Right to rule: boys trace the history of the School motto on visit to Hampton Court Palace

Right to rule: boys trace the history of the School motto on visit to Hampton Court Palace

While Year 8 boys learned much about the gulf separating the past from the present on their History trip to Hampton Court Palace, they did see one thing that was familiar – the royal motto, ‘Dieu et mon droit’.

Because QE was founded through a charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I, the School has the French phrase, which is the motto of the monarch of the United Kingdom, as part of its crest.

Said to have first been used as a battle cry by Richard I as long ago as the 12th century, it remains in use to this day. But why, the boys wondered, was it so prominent at Hampton Court – a palace built more than 300 years after the words were first spoken? The Chapel Royal there has it written on the ceiling no fewer than 32 times!

Head of History Helen MacGregor said the guide in the chapel had explained this to the visitors. The motto, meaning ‘God and my right’, refers to the divine right to rule. The first Tudor king, Henry VII, had come to power because he defeated Richard III in the Wars of the Roses; he thus had a rather dubious claim to the throne. The ubiquity of the motto at Hampton Court was, therefore, an attempt by Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, almost literally to stamp his authority on the newly built palace, which he had seized from Cardinal Wolsey. “The Tudors wanted to make sure everyone knew they were in control,” said Miss MacGregor.

Knowing that Latin was the lingua franca of the educated man in Europe in this period, the boys had also wondered why the motto was not in Latin, or even in English. “The answer is that French was the royal language of the rich – a legacy of the Norman Conquest – with only commoners speaking English.”

All of Year 8 went on the trip to the palace in south west London on the River Thames. The visit, which is split over two days, is arranged to complement Year 8’s study of Tudor England with particular attention to the Reformation.

The boys learned about diverse aspects of English Early Modern society, including the role of kings and queens, the lifestyle of people in different social classes and the architectural history of the palace itself.

Pupils also had the chance to explore more unusual aspects, such as the culinary history of Hampton Court. They found out about the elaborate dining rules, about the challenge of cooking for 600 people each day and about people’s dietary likes and dislikes in the period.

“This was a very good trip with lovely weather. The boys enjoyed the opportunity to make the connection between what they have been learning in lessons and this beautiful and fascinating historic location,” said Miss MacGregor.