Honi soit qui mal y pense (UK: / /, US: /- -/, French: [ɔni swa ki mal i pɑ̃s]) is a maxim in the Anglo-Norman language, a dialect of Old Norman French spoken by the medieval ruling class in England, meaning "shamed be whoever thinks ill of it", usually translated as "shame on anyone who thinks evil of it". It is the motto of the British chivalric Order of the Garter, the highest of all British knighthoods, except in Scotland.
According to Polydore Virgil's Anglica Historia, written in 1512–1513, 166 years after the event, the origin was a trivial mishap at a court function. King Edward III was dancing with Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law, at a ball held in Calais to celebrate the fall of the city after the Battle of Crécy. Her garter slipped down to her ankle, causing those around her to laugh at her humiliation. Edward placed the garter around his own leg, saying: "Honi soit qui mal y pense. Tel qui s'en rit aujourd'hui, s'honorera de la porter." ("Shame on anyone who thinks evil of it. Whoever is laughing at this [thing] today will later be proud to wear it."). Scholars typically consider this version to be apocryphal, as there are no contemporary sources for it, and as garters were not worn by women at that time.
According to David Nash Ford:
While Edward III may outwardly have professed the Order of the Garter to be a revival of the Round Table, it is probable that privately its formation was a move to gain support for his dubious claim to the French throne. The motto of the Order is a denunciation of those who think ill of some specific project, and not a mere pious invocation of evil upon evil-thinkers in general. "Shame be to him who thinks ill of it" was probably directed against anyone who should oppose the King's design on the French Crown.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The motto in Anglo-Norman, a dialect of Old Norman French spoken by the medieval ruling class in England, appears in the late 14th century Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as hony soyt qui mal pence, at the end of the text in the manuscript, albeit in a later hand. The poem is connected to the Order of the Garter. In the poem, a girdle, very similar in its erotic undertones to the garter, plays a prominent role. A rough equivalent of the Order's motto has been identified in Gawain's exclamation corsed worth cowarddyse and couetyse boþe ("cursed be both cowardice and coveting", v. 2374). While the author of the poem remains disputed, there seems to be a connection between two of the top candidates and the Order of the Garter, John of Gaunt, and Enguerrand de Coucy, seventh Sire de Coucy. De Coucy was married to King Edward III's daughter, Isabella, and was admitted to the Order of the Garter on their wedding day.
In English heraldry, the motto Honi soit qui mal y pense is used either as a stand-alone motto upon a motto scroll, or upon a circular representation of the Garter. Knights and Ladies of the Garter are entitled to encircle the escutcheon of their arms with the garter and motto (e.g. The 1st Duke of Marlborough).
The latter usage can also be seen in the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, with the motto of the royal arms, Dieu et mon droit, being displayed on a scroll beneath the shield. As part of the royal arms, the motto is displayed in many public buildings in Britain and colonial era public buildings in various parts of the Commonwealth (such as all Courts of England and Wales). The royal arms (and motto) appear on many British government official documents (e.g. the front of current British passports); on packaging and stationery of companies operating under Royal Warrant (e.g. the banner of The Times, which uses the royal coat of arms of Great Britain circa 1714 to 1800); and are used by other entities so distinguished by the British monarch (e.g. as the official emblem of the Royal Yacht Britannia).
Several military organisations in the Commonwealth incorporate the motto inscribed upon a garter of the order within their badges (or cyphers) and some use Honi soit qui mal y pense as their motto. Corps and regiments using the motto in this fashion are ('*' indicates usage as a motto in addition to inclusion in the badge):
- Also used on items, e.g., the baton, of the Society of High Constables of Edinburgh (founded 1611), along with the phrase ' nisi dominus frustra'.
- British Army: the Royal Horse Artillery; Household Cavalry Regiment; Life Guards (motto appears in the Garter Star representation worn on Life Guard officer's helmets rather than in the unit badge); Blues and Royals; Royal Engineers; Grenadier Guards*; Coldstream Guards; Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment; Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; and the Royal Logistic Corps (which in April 1993 became an amalgamation of the trades of five corps, which included the Royal Corps of Transport the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, The Royal Pioneer Corps, the Army Catering Corps and the Postal and Courier Services of the Royal Engineers, all of these forming Corps used the motto inscribed garter in their badge).
