I have looked at many universities and seen how in English speaking countries, their mottoes tend to be written in Latin. What was the first college/university in an English-speaking nation-state (England, Ireland, etc.) to use Latin for their motto and what was their reasoning for doing this?

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    Latin is most common, but there is an affinity for prestige non-English languages. For example, the motto of Stanford University is in German. (Der Wind der Freiheit weht.)
    – C Monsour
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 23:29

1 Answer 1


The oldest universities in today's English-speaking world are Oxford and Cambridge, having mottoes Dominus illuminatio mea, "The Lord is my light", and Hinc lucem et pocula sacra, "From here, light and sacred draughts". These mottoes, as LangLangC pointed out, are not as old as the universities themselves. Mottoes often accompany coats of arms, which the two universities acquired in the 16th century.

Why are they in Latin? Latin was not only a prestige language, but the language of academia and learning throughout the Middle Ages and indeed into the Modern Era. Putting the motto of an establishment of learning in a vulgar local tongue would hardly have made sense at the time. Knowledge of Latin was an entrance requirement at Oxford up until 1960, according to Wikipedia.

NB that the royal motto of England itself, Dieu et mon droit, is older and in French.

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    It should be noted that that motto in this purpose form or use is not as old as the university itself. In fact, is it even older than for Universitas Cantabrigiensis? Commented May 1, 2020 at 20:36
  • @LangLangC Good catch! Edited accordingly. Commented May 1, 2020 at 21:59
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    It's not just that Latin was the language of academia, since many mottos on coats of arms &c were in Latin. (And are still, my personal favorite being the motto of the Dortmunder clan: "Quid lucrum istic mihi est?")
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 3:07
  • @LаngLаngС "motto in this purpose form or use" makes it sound like there was an earlier motto. The university only received its coat of arms late 16th c, about the same time this motto was adopted.
    – Hasse1987
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 21:51

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