|Jesus College Coat of Arms|
Nominee. The coat of arms, in some form, belongs to Bishop Thomas Rotherham. It matches the arms in Rotherham's dining-hall portrait in neighboring Lincoln College, which he is credited with founding. The Lincoln College coat of arms includes the three stags in the sinister section of its tripartite-in-pale shield. In the absence of evidence that Rotherham founded Jesus College, Oxford, the puzzle is: What are Rotherham's three attired stags doing up there adorning Jesus College?
Founder. Jesus College was in fact founded in 1571 by Elizabeth I, who issued a royal charter to that effect. It was the first Protestant college founded at Oxford, and the only one dating from Elizabeth's reign. Its full name is: "Jesus College in the University of Oxford of Queen Elizabeth's Foundation."
Origin of the Jesus Arms. The earliest depiction of the Jesus arms is believed 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. Here are the theories:
- It has been claimed that Jesus "stole" the three stags from Lincoln, much as a series of Trinity men from the Eldon family have feasted on deer from the Magdalen College deer park. The counter-argument is that the origins of the two Rotherham arms are distinct. Former Lincoln College 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. This does not explain what Rotherham contributed to the founding of Jesus College, Oxford other than leasing out a building to the College for a fee.
- 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 Founder.
- The most likely story is that the arms of the College are indeed those of Bishop Rotherham, and were assigned to Jesus College by mistake, when John Speed prepared his famed map of Oxford. Speed must have seen the arms on Lawrence Hall, Ship Street, which was given to Rotherham in 1476 and was leased to Jesus College in 1572. Speed must have taken the landlord's arms to be those of the College when drawing his map in 1605, a quarter-century after the arms of Lincoln College were confirmed by Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant.