The Arms of Oxford University and its Colleges
By John P. Brooke-Little
Coat of Arms No. 5,6&7, January-July 1951

Most Colleges bear the Arms of their founder or founders undifferenced ; some, which were founded by bishops, such as Lincoln and Brasenose, incorporate the arms of their founder's See (a practice which could be condemned) whilst other episcopal foundations — New College and Magdalen for example — do not use the arms of their founders' bishoprics. Other Colleges have been granted arms which refer in some way either to the founder or some great benefactor, but, with a few curious exceptions, Colleges bear their founders' arms or the arms attributed to the founder.

Before describing the arms of the various colleges, which I shall do in alphabetical order, let us look at the Arms of the University. Oxford University was not founded by King Alfred any more than Cambridge owes its inception to Arthur, but may be said to have come into existence in the middle of the thirteenth century, and by the middle of the fifteenth century we find a representation of the well known coat of arms, azure, on an open book proper, leathered gules, garnished and having on the dexter side seven seals or, between three open crowns of the last, the words Dominus Illuminatio Mea. The words on the book have not always been the same and the present inscription, though it dates from the middle of the sixteenth century, was not universally used.

All Souls

Archbishop Chichele founded this college in 1437, six years before his death. The College uses the founder's arms; or, a chevron between three cinquefoils gules, which arms the Archbishop and his collateral descendants used, though the family was not previously armigerous, his father being a Northamptonshire yeoman. The College, which Chichele opened in the year of his death, was for a Warden and forty fellows, and, as they were enjoined to give themselves to prayer as well as learning, the College was called All Souls.

Balliol

This College, said by some to be the second oldest foundation, takes its name and arms from its founders John, Lord Balliol, and his wife Devorguilla, daughter of the Lord of Galloway. Balliol (or Baliol) gave his first endowment in 1263, but it was his wife who gave it its first statutes in 1269, after her husband's death. Devorguilla's arms are shown on the dexter side of the shield, azure a lion rampant argent, crowned or; as she was a great heiress she impaled her husband's arms, gules, an orle argent. Today, of course, her arms would be shown on an inescutcheon.

Brasenose

In 1507 Bishop Smith (or Smyth) of Lincoln, together with Richard Sutton, conceived the idea of founding a College and in 1509 the foundation stone of the new college was laid. The College which was built round Brasenose and other old halls, was called The King's College of Brasenose, now generally known as B.N.C. The rather complex arms show the arms of Smith's See of Lincoln surmounted by his mitre on a field of Gold in the centre, whilst on the dexter are his own arms, argent a chevron sable, between three roses gules, barbed and seeded proper, and on the sinister are Sutton's arms, argent a chevron between three bugle horns stringed sable, quartering, argent a chevron between three cross crosslets sable for South-worth. Sutton was the first layman to found a college.

Christ Church

"The House" was the project of Cardinal Wolsey (to be called Cardinal's College) but it was completed by Henry VIII and given its present name. The College arms are those granted to Wolsey, namely; sable, on a cross engrailed argent, a lion passant gules, between four leopards' faces azure (the cross and leopards' faces are from the arms of Ufford and de la Pole, some time Earls of Suffolk, which was Wolsey's county. The lion refers to Leo X who created him a Cardinal), then on a chief or, a rose gules barbed and seeded proper, between two Cornish choughs sable, beaked and membered gules (the rose is for England and the choughs are from the hypothetical arms of Wolsey's patron St. Thomas of Canterbury).

Corpus Christi

This little ' bee-hive' was founded by Bishop Foxe of Winchester and was the first outward manifestation of the arrival of the Renaissance at Oxford. The new college even appointed a lecturer in Greek! As in the arms of Brasenose, the arms of the founder's See are shown in the centre, in this case on an argent field, and his own arms, which, judging from the charge, were assumed by Foxe, are depicted on the dexter, azure, a pelican wings addorsed or, vulning herself proper. On the sinister are shown the arms of Hugh Oldham Bishop of Exeter, a benefactor. His arms are, sable a chevron or, between three owls argent, on a chief of the second, as many roses gules, barbed and seeded proper.

