Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Just Passed 50,000 Page Views - Thanks! (Top Posts)

Thank you for reading this Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race blog. Average readership is 550 Page Views per post.
Top Posts on this Blog, All Time

Why Did Hitler Not Bomb Oxford? Jun 8, 2013

Obit - Peter V. Darrow (1950-2013) May 20, 2013, 2 comments

Top Posts, Last Month Only

Jun 8, 2013

Nov 21, 2014

Nov 23, 2014

Oct 28, 2014

Nov 22, 2014

Nov 19, 2014

Nov 5, 2014

Nov 21, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

HERALDRY: Douglas, Moray, de Vere (Updated Mar 24, 2017)

Coats of arms of the Douglas (L) and Moray-
Murray Clans, both descended from Flemish 
settler Freskin. Note three five-pointed 
silver (argent) stars on a blue (azure) field.
My quest for origins of the stars in the American Stars and Stripes has led me to the Douglas and Murray families (clans) of Scotland.

Their shields of white (argent) stars on a blue (azure) background best suggest the canton in the Stars and Stripes.

The blue field could well have come from the blue of Scotland's St. Andrew's saltire.

But what inspired the five-pointed stars? In pursuit of answers to this question I may be traveling to Yorkshire, Berwick-on-Tweed and Edinburgh in the near future. If you have suggestions for this visit, please contact me at teppermarlin@aol.com.

Origins of the Douglas and Moray Families

Both the Douglas and the Moray families descended from Flemish noblemen from Boulogne (once part of Greater Flanders):
  1. Eustace II (c. 1015-c.1087), a companion of William the Conqueror, whose descendants include the Earls of Buchan via Robert de Comines. The two-line border (double-tressure) around the Buchan escutcheon suggests Flemish ancestry.
  2. Freskin, one of many emigrants from Flanders who in the mid-12th century, settled in Scotland, mostly in West Lothian (Edinburgh region), where by a charter of King William to his son William, Freskin was given some land.  Freskin was also given land in Moray as part of the royal division of spoils after William's victory over the Mormaer of Moray. (Moray is pronounced Murray, which is the way it was often later spelled.) Some Freskin descendants settled in the valley of the Clyde (Glasgow region).
This connection to Flemish settlers raises some questions. The star is a mark of cadency signifying the third son. Maybe it means that the original immigrant to Scotland was the third son of the House of Boulogne in Flanders. But why is the star so prominent? Usually, a mark of cadency is a small charge on the shield, like the tip on a restaurant bill. Why does it dominate the field of the Douglas/Moray shield? Why three? Why white on blue (argent on azure), given that the House of Boulogne colors are gold and red (or and gules)?

These questions do not arise with the de Vere (Earl of Oxford) faceted star (or mullet in English heraldry). Its colors may provide a clearer link to a Flemish ancestry. What might have happened with the Douglas coat of arms is that the close association of Douglases with the Scottish leadership meant they changed the colors to the white-and-blue (argent and azure) colors (tinctures) of the St. Andrew's saltire.

The Douglas Family and Coat of Arms

The Douglas coat of arms originated with Sir William ("Long-Leg") de Douglas, 1200-1274, who first adopted in 1259 the shield with the blazon argent, on a chief azure, three stars of the field, i.e., the coat of arms shown at top left above.

His son Sir William ("le Hardi" or "the Bold") Douglas was the first to call himself, sometime before 1288, "Lord of Douglas". He was the first noble supporter of William Wallace, key leader of the Scottish War of Independence. He died c. 1298 in captivity in the Tower of London.

The eldest son of Sir William Douglas the Bold was The Good Sir James of Douglas. He established himself as one of King Robert Bruce's closest lieutenants. He is responsible, as explained below, for the legend of Bruce's heart.

The son of the Good Sir James became William IV of Scotland. He inserted the heart charge below the three stars in the Douglas coat of arms, in honor of his father.

The Good Sir James of Douglas

Sir William Douglas sent his son James to France for safety in the early days of the Wars of Scottish Independence. He was educated in Paris and expected to live the good life of a landowner when he returned to Scotland. However, when he returned he found his father's lands had been confiscated. He faced life as a landless outcast.

Posthumous Coat of Arms
of "the Good Sir James
of Douglas". 
Meanwhile, in February 1306 Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, had just killed his rival for the crown, John Comyn, at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. On his way to be crowned King Robert I of Scotland ("Robert the Bruce") in March 1306, he was met by Douglas, on the summit of a hill in Dumfries and Galloway now known as the Crown of Scotland.

Douglas offered his services and Bruce, very wisely it turned out, accepted them.

Douglas shared in Bruce's early defeats, at Methven and the Battle of Dalrigh. They decided on a new strategy, what they called a "secret war" – what we would today call guerrilla warfare.

