IC Reporter Issue 18 (9 - 22 January 1995) Staff Newspaper of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

IC Reporter


Brendan Molloy

I read with interest the article about the College identity (issue 14) and can provide some more information about the College arms.

Rather than a new crest, we now have a redrawing of the arms granted to the College in 1908. This means the approved drawing of the arms has changed, but the College arms have not. All older drawings of the College arms remain valid.

In fact, we do not have a crest at all, which is a device that sits on top of a helmet. A grant of arms by Royal Warrant, without a crest, is highly unusual and a special honour, making the College arms quite rare.

The College blazon - the description of arms - should read:

Per fess in chief quarterly 1st and 4th Gules three lions passant gardant in pale Or armed and langued Azure; 2nd Or lion rampant within a double tressure flory counter flory Gules; 3rd Azure a harp Or stringed Argent 'being our Royal and Imperial Arms' and in base Or an open book inscribed with the word SCIENTIA together with the motto SCIENTIA IMPERII DECUS ET TUTAMEN.

As in other disciplines the technical terms used in heraldry reflect the age in which they were coined, in this case Norman French. They translate as:

Per fess: divided in two, horizontally;

chief quarterly: top half divided into four;

base: bottom half;

lion passant gardent: lion with one front paw raised, his head looking forward out of the shield;

lion rampant: lion standing on one hind leg, his other legs pawing the air;

armed and langued: with claws and tongue;

in pale: arranged vertically;

tressure flory: border decorated with fleur-de-lis.

The colours used are Or: gold; Argent: silver; Gules: red; Azure: blue. In black and white versions of the College arms conventional heraldic shadings are used: Or: pattern of dots; Argent: white; Gules: vertical hatching; Azure: horizontal hatching. In recent years, members of the College have coloured in the black and white version of the College arms for use within computer networks. Unfortunately they have not removed the shadings. Such use is clearly wrong and should be discouraged.

The motto is based, in part, on Virgil. DECUS ET TUTAMEN is taken from the Aeneid (Book V, line 262). Aeneas and his followers have escaped the sack of Troy. Landing in Sicily Aeneas decides to hold games in honour of the anniversary of his father's death. The first event is a ship race. Aeneas is handing out prizes to the captains of the winning ships.

To him whose valor won him second place

A triple shirt of mail close-wrought with links

Of polished gold, a trophy of Aeneas'

Victory over Demoleos, near the river

Simoïs under Troy's high wall. This shirt

Aeneas gave to Mnestheus, as an honor,

And as protection in the wars to come.

[translation: Robert Fitzgerald]

Thus DECUS ET TUTAMEN translates as 'an honour and a protection'. The rest of the motto is deliberately ambiguous. SCIENTIA means 'knowledge' but is also intended as a pun on the English word 'science'. IMPERII could mean 'power', 'dominion over', 'universal', 'of the empire', 'of the state', or 'superior'; and again is intended as a pun on the English word 'imperial'.

Because of this ambiguity the full motto can be translated in many different ways. One translation could be: 'Dominion over science is an honour and a protection'. A more politically correct translation might be: 'Universal knowledge is beautiful and necessary'.

The emblems of the Royal College of Science and the Royal School of Mines have not been registered at the College of Arms. City and Guilds College uses the arms of the City of London by virtue of its association with the City and Guilds of London Institute. There is no significance attached to the shape of the shield used by the City and Guilds College.

Brendan Molloy is a senior analyst in the Centre for Computing Services.

(c) Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, 1995

Last Revised: 8 January 1995