Exeter

This College was founded by Walter de Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter and was known at first as Stapledon Hall. The College uses Stapledon's arms, argent, two bendlets nebuly sable which are within a bordure sable charged with eight pairs of gold keys. The keys refer to the founder's bishopric of Exeter in the arms of which two gold keys are shown in saltire.

Hertford

Hart Hall was founded in 1282 by Elias de Hertford and the arms of Hertford College, gules, a stag's head caboshed argent, attired or, and between the horns a cross patty fitched at the foot of the last were taken from those appearing on the seal of the founder of Hart Hall. The Hall became a part of Exeter until in 1740 an enterprising don succeeded in obtaining a charter making the Hall into an independent College. However, sixty years later there was only one fellow left and as the buildings collapsed the College died until it was resurrected and established by Act of Parliament in 1874.

Jesus

In 1571 Queen Elizabeth founded Jesus College on the petition of Doctor Hugh Price. The arms used are a mystery as they do not resemble any arms borne by families of Price. Though the field is now vert and the stags argent, attired or, both an azure field and argent stags have been used.

Keble

In 1866 at a meeting at Lambeth Palace it was decided to erect a college at Oxford in memory of the great churchman and poet John Keble. Three years later Keble College was opened. The arms of the College are those of John Keble, namely, argent, a chevron engrailed gules, on a chief azure, three mullets pierced or.

Lincoln

Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln was responsible for founding this college in 1427. The arms show the arms of the See of Lincoln on an argent field in the centre compartment (as in the arms of Brasenose and Corpus) whilst the arms of the founder, barry of six argent and azure, in chief three lozenges gules, the third bar charged with a mullet pierced sable, are shown in the dexter compartment. This mullet was probably a cadency mark though at such an early date it is unlikely that it indicated a third son. The arms on the sinister side, vert three stags statant or, are those of Thomas Rotherham or Scott of Rotherham who re-endowed the College in 1478. Rotherham was also Bishop of Lincoln, and later Archbishop of York.

Magdalen

The founder of this College was William Patten or Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester. The arms of Patten, lozengy (or sometimes fusilly) ermine and sable are used by Magdalen with the addition of a chief sable, charged with three lilies argent, slipped and seeded or. This chief is supposed to have been added by Patten when he became Provost of Eton, for a lily occurs in the arms of that College. Magdalen was founded in 1458.

Merton

This College vies with Balliol for being the second college of the University. It was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester. The arms used by Merton College are those of the See of Rochester impaling Merton. The arms of the See are a St. Andrew's Cross gules (that Saint being patron of the diocese) on an argent field and an escallop shell or, on the saltire. The shell distinguished the See of Rochester from the Abbey, for their arms were otherwise identical. The arms of Merton are taken from the Clare arms (or, three chevronels gules) for two of the Clares helped in the foundation. The arms used by Merton were, or, three chevronels per pale azure and gules, the centre one counter-changed.

New College

William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, Chancellor of England, and one of the richest men of his day, obtained a Papal Bull for the endowment of Winchester College in 1378. In the following year he issued a charter for the foundation of "Seinte Marie College of Wynchestre in Oxen-forde," now known as New College. His College at Oxford was completed in 1386, and that at Winchester in 1394. Both foundations use the well known motto "Manners Makyth Man" and William's personal arms, 'argent, two chevronels sable between three roses gules, barbed and seeded proper.' The idea that the chevronels refer to the Bishop's two foundations is attractive but incorrect. William used these arms before either college had been founded.

Oriel

This College bears the Royal Arms of England, differenced by a bordure engrailed argent. The College was really founded in 1324 by Adam de Brome, but Edward II is the titular founder and hence the Royal Arms are used. The Bordure may have been chosen as a reference to Brome who bore a bordure engrailed argent, but in any case the Royal Arms would have to have some suitable mark of difference. The College was once known as King's Hall and has, at various times, absorbed both St. Mary's Hall and Bedel Hall.