As the war resumed in spring 1307, the Scots implemented their strategy of responding to superior numbers of English troops by deploying fast-moving bands operating from unexpected directions at unexpected times:
  • 1307-1308 – As Bruce campaigned in the north against disloyal fellow Scots. Douglas used the cover of Selkirk Forest to ambush English forces coming north.
  • 1308, Spring – After Douglas Castle was taken by the English, Douglas and a small fighting force hid on a farm until Palm Sunday morning, when the English garrison at the castle left to attend the local church. Gathering local support, Douglas entered the church with the war-cry "Douglas! Douglas!" He killed some English soldiers at once, rounded the rest up and marched them to the castle where they were all beheaded. Douglas piled their bodies on supplies from the cellar and set fire to the pyre. The wells were then poisoned with salt and carcasses of dead horses. Locals wryly called this the "Douglas Larder".  Scottish fans thereafter called Douglas "the Good Sir James of Douglas", while the English fearfully called him "the Black Douglas".
  • 1308, August – Douglas met with King Bruce for a joint attack on the rebel MacDougalls of Lorn, kinsmen of the Comyns. Bruce pinned down the enemy in a frontal advance through the pass. Douglas and the Highlanders surprised and slaughtered English troops from the rear.
  • 1310 – Edward II came north with another army but went home having never engaged the Scots. He whined to the Pope: "Robert Bruce and his accomplices ... concealed themselves in secret places after the manner of foxes." Welcome to guerrilla warfare. Suck it up.
  • 1314, Shrove Tuesday – The English presence in Scotland by now reduced to a few strongholds, Douglas captured a big one at Roxburgh on Shrove Tuesday, the last celebration before Lent. His men covered themselves with their cloaks and crawled towards the castle on their hands and knees. (Think Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane in Macbeth.) The defenders believed them to be cows or horses. Douglas's men threw up scaling hooks and rope ladders and quickly overwhelmed the inebriated English soldiers.
  • 1314, June – Edward again invaded Scotland, this time with an army four times the size of the Scottish army, to relieve Stirling Castle. The Scottish army waited south of Stirling, ready to make a quick getaway, if needed, into the wild country to the west. But their position, just north of the Bannockburn, was so good that King Bruce decided for once to suspend guerrilla tactics. His bet paid off. The Battle of Bannockburn, June 23-24, was the turning point for an independent Scotland. The English army retreated south, with Douglas in full pursuit. Edward took refuge in Dunbar Castle. Bannockburn ended the English attacks and united Scotland under Bruce. After it, Douglas was made a knight.
  • 1314, July on – Douglas raided northern England, down to Pontefract and the Humber, with  small horses known as hobbins. The horse and rider together were known as a "hobelar". The hobelars – with the rider dismounting prior to battle – caused widespread panic in northern England similar to the Viking longships of the Ninth Century.
With King Bruce diverted in 1315-16 to Ireland, Douglas and his family rose in importance. Douglas was made Lieutenant of the Realm in autumn 1316. Edward Bruce, the king's brother, was killed in Ireland at the Battle of Faughart in autumn 1318. Douglas was then named Guardian of the Realm and tutor to the future Robert II by the parliament at Scone in December 1318. Douglas continued his victories:
  • 1318, April – Douglas helped capture Berwick from the English, the first time the castle had been in Scottish hands since 1296. 
  • 1319, Summer – Edward II's newly assembled army, the largest since 1314, marched to the gates of Berwick, to try to recapture it. Douglas meanwhile went around behind Edward's army and attacked poorly defended York, where Edward's Queen Isabella had been left. She fled and the Archbishop of York organized a home guard that included many priests and other clerics. Douglas met them at Myton-on-Swale, slaughtering many of the untrained religious defenders. The raid embarrassed the English and produced the desired dissension among Edward's army, which withdrew from Berwick. Berwick remained Scottish for 15 more years.
  • 1323 – Edward II's final invasion got as far as the gates of Edinburgh. Bruce, however, pursued a scorched-earth campaign, denying the English essential supplies and forcing them to retreat. Scottish troops pursued them deep into Yorkshire. Edward and Isabella, in residence at Rievaulx Abbey, were forced into an embarrassing flight.
  • 1327, August – In 1327 Edward II was deposed in a palace coup led by Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, Lord Wigmore. They crowned Edward III, Edward II's teenage son, but kept the reins of the government in their hands. Edward III led another attack on the Scots. The English caught up with the Scots on the southern banks of the River Wear, but the Scots refused to be drawn into battle, moving to a safer position at Stanhope Park. From here  Douglas recrossed the Wear in a surprise attack on the sleeping English. Edward III himself narrowly escaped capture, his own pastor dying in his defense. His humiliated army disbanded. Mortimer and Isabella negotiated a peace, recognizing the Bruce monarchy and Scottish independence.
Death of The Good Sir James of Douglas, 1330 - plaque.
Now undisputed King of Scotland, Bruce was by this time worn out and was not to live much longer.
  • 1329 – Bruce, dying, asked Sir James Douglas to carry his heart in battle against "God's foes" in lieu of his longtime wish to go on crusade. When Bruce died, his heart was cut from his body and placed in a small silver-and-enamel casket that Sir James carried around his neck. Bruce's wish was that his heart be left at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Seal of William, Lord of Douglas, William
 IV of Scotland, son of Sir James the Good
Douglas. Note heart, bar and three stars.
  • 1330 – Douglas set sail from Berwick with seven other knights and 26 squires and gentlemen. They  joined the army of Alfonso XI of Castile,  campaigning against Muslims of the kingdom of Granada led by Berber General Uthman. The Granadans were based at the "Castle of Stars" in Teba. To tempt Alfonso out to battle, Uthman sent out a small body of cavalry on a diversionary attack. Alfonso learned of Uthman's scheme and kept most of his army in camp, ready to defend against Uthman's main force. Othman led his army in a confused retreat back to their camp. Douglas and some knights pursued them aggressively that they were cut off from the rest of Alonso's army. Douglas turned to ride back to close the gap, only to find the tables turned and his troops surrounded by Moors. Douglas engaged the Moors even though his group was outnumbered 20 to one. As told by Sir Walter Scott, Douglas took from his neck the silver casket which contained the heart of Bruce and threw it before him among the enemy. Douglas and all the men with him were killed.
Douglas's bones were taken back to Scotland and deposited at St Bride’s Kirk, Douglas – about 20 miles southeast of Glasgow and 30 miles southwest of Edinburgh. The heart of Bruce was solemnly interred under the high altar of Melrose Abbey.

