Walking towards the front door… and glancing up at the portico, you cannot miss the words inscribed into the stonework: Unc jai serviray. Each letter is ornate, extravagant and decoratively carved to contribute to the embellishment and balance of the building. It is the motto of my husband’s family and, as was the way, when they transformed Highclere House into the castle of today, this was placed in a prominent position above the main door and then in further carvings inside and outside as well.
Curious visitors always ask what language it is and what does it mean. Read each word as it is written and that is what it says. Unc: only, jai: I, seviray: serve(future tense). The language is old Norman French and that is an explanation in itself. The Normans, under William the Conqueror, invaded England in 1066, except they were of course Northmen: previous Viking raiders who had settled in “Normandy”. Their invasion marked the end of the Anglo-Saxon Kings and, as the new ruling elite, they imposed their language in the local indigenous population. Geordie’s family, like many others, think they came over with William the Conqueror. My father thought the same, but I am not sure that is better or worse than being part of the Anglo-Saxon generations.
I asked Geordie whom he felt he served and he answered God. I know my reply would be the same. In some way, the history of the world, in its broadest sense, can be encapsulated into the need to construct faith, philosophy and power into some sort of working compromise. Do we follow the King/Government or God/ our moral framework? Who is most fit to gather the reins of power, the taxes and army?
English history is reasonably well documented and, as would be expected, punctuated over the centuries with various such challenges. For every English schoolchild, the most well-known one is perhaps that of Henry II who in 1287, frustrated by Archbishop Thomas a Beckett and his dual allegiance to the Pope, famously asked “who will rid me of this pestilent priest?” Thinking they were being helpful, four of Henry’s knights murdered Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral. Swiftly canonised, King Henry II, then had to make humble and expensive penance and peace with the Pope. Two hundred and fifty years later Henry VIII fell out with Catholic church over his own personal life. The Act of Supremacy made the King head of the church and he was able to sell off church assets to replenish his own. The Church of England was created. Later “Bloody Mary” and all its attendant martyrdoms came to the throne and it didn’t really settle down until well into the reign of Elizabeth 1.
Looking further back into antiquity, Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten, developed a new religion around himself and his family, focussing power and tribute into his hands and not those of the traditional priests. He built a new capital city well away from Thebes in order to start again. After his death though, the old order re-asserted itself, the new capital Amarna was deserted and sank back into the desert. Statues were defaced and his reign was obliterated from the history books in so far as was possible. The priests regrouped around Tutankhamun and the traditional capital Thebes.
These are simplistic instances of abrupt ruptures in the tension between spiritual and political relationships but are repeated everywhere in bigger or smaller ways.
Family mottos and coats of arms are visible references to what mattered to our predecessors, to what banded them together as a group. My father’s family had various inherited mottos. The one we inscribed in his gravestone was Cruce in Salis (from the cross comes salvation) though another which is possibly rather apposite today is Post Tenebras Spero Lucem (After darkness, I hope for light).
Communities also create mottos to bring them together under a banner. Per Ardua Ad Astra is the famous RAF motto but used by others as well. Slightly amusingly, the Royal College of Arms in England has stated that “no authoritative translation is possible” of this but the usual translation is “Through adversity to the stars”. Most army regiments each have their own motto, some in Latin and others in English. The United States Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis”, which was adopted in the 1880s but was actually the motto at my primary school – as well as many other schools and cities. In fact, I think you can generally say that most of the mottos chosen by countries, regiments, universities and schools tend to encourage virtues such as loyalty, heroism, sacrifice, glory and god.
Perhaps the most inspirational motto has been “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. Adopted by both the French and the USA in spirit, these three simple words from everyday life have become fundamental to political philosophies and the consequent construction of constitutions. The Statue of Liberty guards the entrance to New York, equality has a construct in merit and law and fratertnity proposes a sense of community with moral obligations. Napoleon preferred the motto “liberté, ordre public” (liberty, public order) But, it was the original French motto which inspired the First Article of the universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
This pandemic has had an interesting interpretation of some of these “rights”. It is clear that we are all equal before the virus and many of us have had to forego our “liberty” in favour of the greater good, our “fraternite”. And so the mottos still stand but the interpretation changes to suit successive generations and their wider world. To go back to one of humanity’s earlier mentors:
“Non nobis solum nati sumus. (Not for ourselves alone are we born.)”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
MY DEAR LADY CARNARVON,
GOOD MORNING MILADY AND MONDAY FAMILY
LOVELY POST. BEST WISHES FROM BRAZIL. THANK YOU VERY MUCH MILADY.