Pembroke

Broadgates Hall was succeeded by Pembroke College which was founded by James I. in 1624 'at the costs and charges of Thomas Tesdale and Richard Wightwick.' The arms used were granted by Richard St. George in 1625. The lower part of the shield shows the arms of Herbert, Earls of Pembroke. ' per pale azure and gules, three lions rampant argent,' for at the time of foundation William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (the Earl who is suspected by some to be the Mr. W.H. of the Sonnets) was Chancellor of Oxford. The chief 'per pale argent and or, in the dexter a rose gules, barbed and seeded proper, and in the sinister a thistle of Scotland proper.' refer to James I.

Queen's

This College uses the canting arms of its founder. Robert de Eglesfield, 'argent, three eagles displayed gules, beaked and legged or, on the breast of the first, a mullet of six points of the last.' Robert was most probably of the armigerous family of Eglesfield, and the mullet may well be a mark of difference, though it is highly unlikely that it indicated a third house for such distinctions were not used in the middle of the 14th century. The " Hall of the Queen's Scholars of Oxford " was founded by Royal Charter in 1341. The Queen was Phillipa. and Robert was her chaplain, and she is sometimes regarded as co-founder. The present college buildings were built between 1672 and 1760, the old buildings having been demolished.

St. Edmund Hall

The founder of this Hall is supposed to have been Edward of Abingdon, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1233 to 1210. The arms used by the College are those attributed to the Archbishop, namely, ' or, a cross patonce gules, cantoned by four Cornish choughs proper.' The birds are variously referred to as sea-pies, oyster-catchers and Cornish choughs.

St. John's

The front quadrangle of St. John's used to be St. Bernard's College which was founded by Archbishop Chichele in 1437. The College came to an end in about 1546 and a few years later, in 1555, Sir Thomas White obtained a Royal Licence to found a college and purchased the buildings of St. Bernard's. The College was called after St. John the Baptist who was patron of the Merchant Taylors' Company of which Sir Thomas had been Master. The arms used by the College are those of Sir Thomas, 'gules, on a bordure sable, eight estoiles or, on a canton ermine, a lion rampant of the second, in chief an annulet of the third.' The annulet is probably a mark of difference.

Trinity

Durham College was founded in about 1286. It was for the Benedictine Monks of Durham and was a cell of that Monastery. In 1544 it was suppressed and eleven years later Trinity College was founded by Sir Thomas Pope, aided by his wife, and they used the old buildings of Durham College. Trinity uses the arms of its founder, "per pale or an azure, on a chevron between three griffins' heads erased four fleurs-de-lys, all counter-changed."

University

This is the senior College of the University and was founded, not by King Alfred, but by William Archdeacon of Durham in 1249. The buildings, however, are not old. The College originally bore the arms of the founder, " or, a fleur-de-lys azure, each leaf charged with a mullet of the field," but now the College uses the arms attributed to King Alfred and Edward the Confessor, namely, " azure, a cross patonce between five martlets or." The number of birds and the shape of the cross varies, but as the arms are hypothetical the matter would seem to be of little importance.

Wadham

Nicholas Wadham died before founding his College, but his purpose was carried out by his widow, Dorothy Wadham, formerly Petre. The foundation stone was laid on the site of the house of the Austin Friars in 1610, and the Society was founded in 1612. The arms used are those of Wadham, "gules, a chevron, between three roses argent, barbed and seeded proper," impaling Petre "gules, a bend or, between two escallops argent."

Worcester

Gloucester College was established in 1298 for Benedictine monks in the province of Canterbury, and was supported by the Benedictine monasteries, who were entitled to send students and maintain camerae there. Many of the 15th century camerae still exist and it is often possible to tell to which monastery they belonged by the arms on the walls. At the dissolution the buildings were sold, but were repaired, and in 1560 became Gloucester Hall. Then in 1714 Gloucester Hall became Worcester College, which was founded under the will of Sir Thomas Crookes, Bart. There has been some controversy regarding the tinctures used in the arms, which are those of the founder. According to the Visitation of Worcestershire the arms of Sir Thomas were " argent, two chevronels between six martlets, three, two and one gules," so presumably these are the correct tinctures and those which the College should use.

St Peter's Hall, St Peter’s College since 1961.

