Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Question from Kelly - Motto for Henry VIII

Did Henry VIII have a motto?

5 comments:

Bearded Lady said...

I have always wondered this too because Wikipedia (which can rarely be trusted) lists his motto as “Coeur Loyal” which means Sir Loyal Heart. But I was under the impression that Henry adopted this as his motto ONLY for the celebratory tournaments following the birth of his son with Catherine of Aragon (the son that died shortly after).

Or it could be that "Sir Loyal Heart" seems just too ridiculous to stick as a motto given his actions.

TudorRose said...

King Henry Viii's motto was Dieu et mon droit.
When you see pictures of the king sitting in his throne above his head is his canopy of state and his motto underneath it.
The only thing is that I am not sure what it means in english I would have to find that out.

Kathy said...

That was used only at one tournament. He used other at other tournaments, the most famous one probably being "Declare I Dare Not" generally believed to be in reference to Anne Boleyn in the early days of their romance.

The only thing that would be close to a motto that he had would have to be "Dieu et mon droit", which is the traditional motto of English kings. It is the one that shows up on all his badges, battle standard, etc.

Kathy said...

tudorrose, "Dieu et Mon Droit" means "God and My Right".

PhD Historian said...

Just off the top of my head, and without actually researching the question, I am inclined to agree with you, Bearded Lady, that "Coeur Loyal" was probably adopted solely for purposes of participating in the lists (jousting and tournaments). Nicknames, as we would properly call this "motto" today, were sometimes part of the pageantry and theatrical aspects of tournaments. Think of them as fanciful "noms-de-guerre" or "stage names." Henry was not alone in adopting a pseudonym for the lists. Monarchs in particular were inclined to adopt them in order to give at least the superficial (and obviously transparent) appearance of hiding their identity and thereby supposedly eliminating the possibility that an opponent would "take a fall" to keep from embarrassing him. But such names are not the same as a formally adopted heraldic motto. Wikipedia is wrong (as it so often is) to call "Coeur Loyal" Henry's "motto." (Wiki is also wrong to call the Tudor Rose and portcullis Henry's "emblems." They were his "badges.")

Another reason why I suspect Henry's use of the nickname "Couer Loyal" was limited to the lists is that monarchs and their direct heirs tended not to adopt personal mottos, though there are some notable exceptions.

Mottos are usually associated with the individual's heraldic achievement, often called (incorrectly) a "coat of arms." They can appear above the achievement, where it is called a "slughorn," or below as a true motto written on a scroll or on the "compartment" or base of the achievement. Mottos are just one of the many devices that surround and embellish an individual's "shield," the core element of the achievement. The embellishments can include crests, coronets (for titled nobles only), wreaths, mantles, and supporters (usually animals, sometimes mythical ones), and other items.

Heraldic achievements are usually specific to a given individual, certainly so among non-nobles, though the core shield can sometimes remain the same (or only slightly altered) through several generations. Achievements associated with successive individual holders ("bearers") of an inherited title of nobility, however, especially major titles, change only very little, if at all, from one generation to the next, because they are attached to the title rather than to the individual bearer. When an heir enters into his or her inherited title, they abandon their previous individualized personal achievement and adopt in its place the achievement associated with the new title, usually making only minute changes to the achievement.

So it was with Henry VIII. When Duke of York and before the death of Arthur, he had an achievement specific both to royal Dukes of York and to himself as the current bearer of the title. Upon being created Prince of Wales in 1504, Henry abandoned his York achievement and adopted instead the achievement of his new title, together with its traditional motto, "Ich Dien" (I serve). And upon becoming monarch in 1509, he abandoned the use of his achievement as Prince of Wales and adopted instead the Royal Arms ... the shield of which kept exactly the same form used by Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, and Henry VII.

To my knowledge, the royal achievement of the late Plantagenet and early Tudor periods did not yet have a motto associated with it. The only true heraldic "motto" that Henry VIII might have used would have been "Dieu et Mon Droit" (literally "God and My Right," but variously translated as "God and My [Birth] Right," referencing the early belief in the divine right of kings, or as "God and My Right Shall Me Defend" or "God and My Right Hand"). But the origins of this motto are unclear and its use clouded at best. It is often credited to Richard I in 1198, but seems not to have been much used again until Henry V or Henry VI early in the 1400s, at which point both are credited with having made it the "official" royal motto. Yet some monarchs after Henry VIII did not use it, most notably Elizbaeth I, who adopted "Semper Eadem" (Always the Same) as her motto, and James I, who preferred "Beati Pacificii" (Blessed are the Peacemakers).

Part of the problem lies with documentation and sources. The College of Arms, which governs the granting and use of heraldic achievements and their associated mottos was not chartered until 1555, well after Henry VIII's death. Prior to the existence of the College, full achievements were not always recorded ... often only the central shield was. Thus the evidence for the appearance of the royal achievement prior to 1555 is incomplete. We know what the royal shield for each monarch looked like, but not always what the embellishments, including mottos, were. There is documentation, however, that Henry did indeed use "Dieu et Mon Droit" on occasion, or at least his secretaries and courtiers did so for him.

I cannot find any motto associated with the title held by Henry's ancestors, the Earls of Richmond, though if such a motto ever existed Henry VIII could rightly have used it.

So at the end of this lengthy discourse, I conclude as I started: "Coeur Loyal" was probably nothing more than a pseudonym used in the lists to "hide" his identity. It was probably not a true motto of the kind associated with heraldic achievements. If Henry VIII had a true heraldic motto, it was probably "Dieu et Mon Droit," though that was the motto associated with the Crown and not with Henry Tudor individually.


I will be very curious to see whether any of our other readers have ever seen a true individualized "motto" associated with Henry VIII.