The Morays (Murrays) of Bothwell (1296)

Moray Clan Crest - Azurethree
 faceted stars argent within a double
 tressure flory-counter-flory, or.
The Murray-Moray Clan (from the Gaelic Muireadhaigh – the two English spellings are both pronounced “Murray”) family can be traced back to Freskin, who accompanied King David I (St. David) to suppress an insurrection in the North in 1130.

Freskin was rewarded with lands in Moray and he later adopted the name. From him descended the Morays, Lords of Bothwell and the families of Sutherland, Earls of Sutherland and Lords Duffus.

(1) Freskin died before 1171, leaving three sons, one of whom was...

(2) William, who obtained, about 1168, a charter (grant from the of the lands of Strabrok and Duffus, and died about 1203, leaving at least three sons, one of whom was...

The MacMurray variation on
the Murray shield. Note the
pierced mullets instead of
(3) William de Moravia was Lord of Petyn, Brachlie, and Boharm. He died before 5th October 1226, leaving two sons, one of whom was...

(4) Sir Walter de Moravia, Lord of Petyn, who died 1244, and was succeeded by his son...

(5) Sir William de Moravia, who died before March 1253. He married a daughter of Malcolm, Earl of Fife, and had a son...

(6) Sir Walter de Moravia. He died in 1284. Besides the property in Moray, he owned Bothwell in Clydesdale, and Smailholm and Crailing in Roxburgh. The lands of Bothwell had belonged to the Olifards, and it was either the daughter or sister of Sir David Clifford who brought this property to the Morays. Sir Walter had at least two sons: Sir William (No. 7) and Sir Andrew (No. 8).

(7) Sir William de Moravia, Lord of Bothwell, died before November 1300. He swore fealty to King Edward I in 1296. He was succeeded by his brother...

(8) Sir Andrew de Moravia, who died in the period November 6-10, 1297. He was taken prisoner at Dunbar in 1296 and sent to the Tower of London, where he died. He was married, first, to a daughter of Sir John Comyn of Badenoch, and had a son, Sir Andrew (No. 9). He married, second, in 1286, Euphemia, widow of William Comyn of Kilbride. She died in 1288, and according to the Scots Peerage she may be ancestress of the Murrays of Cockpool.

(9) Sir Andrew Moray. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Stirling Bridge, September 1297, fighting for Sir William Wallace ["Braveheart"]. He had a posthumous son...

(10) Sir Andrew Moray, died 1338. He was a strong supporter of King Robert Bruce. By his first wife, he had two sons: (a) Sir John (No. 11), (b) Sir Thomas (No. 12). He married, second, Christian Bruce, sister of King Robert.

(11) Sir John Moray, Lord of Bothwell, died before 5th September 1351. He married, 1348, Margaret Graham, heiress of the Earldom of Menteith, and was succeeded by his brother, #12...

(12) Sir Thomas Moray, Lord of Bothwell, died 1361. He married Johanna, daughter and heiress of Sir Maurice Moray of Drumsargard, Earl of Strathearn (No. 250a). His widow afterwards married Archibald "the Grim," third Earl of Douglas, who then acquired the Lordship of Bothwell.

Would the U.S. Founding Fathers be aware of and respect these coats of arms? Yes, the number of people of Scottish ancestry in the colonies was very large. At least one-third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are said to have been of Scottish origin.

The Faceted Star of the Earls of Oxford

Coat of Arms of the Earl of
Oxford. Quartered with red
(gules) and gold (or) and a
faceted star in the first quarter. 
The de Vere family, whose first-born males became the Earls of Oxford until the title died out, have a faceted star in their coat of arms. Orthodox English heraldists insist that a star-like object in is a mullet (the rotating part of a spur), even a faceted star that looks nothing like a spur, because they say everything in a non-Scottish coat of arms must have to do with being a knight.

Today blazoned as a mullet of five points argent (but in early times could have had six points), the star was probably added as a mark of cadency, perhaps when someone more senior in the family crossed from the Cotentin, or from Greater Flanders, to join the English court.

But the main legend associated with the de Vere star has nothing to do with a spur of a knight.

The village of Ver is near Coutances,
Manche, Lower Normandy.
The family name almost surely came from Ver, an inland village on the western end of Normandy, in the Department of the Manche. The nobility of Normandy is one of the two main sources of the post-1066 influx into England and Scotland, the other being Boulogne, then part of Flanders. DNA research doesn't help distinguish between the two influxes, because both Norman and Flemish nobility can be traced back to Vikings from Denmark.

The colors in the de Vere coat of arms suggest its origin in Boulogne, whose colors are also red and gold (gules and or). Aubrey (or Alberic) de Vere was first of the family to settle in England, enjoying a high place at the court of King William. The Domesday Book, completed in 1086, shows de Vere owned large properties in southern England.

His son, Aubrey de Vere II, supported Empress Matilda (aka Maud or Maude) in her war with King Stephen, who was captured at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. Aubrey paid homage to the Empress, and was rewarded by her with an earldom. He was to be Earl of Cambridgeshire, unless that county were held by the King of Scots, in which case he was to pick another title. Since it was held by the Kind go Scots, Aubrey took the title of Earl of Oxford, confirmed by Matilda's son, Henry II.