In 1947 St. Peter's Hall was given the full privileges of a College as a 'New Foundation.' St. Peter's becomes the senior ' New Foundation,' with St. Anthony's (founded this year and as yet without arms) next in order. St. Peter's Hall was granted arms in 1929, incorporating the Arms of the founder Bishop Francis James Chavasse and a device representing the church of St Peter-le-Bailey, now the College chapel. They are "per pale vert and argent, dexter two keys in saltire or, surmounted by a triple towered castle of the second, masoned sable; sinister, a cross gules, surmounted by a mitre of the third between four martlets sable, the whole within a bordure gold."

St Catherine's Society, St Catherine’s College since 1962.

This Society was originally a delegacy of the University and using the arms of the University with two differences : the words on the book have been changed to 'Sapientia et Felicitate ' and there was a canton argent, charged with a Catherine wheel gules. Formerly another shield was used indiscriminately with the one mentioned, but this shield (gules, on a bend argent, three Catherine wheels of the field) is now used only by the Boat Club. Neither of these coats have been granted. The College is currently using the device here appended.

Lady Margaret Hall

Lady Margaret Hall, St. Hilda's, St. Hugh's and Somerville, are the four women's colleges. L.M.H. was founded in 1878 and named after Henry VII.'s mother. It uses a coat of arms but has deliberately refrained from having it granted, on the grounds that all University Colleges are exempt from the Heralds' authority by virtue of a charter of Henry IV., confirmed by Henry VIII, and cited successfully at the visitation of 1634. The arms used are "or, on a chevron between in chief two talbots passant (for Bishop Talbot one of the founders) and in base a bell azure (from the arms of Wordsworth, Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth being the first Principal) a portcullis of the field (for Lady Margaret Beaufort)."

St Hilda's

Founded in 1893 was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1926. St. Hilda's has no arms but uses the device adopted at its incorporation. This device, designed by E. H. New. shows St. Hilda with her traditional symbols, a staff, serpent, book and church.

St Hugh's

This college uses the traditional arms of St. Hugh of Lincoln, based on those of Avallon in the Dauphiné, namely. " azure, a saltire ermine, between four fleurs-de-lys or." These arms have not been granted.

Somerville

This college was founded in 1879 and named after Mary Somerville. In 1892 the Somerville family allowed it to use their arms. The arms, which have never been granted, exemption being claimed on the same grounds as L.M.H., are " argent, three mullets in chevron reversed gules, between six crosses crosslet fitched sable."

Religious Foundations

There are many post-graduate foundations and other places for religious study in Oxford. Here we need only concern ourselves with those that use some armorial device. The most important is:

Campion Hall, Founded by public subscription in 1882, was named after George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of Lichfield, and uses his arms : Per pale gules and argent, a cross potent and quadrate between four crosses formy all countercharged (a version of the arms of the See of Lichfield), impaling. Argent a bend cotised sable thereon three gold annulets, and in chief a crescent gules, all within a bordure engrailed gules (for Selwyn).

St Benet's Hall

is primarily a house of studies for the Ampleforth community, and as it belongs to the Abbey it uses their arms. These arms were granted in 1912 and are " per fess dancetty or and azure, a chief per pale the dexter gules, charged with two keys in saltire wards in chief, that in bend or, the other argent, the sinister azure, a cross flory between five martlets or." The arms of the Confessor are used to illustrate the descent from Westminster which is claimed by the Benedictines.

Mansfield College,

which in fact is not a college but an establishment for training Congregational ministers, was endowed by a family of Mansfield and opened in Birmingham in 1889. It uses, without authority, the following arms, " gules, a bend cotised argent, between six crosses crosslet fitched or." Burke cites a family of Mansfield as bearing these arms, only with argent crosses crosslet but gives no further details. Another family of Mansfield bears the arms with the crosses crosslet or, but not fitched. This is a Yorkshire family. I can trace no connection between the family who endowed the College and the Yorkshire family.

I cannot end this series of articles without expressing my gratitude to the principals of the various Colleges, Halls, Societies and Institutions for the prompt, considerate and invaluable help that they have consistently given me. Without their co-operation my task would have been greatly magnified.