The counties of the UK are a weird and wonderful mosaic of overlapping histories, local rivalries, strange dialects, and curious customs.
While the land was originally divided into administrative areas by the Romans, over time these artificial borders have come to represent the best and worst of regional pride – particularly over centuries of foreign invasion and civil war. It’s no wonder historical administrators cooked up fearsome county mottoes to grace their coats of arms.
Today, these mottoes are mostly hushed-up in favour of county slogans – the more modern, publicity department-generated captions you see on ‘Welcome To…’ signs. County slogans are designed to entice tourists, whereas mottoes are often fear-inducing statements designed to warn outsiders of a region’s ferocious might and superiority!
We wanted to remember and celebrate the noble mottoes of the UK’s diverse counties with a map that boasts them all. The mottoes we’ve included (some translated from Latin or local dialects) are those that feature on each county’s coat of arms, not their travel brochures. For’ard For’ard!
The motto of every country in England
The county mottoes of England are particularly insular. Take the motto of Sussex: “We Wunt be Druv.” While it may sound like a line from EastEnders, in fact, the phrase is in the Sussex dialect and means “we will not be driven.” In other words, people from Sussex will not be told what to do.
Others are more explicitly martial in tone. “No retreat” (Buckinghamshire), “By the right and dignity of the sword” (Cheshire), and Kent’s “Invicta” – Latin for ‘unconquered’ – sound particularly fearsome. However, the county of Cumbria was established as late as 1974, and the picturesque region is spared the fighting talk: the coat of arms borrows a line from the Bible, “I shall lift up mine eyes unto the hills.”
The motto of every country in Scotland
The Scots are known for their smart turn of phrase when a limited number of characters are available. Clackmannanshire boasts the supremely Scottish motto “Leuk Aboot Ye,” for example. Meaning, ‘Look around you’ the motto is in reference to an ancient story about King Robert and his squire searching for a lost glove.
Other counties mottoes are simpler favouring “Vigilance” (Lanarkshire), hope (“In hope,” Morayshire), or “law and liberty” (Perthshire). Roxburghshire’s super-precise piece of advice (Ne Cede Malis Sed Contra Audentior Ito/Yield not to evil things but rather go on more boldly) shows how well-read the locals are – it’s a line from Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid.
The motto of every country in Wales
All the mottoes of Wales are in Gaelic, an older or newer form of Welsh, or Latin. And Welsh motto-makers seem particularly keen on two values: freedom and prosperity. “Undeb Hedd Llwyddiant/Unity, peace, prosperity,” says Brecknockshire. “Golud Gwlad Rhyddid/A nation’s wealth is freedom,” claims Cardiganshire. “Rhyddid gwerin ffyniant gwlad/A free people, a prosperous country,” states Carmarthenshire.
But there are a couple of counties keen on defining their place within the country. Anglesey’s motto is “Môn Mam Cymru” (the mother of Wales) due to the capacity of its fertile land to provide for the nation. Powys rather boldly claims to be the paradise of Wales (“Powys paradwys Cymru”) and with its rolling mountains, valleys, and farmlands, it’s hard to disagree.
The motto of every country in Northern Ireland
The six counties of Northern Ireland seem to differ on the secret to success. Their mostly Latin mottoes favour, amongst other things, teamwork (County Armagh’s “In Concilio Consilium”), hard work (Down’s “Absque labore nihil”), wisdom and prudence (Tyrone’s “Consilio et Prudentia”), or, failing that, God (Londonderry’s “Auxilium a Domino” – “Help comes from the Lord”).
The exception is County Fermanagh, whose motto – “Feor Magh Eanagh” – is what the ancient Irish used to call the region. It translates as “country of the lakes.” Which sounds altogether more welcoming than the counties mottoes of England!
What about the missing counties?
A handful of counties such as Aberdeenshire in Scotland and Berkshire in England have elected not to have a motto – and those are shown in grey on the maps.
Hampshire, for example, has had its present coat of arms since as recently as 1992, and the only words it bears are ‘Hampshire County Council’. On promotional literature the county takes for its slogan a statement of local attractions, presented with unromantic minimalism: City – Coast – Country. Okay, so they’ve got it all – but a bit of poetry would have been nice!
In Scotland, Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire, and Wigtownshire are all without mottoes. However, these counties are collected together under one ‘council area,’ Dumfries and Galloway – which boasts the slogan ‘Naturally Inspiring.’
A strong motto stirs the soul. And it shines an interesting new light on a place you may think you know well. Have you found the motto of your next destination county?
For the full research behind this map, including the sources to each County motto and the original language versions of the translated mottos, visit http://bit.ly/CountyMottoes
The information in this article is provided for education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. The information in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial or any other advice. The information in this article is general in nature and is not specific to you the user or anyone else.