The Divine and the Devil in the de Vere Star 

Most explanations of the the stars in the Douglas and Moray/Murray coats of arms revolve around the  idea that Freskin, or Theobald the Fleming, was descended from a third son in the House of Boulogne.

But the legend associated with the faceted star in the de Vere coat of arms is that Aubrey I, on the first Crusade, Aubrey I, on the first Crusade, was in battle on a dark night.  God supposedly took the side of the Christians. Wanting to ensure their safety, God is said to have intervened by inserting a bright white star on the standard of Aubrey de Vere. Those who are familiar with managerial hierarchies and doubt God was involved personally in that level of detail are more likely to believe the version of the story that has an angel of the Lord leaning down and throwing the star onto de Vere's standard.

The de Vere family adopted the star as a badge. It appeared on their standards and was worn by their armies. So it was that the army of the Earl of Oxford at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 was wearing this badge as it join he Earl's ally, Warwick the Kingmaker.

The 16-pointed white rose-in-
sun of Edward IV. Oxford's
 star looked too much like it
 in the mist.
The badge was mistaken in the morning mists for the white rose-in-the-sun badge of their Yorkist enemy, Edward IV.  Warwick charged and was killed. The Earl of Oxford fled. The battle was lost before it even began.

Edward IV, it is believed, then decided it was safe to murder Henry VI, imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The House of Lancaster, loyally supported by the de Veres, was ended. Edward IV was re-crowned King of England.

Cant. Gio, in a comment on another post, says that a de Vere was with Sir James the Good Douglas at Teba. It would be quite possible that the star in the de Vere shield was a reference to the star on the Douglas shield.

Principal Authorities for Douglas and Moray: George Harvey Johnson, The Heraldry of the DouglasesScots Peerage, and Heraldry of Murray, National Library of Scotland, B000279705 (125 copies printed). Principal Source for de Vere: Baronage.

Posts on the Arms of Oxford Colleges and PPHs: Original Article in Oxford Today . Heraldry as Branding . Heraldry as Fun .  Coat of Arms vs. Crest . Sinister Questions . Visit to the College of Arms . Windsor Herald Talks to New Yorkers . Shaming of Harvard Law Shield :: Rapid Expansion of Oxford's Colleges and Halls . Oxford Stars . Links to Heraldry, Oxford, GW . Harris Manchester College . Linacre College . St Catherine's . St Cross College . St Edmund Hall . Trinity College :: Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall . 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 22 - Bulldog, Bulldog, Boo Hoo Hoo H31-Y24

Yale bulldog: "Wait till next year."
If the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is The Boat Race, in the USA the Harvard-Yale Game is The Game.

Today's game is worth noting:
  • It is the eighth straight win for Harvard.
  • This is the first time that either team has won eight consecutive Ivy League games since the 1880s.
  • It was the first time that ESPN College GameDay came to televise the oldest game in U.S. college football, in the oldest stadium in the USA, Harvard Stadium (1903).
  • Late in the third quarter Harvard had a 24-7 lead, but blew it as Yale proceeded to score three times in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
    The year Harvard Stadium opened for business, 1903.
  • Yale tied up the score 24-24 with but 4 minutes left to play.
  • Harvard then crushed Yale's rising hopes with two scores in these last 4 minutes.
  • The two final winning scores were engineered by the backup Harvard quarterback, Conner Hempel, who had been sidelined for the previous three games by a shoulder injury.
  • Harvard ended the season with a 10-0 record, and 7-0 in the Ivy League.
  • It is Harvard's 17th undefeated season in its history of playing football, and the third in the 21 years that Tim Murphy has been coach.
The Harvard Magazine report on The Game is likely to be the definitive one.

Meanwhile, Yalies can put the present behind them by re-reading old copies of The New York Times in happier days. What better year for Yale to pick out of the archives than 1884, when Yale won 52-0 before a huge crowd of more than 2,000 fans and the Times the next day began its coverage of The Game as follows:


NEW-HAVENS, Nov. 22 [1884].—Eleven Yale men and 11 Harvard men rolled each other over in the soft mud at the new athletic grounds this afternoon and called it football. The crimson and blue jerseys and stockings were twirled around to the pleasure of some 2,400 spectators as the two teams shoved the oblong, leather, inflated bag up and down the field…

Friday, November 21, 2014

HERALDRY: Oxford Stars (Updated Apr. 22, 2018)

Is this the oldest (c. 1346) extant use of the arms
 of George Washington's ancestors? From a Trinity
 College, Oxford window. Photo: JT Marlin, 2012.
At Oxford's 2014 North American Reunion, in NYC's Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, the Oxford colleges' arms were arrayed around the balcony.

There being a longish speech, I found myself counting the number of stars on the college shields.

Seven, there were, 250 percent more than at Cambridge.

I wondered whether these heraldic stars might help explain the vexing puzzle of the origin of the stars that appear in the canton of the Stars and Stripes.

Oxford's Stars

In the ancient language of heraldry, stars are a heraldic charge on the field of a shield, which is the central component of a full achievement of a coat of arms.

The star is not an ordinary charge; it is a "device". In England, an unpierced star is more commonly called a mullet rather than a star, after the French moulette–meaning a spur-rowel:
  • The mullet or rowel is the star-like disk with points that when dug into the side of a horse causes pain and persuades the animal to move faster.
  • The dowel is the rod that goes through the disk and allows the rowel to rotate.
  • The rowel and dowel together are located on the end of a spur that sticks out of the bottom of the back of each of a knight's boots.
Sometimes the mullet is "pierced" with a dot in the middle, to show that the dowel goes through it, as in the Trinity College, Oxford window (see photo above). This also makes clear that the device signifies a knight's spur and not a star in the sky.