RIO CLARO – SP
It’s lovely to hear about mottos and adages that families live by…
Much like your family I believe the following is appropriate for me to live by:
Deus, amor et ignoscentia.
Thank you for posts.. Great insights into the Highclere world!
Thank you Sonia
PS: “ORDER AND PROGRESS ” THE MOTTO OF THE FLAG OF BRAZIL POSITIVIST
MOTTO OF THE FRENCH AUGUST COMTE.
Thank you so much for taking away your time to inspire and teach. I look forward to your lovely posts. Your knowledge is so very impressive and I always look forward to reading and learning something new.
Thank you Dawn – i hope you are well
What a lovely picture, with the little wisp of bright light and hope at the top of that hill!
My motto during this pandemic: Plus Biberent Vinum. ( Drink More Wine)
Thank you for a wonderful post that reflects what I have been thinking about this weekend. When and how do we speak out when our values demand it?
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Always enjoy your blogs immensely. They are highly informative, introspective and beautifully written.
Thank you for taking the time to care to share.
All best wishes,
Thank you for this words. I think a lot of people these days should remember the words of Cicero as egoism is growing and people forget to care about others.
Wish you all the best.
Janine from Germany
Good morning, Lady.
“I only will serve”. Does this mean that the primary “occupation” of the people of Highclere is service to God (and people, and the land, and other beings)?
Best wishes to you and all of yours,
It’s very cold in New England, the land of the Nipmucs, this morning.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
The lessons of history can always guide us into our current challenges, if we take the time to learn. Government and religion will continue to “dance” around each other, and faith, whether spiritual or political, will imbue a sense of right and wrong within us. The eternally powerful words of Cicero go to the core of decisions for the greater good. So today, as we keep our distance, wear our masks, and limit exposure to others, may we be confident in the knowledge that we are doing our part to help the greater population. Pandemic fatigue is very real, but in the face of history, religion, and the global human consideration, the precautions are more important than ever. You have brought this to mind with your wonderfully constructed historical reflection.
Thank you….you have strengthened my resolve to press on with the necessary precautions while awaiting the vaccine. And I believe that once vaccinated, the precautions will be necessary for quite awhile. If it continues to help, then it is worth it!
Stay safe, and may you and your loved ones continue to be healthy. I hope you know how much inspiration you share. I love the “Quirky Coffee Mornings” and the “Highclere Gin Cocktail Parties”….not sure how you find the time for all of these “get-togethers”, but they are absolutely wonderful! Thank you!
Charlotte Merriam Cole
Babi Ellen Thomas
Dear Lady Carnarvon
I really enjoyed reading your blog.
My dear Lady Carnarvon, thank you for yet another fascinating & educational article, I do so love reading your thoughts every Monday! We had snowstorms all weekend, but most of it has thawed now – I bet Highclere looks fabulous in snowy parklands….
As we are stuck indoors on yet another Lockdown, it’s hard to keep a positive & cheerful outlook on the future, but I’m looking forward to being allowed my freedom & to returning to your beautiful Castle – it has indeed stolen my heart.
Stay well & safe my Lady, & all you family & staff, yours,
I look forward to greeting guests at Highclere very soon.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
My name is Steve and I’m a fourth generation Irish born American. One side of my moms family came over to the US from County Kerry Ireland. I have been told that my relatives and I can claim the McCan castle and that our great great great aunt is no other than Margaret Tobin Brown survivor of the titanic we’ve yet to confirm this. I love watching the show downton abbey as does one of my sisters. Every time I start watching it over again I find myself having great pride for Highclere Castle. If there was ever a chance for me to come over to England and to see Highclere castle in person or to even come work there I would feel it was my duty to not only protect Highclere with all my being but, I would be very proud to serve and protect your and his lordship with all my heart.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you so much for sharing your historical knowledge. Your words are always enlightening and I enjoy Monday mornings reading your blog post. Good day
You too – all the best for this week!
Mottos, whether familial or personal stand in testament to the human spirit. My motto has always been “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). While not a motto per se, rather a statement of purpose, I think they do the same thing. While being unable to travel and relegated to finding lost treasures while cleaning closets I still say, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Excuse me now, while I tackle another closet!
