Sunday, April 9, 2017

ARMS: Lincoln College, Oxford (Updated March 22, 2018)

The three-part Lincoln arms: Bishops
Fleming and Rotherham flank the
arms of the See of Lincoln. In this
version the stags are statant and or,
which seems to be a dual error.
Blazon: Tierced per pale (1) Barry of six argent and azure in chief three lozenges gules on the second bar of argent a mullet pierced sable (2) Argent thereon an escutcheon of the arms of the See of Lincoln gules two lions passant guardant in pale or on a chief azure the Blessed Virgin Mary ducally crowned seated on a throne issuant from the chief on her dexter arm the infant Jesus and holding in her sinister hand a scepter or the escutcheon ensigned with a mitre proper azure garnished and stringed or (3) Vert three stags statant [?] argent attired or. This form of the blazon is from the Visitation by the College of Arms of 1574 (Coll. Arms H6.14), discussed below.

Nominees: Each of the three arms combined in this unusually tierced per pale (divided vertically into three parts) shield refers to each of the nominees. (1) The arms of Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln, who founded the College in 1427. (2) The arms of the See of Lincoln (not the Cathedral, as it is listed in some places). The corporate designation of the College is "The Warden or Rector and Scholars of the College of the Blessed Mary and All Saints, Lincoln, in the University of Oxford, commonly called Lincoln College."(3) The arms of Thomas Rotherham (also known as Scot de Rotherham), Bishop of Lincoln, and later Archbishop of York and Lord High Chancellor of England, who re-endowed the College in 1478.

 1. Below left, mullet is not pierced. 2. Top,
miter is shown from an angle. 3. Right,
in another version, used by Jesus
 College, the stags are trippant, not
statant; and argent attired or, not or.

Authorities: The Lincoln coat of arms was confirmed in 1574 by Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant, on a Visitation to  the University. He caused some subsequent controversy by his "boldness" in aggressively confirming the Lincoln arms (Landon, 1893, p. 156, cited by Clark, 1895, p. 334). The Lincoln College accounts show Lee received 20 shillings for his hard, if arguably misguided, work. The arms were confirmed by three subsequent heraldic visitations. Nonetheless, the arms have been displayed inconsistently. The 1574 blazon shows the stags statant (all four legs on the ground), whereas the Rotherham's authenticated portrait shows them trippant (with one front leg up), as well as argent (attired or, i.e., with antlers and hooves or), not or. It is also the form of the stags in the Jesus College arms, which while not granted by the College of Arms have their own authority by length of use. Components of the arms may have been changed or invented by the impetuous Lee. In 1920 the College of Arms submitted an authoritative coat of arms, modifying what had been in use, and perhaps this should be definitive. (Because the arms are complex, this discussion follows the example of other blazon sources by using three numerals to divide the Lincoln College blazon and arms. However, using any punctuation in a blazon is incorrect even today, according to Windsor Herald in response to my question in 2015. Mea culpa.)

Those aren't lozenges gules in chief. They
look like a bird gules between two roses
gules in chief. Portrait of Bishop Fleming.
Variations: All three sections of the arms have been queried.

(1) The mullet in the original arms of Bishop Fleming is not pierced, but the college arms are; if a mistake was made, in 1574 or earlier, it endures to this day. Brooke-Little (1951), founder of the Heraldry Society and an alumnus of New College, Oxford has commented on the mullet. He served as Richmond Herald in 1967, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms in 1980, and Clarenceux King of Arms in 1995; he died in 2006. In his 1951 articles, he says the mullet is "probably a cadency mark", though he does not think that as of 1574 it indicated a third son. One version of Bishop Fleming's arms on his portrait has instead of three lozenges in chief, and what seems to be a bird gules between two roses gules. 
But this portrait of Bishop Fleming has it
the way it is in the Lincoln College arms.
Note mullet is not pierced. 
(2) The use of arms of the See of Lincoln, in the center pale creates a complex coat of arms and is condemned by some authorities. It embodied in the other two tiered shields of  Brasenose and Corpus. Multiple versions of the Virgin Mary and Babe have emerged, and an incorrect version showing a demi-lady has been common. The field of the center pale has sometimes been shown incorrectly as azure rather than argent.

