed down from sire to son through a series of generations.

Montoye St. Denis was the cri deguerre of the French kings, St. Andrew of the Scorttish monarchs, and St. George for merry England, of the English. D'ien ayde au premier Chrétien rallied the Montgomeries; and A Douglas ! a Douglas ! was not infrequently heard on the English boarders, in answer to the Percy Espérance.

The same concept. as in Heraldic bearings, of accomadating the motto to the name, has prevailed occasionally either in Norman-French or Latin Thus we have mon Dieu est Ma Roche, forRoache, Lord Fernoy; Let Curzon holde that Curzon helde, for Curzon; Strike Dakyns. the devils in the hempe, for Dakyns; Cavendo tutus, for Cavendish; Forte scutum salus ducum, for Fortescue; set on, for Secton Earle of Winton; Ne vile velis, for Neville; Vero nehil verius, for Vere; and Ver non semper viret, for vernon. how admirably suited is Pro magnâ chartâ to the Premier Barony, Le Despencer; and how plaintive is the expressive motto adopted by theonce regal Courtenays of Powerham, after the loss of the Earldom of Devon, Ubi lapus ! quid feci? The Fuimus of the Earl of Elgin tells that the Bruces were once Kings; and the Crom a boo of the Geraldines recalls the time when an act of parliament made it treason to repeat that famous war-cry.

Mottoes are also Frequently allusive to the arms and Crests, and very often commemorative of some of the dead of chivalry. With reference to the Hedgehog, the crest of the Kyrles Herefordshire, the family of the Man of Ross, is the inscriptionnil moror ictus (I do not care for blows) the Gores, whose ensigns comprise the cross crosslet, have In hoc signo vinces. Caen, cressie, calais, the motto of the Radcliffes, commemorates the services of Sir John Radcliffe, Knt., of Ordsall, at the seiges of Aen and Calais, and at the battle of Cressy; and Boulogne et Cadiz, borne by the Heygate family, records the presece of their ancestor at those famous seiges.

Grip Fast the device of the LESLIES, has remained unchanged since the time of Margaret, Queen of Scotland, by whom it was given to Batholomew Leslie, the founder of the family, under the following circumstances- in crossing a river, swollen by floods, the Queen was thrown from her horse, and in danger of being drowned, when the Knight, plunging into the stream, seized hold of the royal girdle, and as he brought her with difficulty towards the bank, she frequently exclaimed Grip Fast, words which she desired her preserver to retain for his motto in remembrance of this circumstance.

The traditional origin of Lamh dearg Erin (the red hand of Ireland), the motto of the ONEILLS, is this:- In an ancient expedition of some adventures to Ireland, their leader declaired that whoever first touvhed the shore should posses the territory which he reached. The ancestor of the ONeills, Prince of Ulster bent upon obtaining the reward, and seeing another boat likely to land, cut his hand off and threw it upon the coast.

Many mottoes are allusive either to a portion of the heraldic bearings, or to the family surname. Leoni non sagittis fido, I trust to the lion not to the arrows, is that of the EGERTONS, whose shield exhibits a lion between three pheons; and the MARTINS use these singular words: He who looks at martins ape, martins ape shall look at him! having reference to their crest, of an ape observing himself in a looking-glass. The AITONS of Kippo, a branch of Aiton, that of Iil, adopted for moto,Et descerptae dabunt odorem, sn elegant allusion to their crest of a rose bough proper, and of their being an offshoot of the parent stem.

The generality of mottoes, however, are expressive of sentiments of piety, hope or determination.

Many of the most ancient houses in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales adopted for their motto the slogan or war cry of their sept, which was sometimes derived from the name of the chieftains feudal castle; thus Colquhoun of Luss bears Cnockelchan; fitzgerald of Leinster, Crom a boo; and Hughes of Gwerclas, Kymmer-yu-Edeirnion. The descendants of Irish families who adopted the war-cry of their septs as mottoes; thus the OBrien, Lamh laidir an anchter, the strong hand upper-most, Lanh dearg Erin, the red hand of Ireland; OHagan, Buadh no bas, Victory to death; ODonovan, Giolla ar a- namhuid a-bu, A man over his enemy for ever; OGorman, Tosach catha agus deineath air. First in battle and fierce in slaughter; ODoinn, Mullach a-bu, The tops of the mountains forever, ,&c., &c. Mottoes not frequently indecate the antiquity and derivation of the families by whom they are borne. In Loywl as thow fynds, we recognise the Saxon origin of the Tempests of tong, and in Touts jours prest, the Norman ancestry of the Talbots of Bashall; but this rule is far from being general many families of Norman origin used English mottoes at a very early period, as Darell of Calehill, "Trow to you."

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Last Updated: Dec. 1st, 2021

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