Good morning, Lady Carnarvon,
You have started my week off on such an interesting note that I’d like to share my husband’s 1968 pilot training motto. Many of these slightly crazy, fun-loving young men knew they were likely headed to Vietnam sooner or later. However, I believe their motto referenced (in good fun) their more immediate “enemies,” their instructor pilots and senior officers in general.
I’m sure you know the phrase:
“Illegitimi non Carborundum” made famous in WWII by British Intelligence and adopted by Army General “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell as his motto.
That is a well known motto!
Buenas tardes Lady Carnarvon: ¡que curiosa coincidencia! hoy precisamente he tenido una clase sobre la Historia de Inglaterra y me han hablado de Guillermo I el Conquistador y los Normandos. ¡ qué suerte tener esos dignos antepasados! Durante este curso tenemos que ver películas relacionadas con el tema como por ejemplo Beckett, Cronwell, Enrique V, El León en invierno, etc. Por cierto el lema (motto) de Enrique V era “God et mon droit”. Como verá no solamente soy fan de sus blogs sino también de la Historia de su maravilloso país.
Un cordial saludo,
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Whether family mottos were a written statement of intent of noblesse oblige or status, or the gentry looking to preserve a way of life that was under threat, they all had a moral spine to them, which is fascinating. Reading your blog made me think of Mrs Poo in To The Manor Born, and her opening response line to her son Mr De Vere’s motives “in old Czechoslovakia we had a saying…..” I would like to think there are few mottos in there that would serve us well. The saddest motto I think is Ann Boleyn’s “the most happi” – which didn’t last very long, but gives us a very interesting insight into what she was thinking when she married King Henry, hoping her pregnancy would result in a make heir. Not all mottos served well in the long term.
What an interesting way to be reminded of Freshman Latin! Our teacher taught us “Men’s sana in corpore sano,” a healthy mind in a healthy body. I am in my 70s and your interesting blog brought it to mind – along with many good memories of that Latin class. It stood me in good stead throughout my later school years and love of the English language.
Thanks for a long-ago memory!
Those same wisps of fog and clouds have touched that hill over the centuries. Serene beauty.
I’d like to watercolor it.
International friends (and perhaps many Brits) might be surprised to learn that Norman French (as in Lord Carnarvon’s motto) is still in active use in the UK. When Parliament passes an Act, it only becomes law when Her Majesty concurs, her confirmation being heard in Parliament as
“La Reyne le veult” – The Queen wills it (ie “wishes it”).
We still haven’t entirely recovered from the 1066 conquest!
The Queen always does “will it” of course, but as recently as 1708 an earlier Queen returned an Act with the phrase “La Reyne s’avisera”, a term still in use elsewhere as “I’ll take it under advisement”, usually meaning “I hear you, but I don’t plan to do anything about it”. Interesting thing, language . . .
I enjoy your blog but this one impressed me. How wonderful to see someone freely admit their first allegiance is to God. I know times are tough for many but it is very comforting to remember that God is in control. I do hope to visit your castle in the future. Take care – blessings to you and your family.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Another interesting column this morning! I learned so much. Thank you for your careful research.
Ps. I look forward to Friday cocktails!
What a thought-provoking blog today. Focusing on the recovery ahead is my primary mode now. There has been too much turmoil, disagreement and death in the USA and the fatigue is real. My hope is that sanity will prevail soon. There is no common motto for the USA at this time. It’s a sad time.
Thank you for the relief of the blog today.
America does and always will have a motto and yes all while enduring wars, pandemics, political and social unrest and death. That motto is: “in God we trust“. May every American remember and honor it. Tough times do not last and there will be light again.
DEBRA ELIZABETH SCHUITT
Hello and Best Wishes for this New Year, Lady Carnarvon:
This would be my first correspondence to a Lady, such as yourself, Lady Carnarvon. It is with great delight, in these very difficult times that I write to you. When I was just a very young child, I took a strong interest in Egyptian archeology. When in my twenties, I waited two years for the tickets to the King Tutankhamen display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Canada. I spent time memorizing the very last item on display: King Tut’s mask. And many years later, after watching years of repeats of Downton Abbey, I’m sending this note to you, Lady Carvarvon. Your family has been as much of my life and the lives of millions of people all over the world, like you were standing in all of our very living rooms at home. Thank you so much, Lady Carnarvon. Marcia Hanna from Windsor, (at the moment), Ontario, Canada.
