[compiled by Baron Modar Neznanich]  

Motto: a short expression of a guiding principle.

Most mottoes are statements of faith or advice, which are serious in nature.
Others are humorous thoughts to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Within the SCA, mottoes come in use in many ways.
Physical exhibition of these are seen on standards and other forms of heraldic display.

Motto History

The true origins of the motto and its affiliation with heraldic achievements, like many other aspects of heraldry, have been lost in the mists of time. And although some sources might place fanciful beginnings to them, the most logical explanation is that mottoes derived from war cries.  

A war-cry was a shouted word or phrase that leaders of warriors would use in battle to rally or inspire the troops or to give commands and directions with. The use of war-cries are ancient, pre-dating heraldry by centuries.  The war-cry is also known as a slogan (deriving from the Gaelic word slogorn, which means army cry). Over time particular clans or troops would adopt a specific slogan to shout as they went into battle and these cries would become associated with them.  These would later develop into what would be known as mottoes.  

War-cry slogans varied in their content. Often they were a family name repeated over and over. Other times they were a battle command, such as “Forward!”  Many were religious invocations, rallying cries, cries of encouragement, cries intended to strike fear in the opponent or insult the enemy.  

It wasn’t until the 14th century that we see the development of the true motto. During tournaments the retinue of particular knights would yell a war-cry for encouragement.  Supporters of the knights watching the tournaments began shouting this slogan as well. By the 15th century it was fashionable to have a slogan/motto as well a badge.   

Apparently beginning in Italy but spreading quickly to France and other parts the world was the use of the motto (which is Italian for "word"). It was quickly followed by the use/display of an impresa (plural: imprese), which is a combination of a motto with a badge.  

During the 16th century there were books written on the subject of imprese, which provided rules on how to compose them. These books included Della realta e perfettione delle Imprese by Ercole Tasso and Ragionamento delle Imprese by Paolo Giovio. In Giovio's book the rules state that there should be adequate correspondence between the badge and the motto, that the reference the impresa makes to the bearer should be neither obscure nor too obvious, that it should be pleasing in appearance, that the motto should not be in the vernacular of the person who chose the impresa and the motto should be brief without being ambiguous.  

Perhaps at their height in the 15th and 16th centuries, the use of mottoes continues on to today. Mottoes may be taken, changed or relinquished at will when and as often as the bearer sees fit and may be exactly the same as the mottoes of other people. They are not hereditary (although many families will chose to retain a particular motto for generations) and no one is compelled to bear one; the matter is left purely to the individual. Heraldry mottoes are unregulated and no authority needed to adopt a motto. While this includes Scotland, heraldry mottoes may be registered there (as well as a war-cry) so they are associated with a particular family, but this does not restrict the motto to that family only.  

When displayed, the motto normally appears on a scroll or ribbon beneath the escutcheon (and any supporter compartment/base). The exception is for Scottish Armorials where it usually appears in an escroll above the top of the crest.  In rare instances where more than one motto has been adopted, they are often both displayed above the crest, or one above the crest and one below the escutcheon.

Click HERE for the List of Mottoes
(PDF file)

Motto Resource
s & Referencess  

Hand-book of Mottoes Borne by the Nobility, Gentry, Cities, Public Companies, Etc. 
by Charles Norton Elvin

Elvin's Handbook of Mottoes (2nd edition)
by Charles Norton Elvin

Elvin's Mottoes Revised: A Handbook of Mottoes with a Supplement and Index
by R. Pinches.

Dictionary of Mottoes
by L.G. Pine

Fairbairn's Book of Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland
by James Fairbairn

Supplement to Rietstap's Armorial General
by V. Rolland & H. V. Rolland

Banners, Standards, and Badges from a Tudor Manuscript in the College of Arms,
with an Introduction by Lord Howard de Walden

Historic Devices, Badges and War-Cries
by Mrs. Bury Pallister (reprint of the 1870 edition)

*Latin for All Occasions  &  *Even More Latin for All Occasions
by Henry Beard

A wide variety of websites...and it seems that a lot of them list mottoes from these sources:


1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  Ron Knight
(Baron Modar Neznanich, OPel)

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