In My Defens God Me Defend
In my defens God me defend is the motto of both the Royal coat of arms of the Kingdom of Scotland and Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom used in Scotland.12 Contemporary versions of the Royal arms show an abbreviated motto, in the form of IN DEFENS or, where Modern English is used as an alternative, IN DEFENCE.3 The motto appears above the crest of the arms, in the tradition of Scottish heraldry.45
Adopted during the reign of the Stewart dynasty, and certainly in use by the reign of James IV (1488–1513),6 "In my defens God me defend" was originally the only motto associated with Scotland's Royal arms,7 with versions appearing in both truncated and abbreviated forms;8 In my defens, for example, having been adopted for the Royal arms of James IV. (An embroidered wall hanging depicting these arms is displayed in the Great Hall at Stirling Castle). Later versions of the arms which feature the abbreviated form IN DEFENS include the armorial by Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, which appears in his Register of Scottish Arms (1542).
The motto is also associated with an old Scots prayer, of which there are several versions where In my defens God me defend appears as the opening line, including:
- In my defence God me defend
- And bring my sawl to ane good end
- ane vertuous lyf procureth ane happie death...9
- In my defence God me defend
- And bring my soul to ane good end
- When I am sick and like to die
- Father of Heaven have mercy on me.10
Also, in the form of a couplet:
- In my defense God me defend
- and bring my saulle to ane guid end O Lord.11
Another variation of the phrase, appearing as BE MY DEFENS GOD ME DEFEND FOREVER MORE, is to be found engraved upon a number of traditional Ballock knives, with one particular example, (dated 1624), now forming part of the Arms and Armour collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.12
During the reign of Charles II (1661–1685), the Royal arms used in Scotland were augmented with the inclusion of the Latin motto of the Order of the Thistle,3 the highest Chivalric order of the Kingdom of Scotland.13 The motto of the Order of the Thistle, Nemo me impune lacessit, appears on a blue scroll overlying the compartment.14 (Previously, only the collar of the Order of the Thistle had appeared on the arms).
The addition by King Charles of Nemo me impune lacessit ensured that the blazon of his Royal arms used in Scotland complemented that of his Royal arms used elsewhere, in that two mottoes were displayed. The blazon used elsewhere had included the French motto of the arms, Dieu et mon droit, together with the Old French motto of the Order of the Garter, the highest Chivalric order of the Kingdom of England. The motto of the Order of the Garter, Honi soit qui mal y pense, appears on a representation of the garter surrounding the shield. Henceforth, the versions of the Royal arms used in Scotland and elsewhere were to include both the motto of the arms of the respective kingdom and the motto of the associated order of chivalry.
The rules governing heraldry and armorial achievements in England have possibly resulted in a degree of confusion as to the status of the mottoes associated with both the Royal coat of arms of Scotland and those of the United Kingdom used in Scotland. In English heraldry the motto is placed beneath the shield, whereas in Scottish heraldry the motto is placed above the crest.15 Appearing beneath the shield may have led to the conclusion that Nemo me impune lacessit is the motto of the Royal arms, whereas historical evidence coupled with the conventions of heraldry in Scotland16 would suggest that In my defens God me defend is the motto of the Royal arms and therefore the motto of Scotland itself.
The motto IN DEFENS not only appears on the Royal arms, but also, in conjunction with the crest of the Royal arms, upon the logo of both the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the General Register Office for Scotland.
- Royal coat of arms of Scotland
- Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom
- Kingdom of Scotland
- Order of the Thistle
- The Progress and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, by John Nichols
- The Fourth part of the Institutes of Laws of England: Concerning the Jurisdiction of Courts, by Edward Coke
- Public Sculpture of Glasgow by Ray McKenzie, Gary Nisbet
- The Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada
- International Civic Heraldry
- Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. p. 171. "over it an open royal crown, above which there is the remains of a scroll, showing apparently the letters . . . FENS: the termination of the inscription IN DEFENS — Above the head, and outside the horns of the unicorns, we have on the right side the letter I, and on the left the figure four, the ancient form of the fourth figure, being the initials of Jacobus IV."
- Typographical Antiquities: an historical account of printing in England, by Joseph Ames
- National Museums of Scotland – Book stamp associated with James VI
- Electric Scotland
- Annals of Banff: Index to old cemetery-Grave #423
- The Whole Book: Cultural Perspectives on the Medieval Miscellany by Stephen G. Nichols, Siegfried Wenzel - 1996 - Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden B.24: A "Transitional" Collection. A S G Edwards - Appendix: Bodleian MS Arch f. 231v Accessed 28 July 2008
- My Armoury Accessed 28 July 2008
- British Monarchy web site
- Heraldry – The Arms of the Earl of Dundee (taken from a book "Scottish Heraldry" by MD Dennis, published in 1999 by the Heraldic Society of Scotland: ISBN 0-9525258-2-8)
- Cayman Islands Govt.
- Arms on publication dated 1606 showing full motto
- Wood carving of arms of Mary, Queen of Scots, showing full motto