In Scotland, where heraldry has the force of law, a star can be "star" as well as, if pierced, a mullet,

The English idea is that charges on a shield should signify something associated with a knight's outfit, and the spur is an important accoutrement because in a crisis it is what most connects the knight with his horse. (A knight in armor without a horse to sit on is not very mobile, like a ship without a sail.)

Postscript: When talking about flags (i.e., in the language of vexillology), the word "star" is universally correct.

My Holy Grail

My search has been for a Sceptic-Crushing Link between Washington's coat of arms and the U.S. flag.

Around the 1876 centennial, it was widely accepted that the Founding Fathers replaced the Union Jack in the corner of the Grand Union Flag with stars in 1776 as, in part, a gesture of respect for then-General George Washington.

Then three publications appeared in 1906-1917 that claimed to smash this consensus that the Stars and Stripes were connected to the Washington arms:
  • A 1906 book by Peleg D. Harrison.
  • A 1909 letter to the New York Times, based on a brief tour of England.
  • A 1917 book by George Henry Preble.
These sources all said that because the writers could not find a contemporary 1776 letter or report saying that the Stars and Stripes were based on George Washington's arms, therefore the connection was disproved.

However, that is not how theories are disproved. There needs to be a better theory and so far none has emerged. No one can explain where the five-pointed stars in the Stars and Stripes come from other than vis the anecdote of Betsy Ross's "shortcut", an elaborate folding exercise to generate a five-pointed star with one snip of a pair of scissors.

My survey of three Oxford colleges (Trinity, Oriel and BNC) uncovered interesting connections to George Washington's ancestors and the stars in the Stars and Stripes, and I am on the trail of several more (Balliol and the Scottish connection via Douglas, for example). This was driving my curiosity at the Waldorf-Astoria, and is sustaining it. Let me share my questions and my answers so far.

Why the Grand Union Flag Stopped Working in 1776

To put my quest in some perspective, consider the puzzle facing the Founding Fathers in 1776. They had rebelled against Britain,  yet the Union Jack, the two British crosses–the blue-on-white Scottish saltire of St. Andrews superimposed on the red-on-white cross of St. George–was still ensconced in the canton (the reduced quadrant on the upper-left corner of flags) of the red-and-white-striped Grand Union Flag of 1775. Once open hostilities had occurred at Lexington and Concord, and they had t o have concluded that "From now on, we can't count on this canton!"

Before Lexington, the colonies were still grateful to William Pitt for sending redcoats to chase away  French soldiers and Indian tribes loyal to the French. The colonies were united in protesting to protest to George III, as his loyal subjects, about the cost of having to pay for his troops. 

After blood was shed at Lexington at 5 a.m., April 19, 1775, the colonies were no longer loyal subjects protesting to their King. They wanted out.

Douglas (L) and Moray/Murray (R) shields.
The Washington family's shield was like
that of Douglas, but with a red (gules) field
in chief, with two red stripes (bars) below. 
The colonies needed above all a symbol of independence from London, not one showing the union of England and Scotland. 

Why Stars Worked Better than Crosses

Many ideas for symbols of American independence in the canton were proposed, including a venomous snake and the slogan, "Don't tread on me." 

The canton that won out was 13 white stars on a dark blue field. George Washington presented the chosen flag to the Congress with the slogan "a new constellation". Responding to the worry that no good could come from removing the sacred crosses of two great saints that formed the Union Jack, Washington said: "We are replacing them with heavenly stars."
The Moray of Petty arms
shown with six-pointed
stars, probably an earlier
form of the arms.

It is reasonable to believe that Washington's supporters in 1776 wanted stars in the canton for three reasons: 
  • They lionized Washington.  George Washington's arms were those of his ancestor John Wessington, who adopted a shield with three red stars (mullets) above (in chief) two red (gules) stripes (bars), on a white (argent) field. Washington was deeply proud of his family's heritage.
  • They liked the Scottish connection. The Washington shield was the same as the Douglas shield, in red. The stars reminded the rebel colonists of the brave Scotsmen fighting with King Robert Bruce for independence against earlier English kings – Edwards II-III. Both Sir James the Good Douglas and Sir Andrew Moray of Petty had stars on a blue (azure) field in their coats of arms. "Braveheart" William Wallace earlier fought with Moray's father against Edward I. Records indicate that about one-third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had Scottish ancestors. 
  • The stars were expandable.  The numbers of stars could be expanded in the canton depending on how many colonies joined in the Revolution and later in the new nation. 
The Likely Influence of Scottish Heraldry on the Wessingtons

Add to the considerations above the fact that the Douglas five-pointed star would be well known to the Washington family and their forebears the Wessingtons, because they lived under the Bishop of Durham in territory on the Scottish border. This proximity could be a key to establishing the long-asserted, dubiously disputed connection between the Stars and Stripes flag and the Washington coat of arms.

My hypothesis is that the stars in the Stars and Stripes come from the Douglas (and possibly Moray/Murray of Petty) arms via the Wessington/Washington arms.

The full achievement of George Washington's Coat of
Arms. He used his arms more than any other president.
His shield was adopted as the flag of Washington, D.C.
The mullets on the Washington arms have five points or rays.

A French heraldry book I consulted at the British Library asserts that the Washington family was a pioneer of the five-pointed mullet in England.

