Semper fidelis

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"Semper Fidelis March", by John Philip Sousa, performed by the United States Marine Band for Edison Records in June 1909.


Semper Fidelis is a Latin phrase meaning "Always Faithful" or "Always Loyal". Well known in the United States as the motto of the United States Marine Corps (and often shortened to Semper Fi in Marine contexts), Semper Fidelis has served as a slogan for many families and entities in many countries since the 16th century. In the groups below, users are listed in chronological order according to when they are believed to have adopted the motto; however, in many cases dates of adoption are not well established.

Families and individuals[edit]

This phrase was used in Europe, at least in Great Britain, Ireland and France and probably in other countries as well. A more recent adoption is by Senator Joe Doyle, in arms granted by the Chief Herald of Ireland in 1999.

Bernard Burke in 1884[1] listed many notable families in Great Britain and Ireland using the motto "Semper fidelis" in their coats of arms. They include:

  • Lynch family (Ireland): "Semper Fidelis" is the family motto of the Lynch family. The Lynches were one of the Tribes of Galway who were fourteen merchant families who dominated the political, commercial, and social life of the city of Galway in western Ireland between the 13th and 16th centuries. Members of the 'Tribes' were considered Old English gentry. The Lynches were descended from William Le Petit, who was one of the Norman knights who settled in Ireland following the grant of Ireland as a fiefdom by Pope Adrian IV to King Henry II of England in the early 12th century. "Semper Fidelis" appears on the Lynch Family coat of arms. Although the earliest traceable reference to this usage is James Hardiman's history of Galway published in 1820, the history of the family makes it likely that the motto was in use by the 14th or 15th century.
  • Frith family (Ireland): The family of John Frith, Protestant martyr, is thought to have used the motto as far back as the 16th century. John Frith is the earliest entry in Burke's list of the Frith family. The Friths settled in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, after John Frith's execution. The family fought at the Battle of the Boyne.
  • Edge family (England): The Edge family of Strelley, Nottinghamshire, were using the motto "Semper fidelis" by 1814 at the latest (see UK National Archives document reference DD/E/209/32-34). The arms were granted in 1709,[2] but it is not recorded whether the motto formed part of the initial grant.
  • Onslow family (England): the family of the Earls of Onslow uses the motto "Semper fidelis" (see also Lodge, 1832),[3] though their alternative motto (the punning Festina lente) is better known.
  • Stewart family (Scotland; also spelled Steuart, especially in older sources): "Semper Fidelis" is the family motto of the Stewart family of Ballechin in Perthshire. J. Burke (1836, pp. 149–150)[4] records that the family goes back to an illegitimate son of James II of Scotland (1430–1460), and the motto is recorded by Burke and by Robson (1830).[5] However they do not report the date of its first use.

Burke's full list of families using the motto was: Booker, Barbeson, Bonner, Broadmead, Carney, Chesterman, Dick, Dickins, Duffield, Edge, Formby, Frisby, Garrett, Haslett, Hill, Houlton, Kearney, Lynch, Lund, Marriott, Nicholls, Onslow, Pollexfen, Smith, Steele, Steehler, Steuart, Stirling and Wilcoxon. A large portion of these families were Irish or Scottish.

Chassant and Tausin (1878, p. 647)[6] list the following French families as using it: D'Arbaud of Jonques, De Bréonis, Chevalier of Pontis, Du Golinot of Mauny, De Coynart, De Genibrouse of Gastelpers, Macar of the Province of Liege, Milet of Mureau, Navoir of Ponzac, De Piomelles, De Poussois, De Reymons, and De Rozerou of Mos.

Cities[edit]

Abbeville[edit]

The city of Abbeville in France is recorded by 19th century sources (such as Chassant and Taussin, 1878) as using the motto "Semper fidelis," and recent sources[7] state that the city was accorded this motto by Charles V, by letters patent of 19 June 1369, issued at Vincennes. This would make it the earliest recorded user of the motto among cities. However both Louandre (1834, p. 169)[8] and the city's current official website[9] give the motto simply as "Fidelis", and Sanson (1646, p. 15)[10] claimed that even this was not part of Charles's original grant, but was added later, sometime in the 14th to 17th centuries.

Exeter[edit]

Coat of Arms of Exeter, showing the motto.

The City of Exeter, in Devon, England, has used the motto since at least 1660, when it appears in a manuscript of the local chronicler, Richard Izacke. Izacke claimed that the motto was adopted in 1588 to signify the city's loyalty to the English Crown. According to Izacke, it was Queen Elizabeth I who suggested that the city adopt this motto (perhaps in imitation of her own motto, Semper eadem, "Ever the same"); her suggestion is said to have come in a letter to "the Citizens of Exeter," in recognition of their gift of money toward the fleet that had defeated the Spanish Armada. John Hooker's map of Exeter of around 1586 shows the city's coat of arms without the motto, suggesting that the city's use of the motto is no older than this. However the city archives do not hold any letter relating to the motto, and Grey (2005) argues that the Elizabethan origin of the motto may be no more than a local myth, since it is not recorded in contemporary chronicles, and that it may have been adopted at the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy to compensate for the city's less than total loyalty to the crown during the English Civil War.

