Saturday, October 29, 2016

HERALDRY: Chavasse Coat of Arms

Martlets sable (St Peter's
The St Peter's College arms are impaled with the St Peter's Church arms dexter and the Chavasse arms sinister. The arms of the church are straightforward – keys for St Peter and a building for the church.

The arms of Chavasse include a four martlets (shown sometimes in outline as at left and sometimes as sable as at right) around a cross of St George, with a miter or at center. The miter is explained by the bishopric of Francis James Chavasse. But where do the martlets come from?

University College. One possible source of the martlets is the Univ coat of arms, which includes five martlets sable. The Chavasse family has had an association with Univ at least since May 1880, when after a bump supper an undergraduate played a practical joke on Fellow Albert Sidney Chavasse, cousin of Francis James Chavasse, by screwing tight the door to his room. Since Chavasse, who was a Univ. Fellow from 1864 to 1902, had recently been appointed Senior Proctor, both the university and College were angered at this affront to their authority. After a vote by the Univ Fellows, the Master (George Bradley) responded by sending down ("rusticating") the entire Univ student body unless the guilty person(s) came forward. Chavasse was the sole Fellow who was good-humored about the prank and who voted against the proposal. The undergraduates who knew the name of the perpetrator refused to squeal (snitch, peach) and the others refused to engage in a witch-hunt among their members. So they all left en masse that day. In any case, the perpetrator – one Samuel Sandbach – had already gone down to a yeomanry camp. When he was informed what had happened he confessed immediately and the undergraduates were permitted to return after a week's involuntary absence. The incident attracted newspaper comment to the effect that while the prank was ill conceived, the scope of the College's punishment was excessive. A large number of cartoons appeared about the incident, one of them with Chavasse climbing into his bedroom on a ladder. Possibly the Chavasse family takes special pride in the incident because Albert Chavasse, the victim, took the incident in his stride and did not overreact like his colleagues.

Sutton Coldfield. Bishop Chavasse was born in Sutton Coldfield and his arms may incorporate the birds in the Sutton Coldfield arms, which were in turn derived from the arms of bishop John Vesey. However, these birds are not martlets because they have feet, like the birds of the arms of Thomas More–or the choughs in the arms of Thomas à Becket. The Chavasse arms may hark back to the attributed arms of Edward the Confessor, the blazon for which is "Azure a cross flory between five martlets or."

Liverpool. Bishop Chavasse was the second Bishop of Liverpool, and the Liver Bird is a symbol of the city. However, this bird looks like a cormorant, with a beak, long neck and feet. The martlets of the Chavasse family don't look like liver birds. (Paul McCartney adopted a singing liver bird with guitar for his coat of arms.)

Bottom Line. My best guess right now is that the martlets sable in the Chavasse arms reference the arms of Univ. or those of Edward the Confessor. However, I continue to be puzzled about this and would welcome alternative hypotheses or evidence.

Chavasse, Albert S. Undergraduate Diary, 1865-68.
Darwall-Smith, Robin, A History of Univ. College Oxford (Oxford, 2008), 402-6.   
Mitchell, L.G. "The Screwing up of the Dean", Univ. College Record, XI:4 (1996), 69-81.
Sutton Coldfield. Town website.
Univ. Library. UC:P45/MS/1, originally sent to Wild by the son of Sir Michael Sadler.
Univ. website: The Sending Down of 1880. Further Sources on the Sending Down of 1880. (Both catalogued Jan. 1996.)
Univ. website: Cartoons about the Sending Down of 1880. (Catalogued June 2013)
Wild, J.H.S. Collection, Univ. Muniment Room, Aug. 1951.

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 . St Peter's College . Trinity College :: Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall

Other Related Posts: Douglas Arms in France

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