It describes the shedding of one of the six points by the first Washington (de Wessington) as "vraiment révolutionnaire".

I am still struggling to determine whether that statement has real meaning in heraldic history or is just an inside-baseball joke by a heraldic writer who was bored (it must happen sometimes even to heraldry enthusiasts).

If it is true that Edward III conferred the mullets on the Washington family at the same time as he knighted his son, the "Black Prince", it means that the coat of arms dates to the Battle of Crécy on August 26, 1346. It was one of the most decisive battles in history, and the English crossbow mowed down the knights on their horses.

A book on Durham County, also at the British Library, shows examples of Washington coats of arms that include both six-pointed and five-pointed mullets. This suggests that de Wessington started with the then-more-usual six-pointed mullets (mullets in German and French heraldry almost always have only six or eight points) on his shield and at some point between 1346 and 1401 reduced them to five – probably having as his model and precedent, consciously or unconsciously, the Douglas coat of arms.

It may have been the first recorded use in history of the red v. blue colors to denote partisanship.

The French avoided using five-pointed mullets. I'm guessing that a rotating spur could be assumed to have an even number of points with a minimum of six – an even number for balance or for fabricating simplicity. A spur would surely have no fewer than six points to prevent the knight from drawing blood from his horse (or her horse, in the unique case of Joan of Arc). But in England, over time, mullets were increasingly five-pointed, perhaps merely to difference themselves from French coats of arms – a major objective of heraldry (and of its trademarking successors).

Trinity College's Washington Shield, c. 1346

Trinity College, Oxford has a window in its Old Library that may be the oldest surviving occurrence in England of both the Washington arms and the five-pointed mullet that is found in it. The early mullets were all pierced. Later versions of coats of arms, including that of George Washington, dropped the pierce.

The arms were of John Wessington, a Benedictine monk sent to Durham College at Oxford. That is why he gets his arms in Window 3 of the ancient Durham College chapel, along with Gregory the Great, the Benedictine who was called by John Calvin the "last of the great popes". John Wessington became bursar of Durham College in 1398, according to the excellent 1988 booklet by Richard Gameson and Alan Coates, The Old Library, Trinity College, Oxford (p. 30).

The Trinity College window is believed to have been moved from what was once the chapel of Durham College, Oxford. Durham College was created in 1278 for the training of Benedictine monks from Durham Abbey, which also supported for this purpose University and Balliol Colleges (the function is today still well served, by St. Benet's Hall).

When Durham Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII, Durham College was also disestablished. Sir Thomas Pope purchased the site in 1555 – we must assume at an insider price – and used during the reign of Mary for the creation of Trinity College.

The Washington family coat of arms (L) and shield of U.S. 
Stars and Stripes (R), at Sulgrave Manor, near Oxford. 
Photo by JT Marlin, 2012.
BNC's Rev. Lawrence Washington, 1619-45

Fast-forward from Henry VIII to the English Civil War. The Rev. Lawrence Washington, from a well-off family that settled not far from Oxford at Sulgrave Manor, was a student (1619-1623) and don at Brasenose College (aka BNC).

Lawrence Washington was preceded at Oxford by two uncles, Christopher (matriculated 1588) and William, both at Oriel College. He had also been preceded by a cousin Lawrence (from Much Hadham, Herts.) at Balliol (matriculated 1594), at that time not the academic powerhouse it became, but rather simply a college with a preference for Scottish students,

Rev. Washington served as an Oxford Proctor and in that capacity is said to have helped purge Oxford University of Puritans under Charles I. In his last years, Charles I hunkered down in  Oxford, a center of the Cavaliers – virtually all of the colleges were royalist, as were many Cambridge colleges, even Oliver Cromwell's own Sidney Sussex College.

Rev. Washingon during that time resigned as a don from Brasenose College, probably because he was getting married –dons were expected to remain bachelors. He sealed his letter of resignation to Brasenose College with a three-mullets-and-two bars family seal that is reported as dating back to 1401, although as noted the actual shield may date back to the Battle of Crécy in 1346.

Following his resignation, Rev. Washington was initially assigned by the Church of England to a good living at All Saints Church in Purleigh, Essex. But four years after Cromwell's Roundheads took over Oxford in 1645, the tables were turned on Rev. Washington and he was on an Enemy List of about 100 Church of England clergymen destined to lose their comfortable or have their stipends reduced.

Lawrence was banished to a such smaller parish. Embarrassed by her husband's demotion, Mrs. Amphilis Washington moved with her children to the home of her well-off stepfather, and – as worried parents can miraculously do in time of trouble – encouraged her two sons to leave her for their own good. They emigrated to the prospering British colony of Virginia. Thus did Lawrence's enforced poverty, though little of it did he know then, helped make him the great-great-grandfather of the first President of the United States.

Estoiles in Three Oxford Colleges

But to return to my interest in the Oxford coats of arms, my purpose was to find out if possible whether any of them provided a clue to the origin of the stars in the American flag. My main sources at the time were:
  • An armorial survey of the Oxford Colleges conducted for the Heraldry Society in 1951, here.  Now 63 years old, it badly needs updating – coats of arms have been created for colleges and halls that did not exist in 1951. (I did this in a four-page updating published in Oxford Today, Michaelmas issue 2015.)
  • The book by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (1871-1928), A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909).
The word "star" is clear vexillogically, but not heraldically. That is not to say that the word is vexing or illogical, but that it is a term clear to a flag analyst but not to a heraldic scholar. The heraldic word for star in English heraldry is usually estoile or mullet (we also find a faceted star). When the rays of a star are wavy the device on a shield is termed an estoile (the ancient French word for star, now étoile). It has six rays, unless otherwise specified (although eight rays appear in the Tarot card and in German heraldry) in the blazon, i.e., the verbal description of the arms. The arms of Hobart include an estoile of eight rays, in the German tradition. The town of Ilchester has an estoile of sixteen rays, but these arms are ungranted, "not of any authority." 