Various bodies associated with the city of Exeter also use the motto:

  • The Royal Navy HMS Exeter, which is named after the City of Exeter.
  • Various Exeter-based units of the British Army, see below.
  • There is a Masonic Lodge in Exeter, called "Lodge Semper Fidelis."

Lviv / Lwów[edit]

Grand Coat of Arms of Lwów, showing the motto

The motto "Semper fidelis" is applied to the city of Lviv (Latin: Leopolis; formerly Lwów in Polish) in 1658 by Pope Alexander VII in recognition of the city's key role in defending Europe from Muslim invasion. That same year, the Sejm (parliament) of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth passed the Semper fidelis Poloniae ["Ever Faithful to Poland"] Act (as most people construed the Latin phrase).

Both Leopolis and Exeter, in addition to sharing the same motto, featured a three-turreted castle on their coats-of-arms. This is apparently a coincidence.

Today, in Poland, the motto is referenced mainly in connection with the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1919 following the collapse of Austro-Hungary in the wake of World War I, and more especially in connection with the Polish-Bolshevik War that followed.

In Ukraine, the phrase is used much less, and refers to the survival of the Ukrainian Church through the period of Soviet persecution.

St. Malo[edit]

Modern arms of St. Malo, showing the motto

"Semper fidelis" is the motto of the town of St. Malo, in Brittany, France. The date of its adoption is not known, but it appears to have been in use in the 17th century,[11] replacing an earlier motto, "Cave canem".

Calvi[edit]

"Civitas Calvi Semper Fidelis" is the motto of the city of Calvi, Balagna area in Corsica for 500 years.

White Plains[edit]

"Semper Fidelis" is the motto of the city of White Plains, in New York, United States.

Martial[edit]

The Irish Brigade (France)[edit]

The first unit that used the motto was the Irish Brigade (France), raised in 1691 under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, which ended the war between King James II and King William III in Ireland. As the Irish army in exile, they served as part of the French army with the motto "Semper et ubique Fidelis" ("Always and Everywhere Faithful") in reference to their fidelity to the Catholic faith, King James II and their allies, the kings of France. Comprising five regiments, Walsh's regiment is noted for aiding the American cause in the American Revolution, when they were assigned as marines to John Paul Jones's ship, the Bonhomme Richard.[12] Their involvement and use of the motto may have influenced the adoption of the motto "Semper Fidelis" by later generations of their brother U.S. Marines.

The Devonshire Regiment and antecedents[edit]

The 1st (Exeter and South Devon) Rifle Volunteer Corps, raised in Exeter in 1852, was using the motto on its cap badge by 1860 at the latest; the Illustrated London News reported its use in its 7 January 1860 issue.[13] The motto was continued by The Devonshire Regiment of the British Army. In 1685 it was used by Duke of Beaufort when The Duke of Beaufort's Regiment of Foot, or Beaufort Musketeers, were raised to defend Bristol against the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion. It was numbered as the 11th Regiment of Foot when the numerical system of regimental designation was adopted in 1751. The motto was further continued on the badges of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment when the Devonshires were amalgamated into them in 1958. This use of the motto evidently derives from these regiments' close connection with the city of Exeter, where they had a base from their foundation (see the Illustrated London News article referenced above) until their disappearance by amalgamation in 2007.

The West Nova Scotia Regiment[edit]

WNSR Crest

"Semper fidelis" is the motto of The West Nova Scotia Regiment (of the Canadian Forces), formed in 1936. It inherited the motto from The Lunenburg Regiment, formed in 1870.

Cadet Corps of the Dutch Royal Military Academy[edit]

"Semper fidelis" is the motto of the cadets corps of the Dutch Royal Military Academy.[14] The corps was founded in 1898.[15]

11th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army[edit]

"Semper fidelis" is also the motto of the 11th Infantry Regiment, which was founded in May 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. It served as part of the Army of Ohio and later in the Indian wars, Spanish–American War, 1916 Mexican Border war, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam war. Today the regiment trains young Army officers at Fort Benning, Georgia.