- Australian Army: the Royal Australian Engineers* (motto is one of two used); Royal Australian Army Service Corps (merged in 1973 into the newly raised RACT (and who did not use the motto), and the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps);
- Canadian Army: The Governor General's Horse Guards, The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Royal Montreal Regiment* and The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.
- New Zealand Army: the 6th Hauraki Infantry Regiment.
- It appears on in the lower half of the coverpage for the Coverdale Bible where it surrounds the coat of arms of Henry VIII.
- It appears in The King's School, Grantham coat of arms.
- It appears on several British military cap badges. The phrase is incorporated into the elaborate figurehead of HMS Victory, Horatio Nelson's flagship at the historic Battle of Trafalgar. Bounty mutineer James Morrison had the motto with a garter tattooed around his left leg, according to William Bligh's Notebook.
- It is a motto for many schools and educational institutions; the title of the University of Sydney student newspaper, Honi Soit, is derived from the motto.
- It appears in a number of literary works, including Robert Anton Wilson's Masks of the Illuminati, Robert A. Heinlein's Friday, Bernard Malamud's The Natural, Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act V, Scene V), Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (Introduction to "The Pains of Opium"), Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (Part 1, Chapter 17), Harold Brodkey’s short story “The Nurse’s Music,” and at the end of the late 14th-century Middle English Arthurian romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
- It appears in the stage directions of Giuseppe Verdi's Falstaff, libretto by Arrigo Boito, in Act 3, scene 1, where it is written above the door at the Garter Inn.
- It appears in the comments of the Apollo Guidance Computer assembly source code for the master ignition routine of the Lunar Module.
- It is sung in full as the chorus of John Cale's song "Honi Soit (La Première Leçon de Français)" featured on the 1981 album Honi Soit.
- It appears in the staff used by the Usher of the Black Rod of the Parliament of Canada. It also figures on the cap badge of the Royal Montreal Regiment.
- It is incorporated in the coat of arms of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome
- It is used as the motto of The Blue Book, a guide to prostitutes in Storyville, New Orleans published 1895-1915.
- It appears as a comment in the source code for the Apollo 11 Lunar Module's master ignition routine.
- It appears on the entry gates to pop star Michael Jackson's Neverland estate.
- It is a motto of the Fort Henry Guard, of Kingston, Ontario, and appears on the Shako worn by the guard.
In popular culture
In series 1 episode 1 of Brush Strokes, Jacko uses the phrase when talking to Lionel in his office.
In the film Richard III (1955), the phrase can be seen written on a ribbon attached to Richard's greaves.
- Dieu et mon droit, the motto of the monarch of the United Kingdom for use outside Scotland
- In My Defens God Me Defend, the motto of the monarch of the United Kingdom for use in Scotland
- Nemo me impune lacessit, the motto of the Order of the Thistle
- Ich dien, the motto on the Prince of Wales's feathers
- Quis separabit?, the motto of the Order of St Patrick
- "Honi soit qui mal y pense - French expressions analyzed and explained". About Education. About.com. Archived from the original on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
- It is sometimes translated with masculine gendering: as in "May he be shamed who thinks badly of it" ("honi soit qui mal y pense, n". OED Online. Oxford University Press. December 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2015.) However, although grammatically honi (in today's French honni) is masculine, conventionally masculine was the default gender to use during the Anglo-Norman period, when talking about someone whose gender is unknown or unspecified, so that technically females are not excluded from the application of the phrase. Honni and the feminine form honnie sound exactly the same; likewise tel (feminine, telle) below.
- "College of St George – Windsor Castle – The Order of the Garter". College of St George – Windsor Castle. Archived from the original on 15 July 2017. Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Lawne, Penny (2015). Joan of Kent: The First Princess of Wales. Amberley Publishing Limited. pp. 161–162. ISBN 9781445644714. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
- "Berkshire History: The Order of the Garter". Berkshirehistory.com. 2001. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
- Cotton Nero A.x 128v
- Waldron, Ronald Alan, ed. (1970). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-8101-0328-3. OCLC 135649.