Three estoiles, St. Hilda's,
correctly shown as wavy.
St. John's College "estoiles",
incorrectly shown straight.
Wycliffe Hall, with estoile
correctly shown as wavy.
The St. Hilda's estoiles are correct in the example shown, and also the one for Wycliffe Hall. The ones on the bordure of the coat of arms of St. John's College as displayed on their website are incorrectly shown because they appear to have straight rays. The Wycliffe Hall coat of arms shown on its web site has the correct wavy-rayed estoile; but a version shown on the inside back page of the booklet for the 2014 Oxford Biennial Reunion in New York City had, incorrectly, straight rays. 

Pierced Mullets in Three Oxford Colleges

Every charge with straight points is in England a mullet. English practice permits a mullet to be  pierced (Keble, St. Antony's, Lincoln) or unpierced (Somerville). Mullets are occasionally pierced with a color other than the field they are charged upon, as in the Keble coat of arms. According to English practice, the mullet is not pierced unless the blazon expressly states it to be so. The mullet, both in England and Scotland, is of five points unless a greater number are specified. But mullets of six (French) or eight (German) points, pierced and unpierced, are frequent enough in English armory. 

Lincoln College, mullet
that may be inappropriate.
Keble College, three mullets "in
chief", above "engrailed" chevron.
St. Antony's College,
three mullets on chevron.

The coats of arms of Keble and St. Antony's College both have three mullets on them, pierced. The Keble College coat of arms shares some similarities with the American flag, since the mullets are on a blue background. However, the mullets are yellow, not white. The red chevron is also bent and has scalloped (engrailed) sides. The St. Antony's College mullets are also fixed on a red chevron.  The unusual Lincoln College coat of arms includes a single black (sable) pierced mullet on a silver/white (argent) field.

Stars at One Oxford and Two Cambridge Colleges
Somerville College, with three
stars and six crosslets fitted.
Somerville Family (Scotland) with
three stars and seven crosslets fitted.

Scottish practice is more correct than the English, though more complicated. Scottish armory includes the estoile, the star, and the mullet or spur-revel. The use of the estoile differs little from English practice. But in Scotland a straight-pointed (non-estoile) charge is a mullet only if pierced. As a mullet is the "molette" or rowel of a spur, it could not exist unpierced. A pierced mullet is also frequently called a "spur-rowel", or "spur-revel" in Scottish practice. 

A mullet/star is in the arms and badge of the de Veres, Earls of OxfordIn Scottish heraldry, an unpierced mullet is called a star – as in, for example, the Somerville coat of arms or in the Scottish shield of Alston. 

Somerville College has three unpierced mullets and has one less "crosslet fitted" than the Somerville family coat of arms. Also the colors have been changed from gold (or) on blue (azure) to black (sable) and red (gules) on silver or white (argent). The college is named for celebrated Scottish-born scientist Mary Fairfax (1780-1872), whose second marriage was to William Somerville. She is the first non-royal person to appear on a bank note (the £10 note) of the Royal Bank of Scotland, starting in 2017.

Newnham College, Cambridge.
Griffin and mullet/star.
Murray Edwards College,
Cambridge. Three faceted stars.

Cambridge has two colleges with stars/mullets on their coat of arms - Newnham College, established about 1871 as Cambridge's second all-female college, and Murray Edwards College, a post-World War II college also created for women. Note that the Newnham College faceted star looks nothing like a mullet. The stars in the Murray Edwards coat of arms are clearly intended to be stars, as in the Murray coat of arms, with no vestige of a spur, 

The Significance of the Stars in the Stars and Stripes

The Stars and Stripes with 50 stars.
In seeking to understand the origins of the Stars and Stripes, I was early on convinced,  the key link is to the stars. There is evidence enough that the stripes were borrowed from the East India Company, in part because they were echoed by the early striped flags used by the rebels in Massachusetts.

What George Washington announced to the Congress when he put before them the Stars and Stripes was that the three saints of the Union Jack (Sts George, Andrew and Patrick) would be replaced by "the stars of heaven."

The Stars in George Washington's Ancestors' Arms

Various sources report that the three-mullet and two-bar coat of arms of the Washington family were conferred on Walter de Wessington by Edward III, when de Wessington was part of the fighting force of the Bishop of Durham.

After the Battle of Crécy in 1346, Edward III knighted his 16-year-old son Edward the “Black Prince”, saying he had “won his spurs”.  In that battle de Wessington also won his spurs, in the form of three mullets on his coat of arms, and two red stripes below it to indicate the blood that was shed. These mullets are a feature of the Washington family crest, which George Washington utilized as a bookplate, a seal, and in artifacts around his house. At that stage in U.S. history, to build a tall tree required having deep roots.

Who Was the First to Use the Five-Pointed Mullet?

A French heraldry source (tongue in cheek, surely) describes de Wessington's change in the number of points, from six to five, in the mullets on his coat of arms as "vraiment revolutionnaire".  Was de Wessington the first knight in England to use a five-pointed mullet? Are there any earlier uses?

