Semper fidelis

Semper fidelis

[sem-per fi-dey-lis; Eng. sem-per fi-dey-lis, -dee-]
"Semper Fidelis" is Latin for "Always faithful." Best known to Americans as the motto of the United States Marine Corps (often "Semper Fi" (Pronunciation: sɛm pər ˈfаɪ) for short), this phrase has served as a slogan for many families and entities, in many countries, dating at least as far back as the 14th century. Within the groups below, users are listed in chronological order according to when they are believed to have adopted the motto; however, in many cases dates of adoption are not well established.

Families and Individuals

  • Lynch family (Ireland): Semper Fidelis is the family motto of the Lynch Family. The Lynches were one of the Tribes of Galway who were fourteen merchant families who dominated the political, commercial, and social life of the city of Galway in western Ireland between the 13th and 16th centuries. Members of the 'Tribes' were considered Old English gentry, and distinguished themselves from the Gaelic peoples who lived in the hinterland of the city. The Lynches were descended from William Le Petit who was one of the Norman knights who settled in Ireland following the grant of Ireland as a fiefdom by Pope Adrian IV to King Henry II of England in the early 12th century. Semper Fidelis appears on the Lynch Family coat of arms. Although the earliest traceable reference to its doing so is James Hardiman's history of Galway published in 1820, the history of the family makes it likely that the motto was in use by the 14th or 15th century.
  • Edge family (England): The Edge family of Strelley, Nottinghamshire, were using the motto "Semper fidelis" by, at the latest, 1814 (see UK National Archives document reference DD/E/209/32-34).



The City of Exeter, in Devon, England, has used the motto since at least 1660, when it appears in a manuscript of the local chronicler, Richard Izacke. Izacke claimed that the motto was adopted in 1588, to signify the city's loyalty to the English Crown. According to Izacke, it was Queen Elizabeth I who suggested that the city adopt this motto (perhaps in imitation of her own motto, Semper eadem, "Ever the same"); her suggestion is said to have come in a letter to "the Citizens of Exeter," in recognition of their gift of money toward the fleet that had defeated the Spanish Armada. John Hooker's map of Exeter of around 1586 shows the city's coat of arms without the motto, suggesting that the city's use of the motto is no older than this. However the city archives do not hold any letter relating to the motto, and Grey (2005) argues that the Elizabethan origin of the motto may be no more than a local myth, since it is not recorded in contemporary chronicles, and that it may have been adopted at the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy to compensate for the city's less than total loyalty to the crown during the English Civil War.

  • The motto is also used by the Royal Navy warship HMS Exeter, which is named after the City of Exeter.
  • The motto has been used by various Exeter-based units of the British Army, see below.
  • There is a Masonic Lodge in Exeter, called "Lodge Semper Fidelis."


The motto "Semper fidelis" is applied to the Ukrainian city of Lviv (in Latin, "Leopolis"; formerly Lwów in Polish) in 1658 by Pope Alexander VII in recognition of the city's key role in defending Europe from Muslim invasion. That same year, the Sejm (parliament) of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth passed the Semper fidelis Poloniae ["Ever Faithful to Poland"] Act (as most people construed the Latin phrase).

Curiously, both Leopolis and Exeter, in addition to sharing the same motto, featured a three-turreted castle on their coats-of-arms. This is apparently a coincidence.

Today, in Poland, the motto is referenced mainly in connection with the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1919, following the collapse of Austro-Hungary in the wake of World War I, and more especially in connection with the Polish-Bolshevik War that followed.

In Ukraine, the phrase is much less used, in reference to the survival of the Ukrainian Church through the period of Soviet persecution.

St. Malo

"Semper fidelis" is the motto of the town of St. Malo, in Brittany, France; the date of its adoption is not known, but it appears to have been in use in the 17th century

White Plains

"Semper Fidelis" is the motto of the city of White Plains, in New York, United States.