One issue to raise here is that the Virgin and Child device on the Lincoln College (and Brasenose College) arms is overly compressed in every version that is posted or widely available. In this size it is difficult or impossible to decipher the device without the blazon. Perhaps a heraldic artist could come up with an easier-to-decipher form of the charge. As of March 2018, Lee Lumbley is trying his hand at this. The precedent of Merton, which recently updated its arms, may be helpful in moving toward cleaner college arms.

(3) Bishop Thomas Rotherham's coat of arms on his authenticated portrait in Lincoln College's Hall shows three stags trippant and argent on vert, but the college arms show them statant and or.  The authoritative Brooke-Little showed the disputed stags as statant in his 1951 article. This must be considered a rare error when presented with the evidence from the portrait.

Bishop Rotherman portrait. Stags are
trippant, argent
Similarity to Jesus College Arms. Lincoln and Jesus are neighbors on Turl Street ("the Turl"), of which the joke is often told: "Q. How is the Church of England like Turl Street?" "A. It runs from the High to the Broad and it has Jesus." An American tourist is said to have entered Lincoln College after the Civil War and asked the porter: "Say, is this Jesus?" To which the porter replied: "You aren't the first person, sir, to confuse Lincoln with Jesus." The Jesus College arms are blazoned Vert three stags trippant argent attired or, which is the same as, or close to, the sinister section of the Lincoln arms. The earliest depiction of the Jesus arms was thought to be about 1590, in a document held by the College of Arms, referring to the stags as having a blue (azure) field, but Peter Donoghue, Bluemantle Pursuivant, reports the arms were more likely added 90 years later, on John Speed’s 1605 Map of Oxfordshire, with a blue field. The green field first appeared in 1619 in an armorial quarry painted by one of the Van Linge brothers, and was generally used by 1730, although horizontal hatchings (indicating azure) were still used on college bookplates as late as 1761.
Bishop Rotherman; another

It has been claimed that Jesus stole the three stags from Lincoln, but the counter-argument is that the origins of each are distinct. Lincoln Rector Paul Langford has suggested that Jesus College continued the arms adopted by a theological college founded by Rotherham in his home town – Jesus College, Rotherham – which had been suppressed in the time of Edward VI. Another theory is that the stags derive from the arms of Maud Green, Lady Parr, mother of Catherine Parr, last of the six wives of Henry VIII and stepmother to Elizabeth I. The most likely story is that the arms of the College are those of Bishop Rotherham, and John Speed saw them on Lawrence Hall in Ship Street, given to Rotherham in 1476 and leased to Jesus College in 1572. Speed probably assumed the arms to be those of the College when drawing his map in 1605. The Jesus arms could not be confused with those of Lincoln College, because as of 1574 Lincoln's tripartite shield was confirmed by Portcullis Pursuivant.


Nelson Ong, alumnus of Lincoln College; Prof. Henry Woudhuysen, Rector; and Windsor Herald, May 2017.


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

Clark, Andrew, Heraldry of Oxford Colleges," Archaeologica Oxoniensis, II, April 1895, pp. 333-336.

Landon, Perceval, "Notes on the Heraldry of the Oxford Colleges," Archaeologica Oxoniensis, III and IV (July and Oct 1893), esp. pp. 143, 156, 199, 206.

Lincoln College, Website,

Warner, Stephen A., Lincoln College Oxford (London: Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd., 1908), pp. 38, 38A. Free Google Books edition Warner consulted the Bodleian, the British Museum library, and the libraries of Queen's College, Oxford and Caius and Sidney Sussex Colleges at Cambridge.

Wikipedia entry on Jesus College, section on Coat of Arms.

Related Links

Punting at Oxford . History of Thames Rowing .  Head of the Charles (Harvard) . Boat Club Blazers . Coats of Arms of Oxford Colleges . Arms as Brands . The Joy of Heraldry .  Coat of Arms vs. Crest . Sinister Questions . Visit to the College of Arms . Windsor Herald in NYC . Shaming of Harvard Law Arms . The Expansion of Oxford's Colleges . Oxford Stars . Heraldry Superlink . Harris Manchester College . Lincoln College Linacre College . St Catherine's . St Cross College . St Edmund Hall . St Peter's College . Trinity College . Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall

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