Welcome Marcia to my weekly Monday blog
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for your Monday blog.
It is a very good follow-up to your Quirky Morning Coffee Instagram presentation.
Unfortunately, today’s society does not live by any creeds, mottos, or time honored values. Perhaps someone will be inspired by your comments.
On a happy note, I look forward to Friday’ night’s event.
Until then, be healthy.
And you too Perpetua!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
You are absolutely correct that we serve God. It puts things into perspective when we know that He is in control no matter our circumstances. I take my motto from 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” May God bless you and your family in the coming year.
Greetings Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you again for yet another fascinating, interesting and entertaining post.
I truly was one of your visitors who was awe struck, not only by the enormity of Highclere Castle as I approached the front door the first time, but also of the engraving still visible all these years later.
During my first visit I actually took a photo of the carving of the motto so I could research it once back at my computer.
Mottos & family coats of arms are historic traditions so many do live by. Even as an American, I do try to evoke Carpe Diem each day (that I awake to a new day) as I am grateful to be able to get through yet another day, and Keep Calm and Carry On especially during these horrible Covid pandemic times.
Your weekly blog is always so uplifting and informative.
Thank you for something wonderful to look forward to each Monday morning.
Best to you and your family (including your Monday Blog family!) going forward.
Looking forward to being able to visit yet again one day!
You are very kind and best wishes to you for the coming week
Love when your blog is full of history! We have just come through a tumultuous time in our democracy here in the US. The USA Experiment. We all have faith in God, I love how our moral character aligns with most of the world. I did not realize the French motto had this line – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” That about sums it up for me! Thanks again for a wonderful Monday – looks really chilly at your home! Hope to see you in September!!!! God Speed and God Bless!
It is quite cold and I switch between looking a little smarter and ski trousers!!!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
As always your blogs are enlightening and so enjoyable. Mottos are everywhere, all around us, but I wonder how often we really look at them and ponder. I graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and our motto is Lux Libertas, Light and Liberty. Liberty does seem to be a theme in many mottos. “In God We Trust”, the official motto of the United States and seen on all coins and paper currency has been questioned with relationship to the separation of church and state. However, in 1970 it was ruled that the motto did not violate the First Amendment to the Constitution. Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court has never made a ruling on this issue. For me “In God We Trust” is an appropriate motto and says it all.
I look forward to all your blogs, cocktail hours, and quirky corner chats. Thank you.
Thank you – thank you for joining me on Instagram!
Good morning Lady Carnarvon
Interestingly Australia does not have a Motto but the Royal Coat of Arms is over the entrance door of the Customs House in Sydney and many other places as well. Old customs are now not seen in Australia’s buildings which is a pity as our ties are still to Great Britain. That in itself is a mystery to those in the world who do not understand that the Queen of Great Britain is also our Queen even though we are a nation in our own right. We like to confuse people 🙂
Irreverent Aussies might say our motto should be “G’day mate or….. Throw another Shrimp on the Barbie or even…..Good on yer mate” would be suitable such is the larrakin nature of Australians in general. Personally think our Motto should be “Welcome”, something we are well known for with absolutely no Latin in it to try to remember from our school days !!
No matter what Mottos of previous years stand for perhaps we should go back to them and realise we are reading the wishes of the people who had them put there. They are an historical record, in plain view, showing us the feelings of the people and the times. Whether Mottos are necessary or not I quite like to be reminded that “In God we Trust” which in these Pandemic days seems appropriate.
Stay safe and stay well, I keep you and yours in my prayers Lady Carnarvon.
Joy thank you. I think history and relationships – such as that with the Queen gives depth. It is non politcal and suggests longevity and anchors…
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
You are doing a good Job during this pandemia,we can forget all the problems with yours pods ,thank you very much for your work.
Best wishes frontera Spain
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Again you present a most inspiring blog- May we all aspire to our higher selves through our Lord during these and at all times.
Hope you and your family are doing well. We are all in this together and we shall all endure and get through this terrible time for all mankind.
Hopefully we will emerge more humble and better people as a result of our faith.
Warmest wishes to you and your family,
How very kind thank you
Inspiring. You bring such calmness and sanity in your posts—and Highclere could have no better ambassadress. Your blog is a gift to us every Monday and something positive and beautiful to eagerly anticipate. Thank you.