- Friedman, Albert B.; Osberg, Richard H. (1997). "Gawain's Girdle as Traditional Symbol". The Journal of American Folklore. American Folklore Society. 90 (157): 301–315. doi:10.2307/539521. JSTOR 539521.
- Savage, Henry L. (1938). "Sir Gawain and the Order of the Garter". ELH. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 5 (2): 146–149. doi:10.2307/2871614. JSTOR 2871614.
- Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1996). "XXXVI Official Heraldic Insignia". Complete Guide to Heraldry (1996 ed.). Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. pp. 583–84. ISBN 1-85326-365-6.
A Knight of the Garter has: (1) His Garter to encircle the shield ...
- An example of the full heraldic blazon description is provided in "Official Lineages Volume 3, Part 2: The Royal Regiment of Canada". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
[A] garter Azure fimbriated buckled and inscribed HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE in letters Or(A blue garter with gold edges, gold buckle and inscription HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE in gold letters.) However, simplified blazons are also used.
- Robson, Thomas (1830). The British Herald, or Cabinet of Armorial Bearings of the Nobility & Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume I. Sunderland: Turner & Marwood. p. 401 (CHU-CLA).
- "Scissors for Lefty review in The Times". Scissors for Lefty website. Scissors for Lefty. 5 January 2007. Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012. Banner image for The Times;
- "Coats of Arms". Official Website of the British Monarchy. The Royal Household (2008-09). Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Artillery Heritage". Southern Gunners website. Royal New Zealand Artillery Association. 25 December 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- Wilkinson-Latham, Robert (2006). Discovering British Military Badges and Buttons (Third ed.). Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire: Shire Books. p. 25. ISBN 0-7478-0484-2.
- "Welcome". Presenting the Household Cavalry Regiment ... Everything You Wanted to Know! website. Peter J Ashman. 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Corps of Royal Engineers Badges and Emblems". British Army website. British Army. 2012. Archived from the original on 22 June 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "The Grenadier Guards". The Grenadier Guards website. The Grenadier Guards. 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment". British Army website. British Army. 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – Regimental History". British Army website. British Army. 2012. Archived from the original on 5 September 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Royal Logistic Corps". British Army website. British Army. 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Royal Army Service Corps & Royal Corps of Transport Association". RASC & RCT Association website. RASC & RCT Association. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Who we are – The Royal Australian Engineers". The Australian Army website. The Australian Army. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Royal Australian Army Service Corps". Digger History website. Digger History. Archived from the original on 17 September 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "Who we are – The Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps". The Australian Army website. The Australian Army. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- Personnel, Government of Canada, National Defence, Chief Military. "Armour, Artillery and Field Engineer Regiments - ARMOUR REGIMENTS - THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S HORSE GUARDS". Cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
- "Official Lineages Volume 3, Part 2: The Royal Regiment of Canada". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
- "Official Lineages Volume 3, Part 2: The Royal Montreal Regiment". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces. 9 September 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
- Army, Government of Canada, National Defence, Canadian. "1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery -1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Unit- Canadian Army". forces.gc.ca. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
- "Sixth Hauraki Battalion Group". New Zealand Army Reserve Website. New Zealand Army. 10 June 2009. Archived from the original on 19 February 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
- "200 invalid-request". Kings.lincs.sch.uk.
- "Fatefulvoyage.com". Fatefulvoyage.com. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
- "Source code for the Apollo 13 lunar module's guidance computer". Ibiblio.org. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
- "Scan of source code page731 for the Apollo 11 (Luminary099) lunar module guidance computer". Ibiblio.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021.
- rightnowORneverever (26 January 2011). "John Cale "Honi Soit (Le Première Leçon de Français)"". YouTube. Archived from the original on 20 January 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
- "Abbazia di San Paolo fuori le mura". Archived from the original on 28 January 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
- "Blue Book Gallery | Storyville: New Orleans". Storyvilledistrictnola.com. Retrieved 6 November 2021.
- "chrislgarry/Apollo-11". Github.com. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
- "Neverland partie 3: l'Entrée du ranch - on Michael Jackson's footsteps". Archived from the original on 2 May 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
- "Fort Henry Guard Club of Canada - Home". Archived from the original on 10 August 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.