Like many other churches and civic buildings in the 17th century, the Royal Arms had a place in some part of the building. The Royal Arms in Christchurch are to be found over the corporation seat in the western gallery. These arms were probably put up in the late 1820’s or early 1830’s during the George Richard Pain renovations.
Description and explanation of the Arms
The main shield shows the arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland used during the rule of the Hanovers (George I, II, III, IV, William IV) from 1714-1837. The crest had some minor changes in its time. The coat of arms we see in Christchurch were those of the United Kingdom and Ireland from 1816-1837 during the reign of William IV.
The supporters of the crest are a crowned English lion and a Scottish unicorn with a crown around his neck. According to legend a free unicorn was considered a very dangerous beast and therefore the heraldic unicorn is chained. A Scottish thistle and an English rose rest on the motto. The crest consists of a helmet, crown and lion.
The main element of the Arms is the shield which is divided into four quarters:
- The first and fourth quadrants represent England and contain three gold lions on a red field;
- the second quadrant represents Scotland and contains a red lion on a gold field;
- the third quadrant represents Ireland and contains the gold harp of Ireland on a blue field.
Superimposed in the crest are the arms of Hanover which show:
- the two Lions of the Duchy of Brunswick
- the Lion of the Duchy of Luneburg with hearts
- the White Horse of the Duchy of Westphalia
- In the centre is Charlemagne’s gold crown of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Royal Arms feature the motto of English monarchs, Dieu et mon droit (God and my right). The motto refers to the divine right of the Monarch to govern and is said to have first been adopted as the royal motto of England by King Henry V in the 15th century. The motto is French for literally ‘God and my right.’ A better translation referring to the divine right of kings would be ‘My divine right’.
The motto of the Order of the Garter, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (Evil to him who evil thinks) is represented on the Garter belt behind the shield. The Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry or knighthood existing in England.
For the Royal coat of arms of the Kingdom of England to have a French rather than English motto was not unusual, given that Norman French was the primary language of the English Royal Court and ruling class following the rule of William the Conqueror of Normandy and later the Plantagenets.
Wales was recognised as a Principality by the creation of the Prince of Wales long before the incorporation of the quartering’s for Scotland and Ireland in the Royal Arms.