Hylton Castle (1377-99) has Washington mullets of both six and five points, suggesting that Washington's ancestor switched from six to five. So the question can be rephrased - are there examples of five-pointed mullets in use in England prior to 1377?

The Douglas stars are said to go back to a Flemish family. But a signet ring of Sir William Douglas "Le Hardi" has three five-pointed stars at the top (see photo), so the Douglas stars were well established as early as 1288.

Switching from mullets with six points to a star of five points at that time was significant. In Continental Europe, stars had eight (German) or six (French) points. The Normans brought with them the six-pointed French mullet, so the five-pointed one was a distinct departure. The reason for the break is unclear, but proper use in English and Scottish heraldry of stars, estoiles and mullets did not then have the definition that it later acquired, according to Fox-Davies (1871-1928), in his previously cited guide to heraldry.

Seal of William de Douglas
"le Hardi", c. 1288, after he had taken
 the title of First Earl of Douglas. Note
five-pointed stars. 
What is clear is that the word "star" is properly used in Scottish heraldry and is avoided in English heraldry. However, the residences of the Washington family in northern England were much closer to Edinburgh than to London, and it is possible that they were influenced by Scottish, not English, heraldic developments.

Sir William "the Hardy" Douglas became the first Earl of Douglas. The seal at right shows the three five-pointed stars. He pledged allegiance to King Edward I and then fought against him unsuccessfully. He died in the Tower of London.

The Good Sir James Douglas was knighted in 1314 and after his death the three five-pointed silver (argent) mullet/star on a blue (azure) background was in use by the Douglas family/clan in a row and the Murray/Moray family in a two-and-one array. The Douglas shield had a heart added after the death of The Good Sir James on his way to Jerusalem with the heart of King Robert I.
King Robert I,
"the Bruce".

My theory is that after having been knighted by Edward III in 1346, de Wessington adopted the stars of the Douglas coat of arms. The border between Scotland and northern England was highly permeable in the century before Edward I decided to march north. Robert the Bruce traveled around freely. The Douglas family would be well known and respected by the Washington's.

Betsy Ross expressed her preference for the five-pointed star on the new flag of the United States based on the ease of cutting it. But in fact the six-pointed star, being symmetrical, is much easier to fold. The Betsy Ross story may have been introduced to cover up a campaign to bring the Washington family star, or the Douglas family version, to the Stars and Stripes. The same applies to George Washington's introduction of the new canton as "a new constellation".


To recap what I have found so far about the connections between the stars and stripes in the American flag and possible other flags or coats of arms that might have inspired the stars or stripes, including George Washington's family coat of arms:

1. In 2012, I was satisfied that the stripes in the Star and Stripes are easily explained by the stripes in the East India company flag and other flags and shields, including (if one is so inclined to believe) the bars in the coat of arms of the Washington family. I posted something on Huffington Post about this - Washington's Arms and the Stars and Stripes -- Believe!

2. In 2013 I followed up: More on George Washington and the Stars and Stripes... and June 14 - Thoughts for Flag Day on the Origins of the Stars ... 

3. In 2014 I have been on the trail of the white/silver (argent) stars (mullets) on a blue (azure) field, which are the missing devices to explain the connection between George Washington's ancestral arms and the "constellation of stars" that replaced the Union Jack on the East India Company flag. I have written about the faceted star on the coat of arms of the de Vere family, the Earls of Oxford, of whom one has been claimed as the real author of Shakespeare, and about the stars on the Douglas and Murray families/clans coats of arms. I am convinced by the timing of the evolution of the white-on-blue stars that this is the ultimate origin of the stars in the Stars and Stripes. It fits the time, 1775, and the situation of rebellion against the British Crown.
Shield at Magdalen College list of
dead from WW1. Photo by JT Marlin.

Two Postscripts

1. Sep 29, 2016–In Oxford for a few weeks, I did more research on the coats of arms of the Oxford colleges in Duke Humfrey's Library. They have a fine collection of books on the history of the colleges. Here are two new morsels of information:
  • Magdalen College's blazon has no mullets or estoiles in it (The blazon is: "Lozenge ermine and sable on a chief of the second three lilies argent slipped and seeded or." Wikipedia incorrectly includes punctuation.), but a coat of arms posted with the list of the alumni who died in the Great War impales the keys of St Peter and the sword of St Paul with a quartered shield with two quarters azure with a chevron between three mullets two and one or. Magdalen is therefore a college with star-like objects in their arms. The other two quarters are lions rampant, possibly referencing Scotland. The stars without the chevron suggest the Murray/Moray arms. (See photo.)
  • Hertford College has a plaque on the wall with a deer (hart) and several stars. I have seen only a photo, and intend to check out the plaque on my next visit.
2. Apr 22, 2018–I gave two talks at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London on the coats of arms of the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and then I went to Selby Abbey near York and then to Washington, ancestral home of the Washingtons near Newcastle, after they left Hertburn.

Some of My Other Posts on the Arms of Oxford Colleges and PPHs: Original Article in Oxford Today . Heraldry as Branding . Heraldry as Fun .  Coat of Arms vs. Crest . Sinister Questions . Visit to the College of Arms . Windsor Herald Talks to New Yorkers . Shaming of Harvard Law Shield :: Rapid Expansion of Oxford's Colleges and Halls . Oxford Stars . HERALDRY SUPERLINK . Harris Manchester College . Linacre College . St Catherine's . St Cross College . St Edmund Hall . Trinity College :: Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall . 

Other Heraldry Posts: Douglas-Moray-de Vere Arms