Lady Carnarvon, You write so beautifully, the words just flow on the page. Thank you. Kind Regards, Cheryl
Thank you Cheryl
My dearest sweet sweet lady you are so rich in history, knowledge and compassion. You and your husband Geordie are very blessed.
Thank you for sharing this true message with all of the world.
I follow you on Instagram, thank for sharing.
I love people and love you.
Peace and Blessings,
Phyllis Simpson, USA
Wonderful blog on mottos. Always a learning experience to read your stories. Love the photo of the Ivory candles and white flowers and Cicero’s quote.
How interesting! I am from the American state of Kansas, and our state motto is “Ad astra per aspera,” or “to the stars through difficulty.” I had no idea it was so similar to the RAF motto. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for this beautiful and interesting post.
Very well said. You are well versed and I always appreciate your knowledge. You are a blessing.
To God be the glory!
I will return to your beautiful home soon and hope to see you again, Pam
I look forward to you returning to Highclere soon
This is a lovely post. There are those here in Canada who would like to disengage from honouring the Queen, pleading cost of visits and such. However, I find that the ties to history, the good and the bad of it, add depth to life and a certain sense of place in the world. If we stand back, figuratively, and take a crow’s eye view of history, the tangles straighten somewhat and we can see where we have been as a human race, and thus be enabled to move forward in positive ways. The old mottos hold such meaning. My husband’s family is apparently from Scotland, then to Ireland, and from there to Canada. Their family motto is Bonis Omnia Bona – to the good all is good. Thank you for this bit of history.
I have just recently found this blog. What a treat!
I also think that often mottos turn into mission statements. (Hopefully good!)
Thank you for your mission to care for your historic home!
Welcome Nancy to my weekly Monday blog
This blog it’s very valuable prec to fans like me
From your archives its possible to go back to the motto engraved in the entrance of Altachiara in Portofino?
Thank you very much for all
send me a photo!
Thank you so much for the wonderful blog.
I am excited to say I have just received my copy of Christmas at Highclere and I love it.
I will be ordering another of your books this week.
Thank you again and be safe.
Kathleen from Canada
Thank you Kathleen
Always enjoy your blog! My Mother being British also a war bride that immigrated to the States with my Father who was stationed at the first American built airbase in the UK. She was full of mottos, however I always called them “Mom-isms”. She had a motto for almost every situation and they do convey the truth of a situation. Now being older I find myself using these mottos myself and the thought comes to mind that I am just like my mother!
Have a lovely weekend, stay safe & well.
DEAR LADY CARNARVON:
I LOVED READING YOUR BLOG TODAY.
I AGREE WITH YOU AND GEORDIE , GOD FIRST. WE NEED HIM NOW MORE THAN EVER.
MOTTOS ARE INTERESTING. MANY INSPIRE US. MANY REMIND US.
HAVE A WONDERFUL DAY.
Have just finished your second book about Lady Catherine. On the last page it mentions Don Momand, Catherine’s third husband, and how they lived together in Switzerland. Would very much like to find out more information. Google didn’t help.
Have enjoyed both books.
They are both buried together back here – I will have a look!
It is wonderful the way you can take an obscure subject and create an insightful piece. Fascinating!
My mother’s family are also Normans. Long ago, a relative traced the heritage to 1025 in the Forest of Dean.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I am over a week behind in reading this post, but I am so glad I did. Thank you for the wonderful motto translations, most being in Latin, of course, proving that Latin is not dead, but immortal. I think I will adopt one of the Carnarvon family mottos, Post Tenebras Spero Lucem. As you say, very appropriate in these modern times. To remind me of light that comes after darkness I have always taken great pleasure in lighting (and warming) my home with candles through the dark winter months. With the light they bring they also bring joy, comfort, and self-reflection/meditation/prayer. I thank Julian Fellowes for my interest in Downton Abbey, but I love learning more and more about Highclere Castle. May you find the light after darkness, and I look forward to visiting Highclere soon.
Best Regards and Take Care,
Thank you so much
I’m late seeing your lovely blog; you brighten my Mondays. I wanted to share the motto of Hawaii, where I live. “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Āina i ka Pono;” native Hawaiian translating as “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”
Dear Lady Carnarvon! Thank you so much for sharing Highclere Castle with us – you made my wife’s day, month, and year! Where can I find more information about the crests that adorn the walls of the salon – especially the one that has the 3 Jewish stars of David? The guide did not know… thank you again!