The Devonshire Regiment and antecedents

The 1st (Exeter and South Devon) Rifle Volunteer Corps, raised in Exeter in 1852, was using the motto on its cap badge by 1860 at the latest; the Illustrated London News reported its use in its 7th January 1860 issue The motto was continued by The Devonshire Regiment of the British Army, the 11th of foot, on its formation from the South and North Devon militias in 1881. The motto was further continued on the badges of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment when the Devonshires were amalgamated into them in 1958. This use of the motto evidently derives from these regiments' close connection with the city of Exeter, where they had a base from their foundation (see the Illustrated London News article referenced above) until their disappearance by amalgamation in 2007.

The West Nova Scotia Regiment

Semper fidelis is the motto of The West Nova Scotia Regiment (of the Canadian Forces), formed in 1936. It inherited the motto from The Lunenburg Regiment, formed in 1870.

Cadetcorps of the Dutch Royal Military Academy

Semper fidelis is also the motto of the cadets corps from the Dutch Royal Military Academy. The corps was founded in 1879.

The United States Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps adopted the motto Semper Fidelis in 1883, on the initiative of Colonel Charles McCawley (January 29 1827October 13 1891), the 8th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

There were three mottos prior to Semper Fidelis including "Fortitudine" (meaning "with courage") antedating the War of 1812, "Per Mare, Per Terram" ("by sea, by land"; presumably inherited from the British Royal Marines, whose motto it already was), and, up until 1843, there was also the motto "To the Shores of Tripoli". "Semper fidelis" signifies the dedication and loyalty that individual Marines have for "Corps and Country", even after leaving service. Marines frequently shorten the motto to "Semper Fi".

Canadian Forces Base Valcartier

Semper fidelis is the motto of CFB Valcartier. The base was originally erected as a military camp in August 1914.

Swiss Grenadier Regiment

Semper fidelis is the motto of a Swiss Grenadier regiment formed in 1943. There was no Grenadier Regiment in 1943. The Grenadiers only formed one company in each infantry regiment.

The Republic of China Marine Corps

Semper Fidelis (Chinese:永遠忠誠) is the motto of the Republic of China Marine Corps since April 1, 1947.

Hungarian Government Guard

Semper Fidelis is the official motto of the Köztársasági Őrezred since 28 August 1998.

Military Institute of Engineering, Brazilian Army

Semper Fidelis is the motto of the 1st company of the Brazilian Military Institute of Engineering.

Serviciul de Protecţie şi Pază

The Romanian Protection and Guard Service, an organisation which is concerned about national security and personal security of officials in Romania.

Submarine Force, Chilean Navy

Semper Fidelis is the motto of the Submarine Force of Chilean Navy.


In December 1989, Marvel Comics released a monthly comic book called Semper Fi - Tales of the Marine Corps. This publication lasted for 9 issues.

R. Lee Ermey ended all of his shows of Mail Call on The History Channel by saying "Semper Fi, Carry On".

The main character Leroy Jethro Gibbs of the TV series NCIS says "Semper Fi" in various episodes.

Special agent Graham Kelton of the TV series Vanished has a "Semper Fi" bumper sticker on his SUV.

Quote from the movie Doom – Sarge: Semper Fi, Motherfucker! Faithful to the corps John.

At the end of Call of Duty 4, there is an old photograph of the player's old teammates with their arms around each other's shoulders, with "Semper Fi" written on the top-right corner of the picture.

In the video game Metal Gear Solid 2, the character Solid Snake, while disguised as a Navy Seal, says "Semper Fi..." to a bomb disposal specialist before going out to defuse bombs on the Big Shell. The specialist then says, "That man is no Seal. Semper Fi... that's Marine Corps talk."

In the US television show "Prison Break," Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell uses his severed, and recently re-attached, hand to explain that he was part of the "Corps." They exchange "Semper fi" several times with each other as a sign of loyalty as a shortened form of the motto for the USMC.

In the US television show "Las Vegas," Danny McCoy exchanges "Semper fi" with a fellow marine and his Drill Sergeant in two different episodes.



  • Grey, T. (2005). The Chronicle of Exeter. Exeter: The Mint Press. ISBN 1-903356-42-3
  • Lethbridge, Tony (2005). Exeter: a history and guide (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing), ISBN 0-7524-3515-9

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