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Three Cyphers and Their Royal Origins

Cyphers are customized designs that identify the person for whom they were created. Royal cyphers for the families of British monarchs have been designed for over five centuries by the heralds of the College of Arms in London, which was established by King Richard III in 1484. These personal devices usually include the initials of the person and have traditionally been impressed upon Royal or state documents, duty stamps, legal documents and personal correspondence. (A variation of this form of identification can be found in desktop embossers from stationery stores, which people use to imprint their monograms into books.)

Photo of cypher

Three cyphers carved out of Indiana limestone adorn the Speaker's chambers: one above the door to the outer office; and one over each of two doors facing the dining room4. The first is the royal cypher of King George V, the paternal grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, and features the initials G R (George Rex) along with a Royal Crown; the second belonged to Her Majesty Queen Mary and displays the initials M R (Mary Regina) with the Crown of a Queen; the third was that of Edward, Prince of Wales and includes the Plumes of the heir to the throne emerging from a coronet as well as the motto ICH DIEN ("I Serve").5

4 There is a fourth carving over the door to the Speaker's office which represents a coronet of British princess. It does not relate to a particular sovereign.


5 It is common belief that Ich dien finds its roots in the Battle of Crécy in 1346. King Jan of Bohemia sided with the French against the victorious English, early in the Hundred Years' War. King Jan was killed, and young Prince Edward, the Black Prince, was so impressed with his rival's valour that he may well have adopted his German motto. Another theory exists, however: in Welsh legend, King Edward I promised the people of Wales he would provide them with a son who would not be English-speaking. When Edward of Caernarvon was born, the King presented him to the assembly and said in Welsh: "Eich dyn" (Behold the man).

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