The United States Marine Corps[edit]

The United States Marine Corps adopted the motto "Semper Fidelis" in 1883, on the initiative of Colonel Charles McCawley (January 29, 1827 – October 13, 1891), the 8th Commandant of the Marine Corps.[16]

There were three mottos prior to Semper Fidelis including Fortitudine (meaning "with courage") antedating the War of 1812, Per Mare, Per Terram ("by sea, by land"; presumably inherited from the British Royal Marines, whose motto it was previously), and, up until 1843, there was also the Marines' Hymn motto "To the Shores of Tripoli". "Semper fidelis" signifies the dedication and loyalty that individual Marines have for 'Corps and Country', even after leaving service. Marines frequently shorten the motto to "Semper Fi" /ˌsɛmpər ˈf/.

John Philip Sousa's Semper Fidelis March, performed by the U.S. Marine Band in June 1909.

Problems playing this file? See media help.
John Philip Sousa's Semper Fidelis March, performed by the U.S. Marine Band in 1989.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Portuguese Marine Corps[edit]

"Semper fidelis" is the motto of the Portuguese Marines (Fuzileiros).

Canadian Forces Base Valcartier[edit]

"Semper fidelis" is the motto of CFB Valcartier. The base was originally erected as a military camp in August 1914.

Swiss Grenadiers[edit]

The Swiss Grenadiers, first designated as such in 1943, and since 2004 forming a distinct Command in the Swiss Army, use the motto "Semper fidelis".[17]

Republic of China Marine Corps[edit]

"Semper Fidelis" (Chinese: 永遠忠誠) has been the motto of the Republic of China Marine Corps since April 1, 1947.

Hungarian Government Guard[edit]

"Semper Fidelis" has been the official motto of the Hungarian Government Guard since 28 August 1998.

Military Institute of Engineering, Brazilian Army[edit]

"Semper Fidelis" is the motto of the 1st company of the Brazilian Military Institute of Engineering.

Romanian Protection and Guard Service[edit]

"Semper Fidelis" is the motto of the Protection and Guard Service, a Romanian secret service concerned with the national security and personal security of officials in Romania.[18]

Submarine Force, Chilean Navy[edit]

"Semper Fidelis" is the motto of the Submarine Force of the Chilean Navy.

Schools[edit]

"Semper Fidelis" serves as the motto of a number of schools around the world:

Variants[edit]

B. Burke (1884) and Chassant & Tausin (1878), and other sources, list a number of similar mottos that appeared in family or city coats of arms in Great Britain, Ireland and France, though none was ever as popular as "Semper fidelis". They include:

  • Semper constans et fidelis ("Always constant and faithful"; Irton, Lynch, Mellor and Spoor families)
  • Semper fidelis esto ("Be always faithful"; Steele family, Henry de Lolière family Auvergne Nobili Tome III)[21]
  • Semper et ubique fidelis ("Always and everywhere faithful"; De Burgh family)
  • Semper fidelis et audax ("Always faithful and brave"; Moore and O'More families)
  • Semper fidelis, mutare sperno ("Always faithful, I scorn to change"; City of Worcester)
  • Semper Fidus ("Always faithful")

References[edit]

  1. ^ Burke, B. (1884). The general armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. London: Harrison, Page 1180
  2. ^ Project Burke[dead link]
  3. ^ Lodge, E. (1832). The genealogy of the existing British peerage. London: Saunders & Otley
  4. ^ Burke, J. (1836). The Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 2. London: Colburn.
  5. ^ Robson, T. (1830). The British Herald, Vol. 2. Sunderland: Author.
  6. ^ Chassant, A., & Taussin, H. (1878). Dictionnaire des devises historiques et héraldiques, Vol. 2. Paris: Dumoulin.
  7. ^ "Heralogic". Euraldic.com. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  8. ^ Louandre, F.-C. (1834). Histoire ancienne et moderne d'Abbeville et de son arondissement. Abbeville: Boulanger
  9. ^ Abbeville official website (in French)
  10. ^ Sanson, J. (Père Ignace de Jesus Maria) (1646), Histoire ecclésiastique de la ville d'Abbeville et de l'Archidiaconé de Ponthieu. Paris: Pelican.
  11. ^ Delaplaine, Wile E. "Endpoint & Oddities"
  12. ^ Irish Soldiers In the American Revolutionary War, see Irish Soldiers In the American Revolutionary War
  13. ^ [1][dead link]
  14. ^ [2][dead link]
  15. ^ "Militair ceremonieel rond de Koninklijke begrafenis van Prins Claus". Dodenakkers.nl. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  16. ^ Semper Fidelis placed on the Marine Corps Emblem in 1883, see Marine Corps Seal History
  17. ^ See information on the official Swiss armed forces website (in French)
  18. ^ "Serviciul de Protectie si Paza". Spp.ro. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  19. ^ "bloemhofschool.co.za". bloemhofschool.co.za. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  20. ^ Tierney, Stephen. "st-mary.blackpool.sch.uk". st-mary.blackpool.sch.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  21. ^ Nobiliaire d'Auvergne ... - Jean-Baptiste Bouillet - Google Livres. Books.google.fr. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 

External links[edit]