Luctor et Emergo

Crest of ‘Luctor et Emergo’ at the provincial administration building in Zeeland.

Do you have a favorite motto, phrase or mantra that keeps you positive or motivated? Maybe it’s something from a favorite book, or a quote from someone you admire. I have many of these: ‘Stay calm and carry on,’ ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going,’ and of course, ‘when life gives you a lemon, make lemonade!’ You can find them on T-shirts, wall art, and instagram posts the world over. They may seem trivial, but of course the right phrase or mantra can help individuals and communities stay focused and overcome challenges.

A side street in Vlissingen, a fishing town in Zeeland.

‘Luctor et Emergo’: I struggle and come out on top, is the motto of the Dutch province of Zeeland. Many people think it refers to the centuries-long fight between the Dutch and the sea, which surrounds this flat coastal province, but it actually came from the efforts of the Dutch to become independent from their Spanish oppressors in the late 1500s.

The beach at Vlissingen

This phrase is part of a longer quote that essentially says: “with the help of God and the queen, we’ll come out on top.” In this case, the queen they were referring to was Queen Elizabeth I of England. Since the young and aspiring Dutch nation had no royals of their own, they appealed to Elizabeth for help in overcoming the Spanish, and that help was granted. They subsequently penned an ode to her greatness, from which ‘Luctor et Emergo’ still remains. It became an inspiring motto for the people of Zeeland and part of the provincial coat of arms in 1586.

In time, the original meaning of the phrase became lost, as it became the rally cry for fighting back the sea in times of flooding. This region of the Netherlands, so flat and low, has suffered immensely through the centuries from storms and flooding, damaging farms and villages and drowning residents. Luckily, modern technology in the form of a sea wall now keeps the area mostly safe from the ravages of the angry sea.

The phrase Luctor et Emergo is still useful and rallying today as a symbol of regional pride and strength. And why not? Anyone can benefit from the call to rise against challenges, right?

The phrase ‘Luctor et Emergo’ and the province of Zeeland, Netherlands appear in The Witch of Drontenburg, by V M Karren. Click on the image to read an excerpt.

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