|Washington arms, Trinity College, Oxford window,
from Durham College chapel. Photo by JTMarlin.
|Washington arms in a window of
Selby Abbey church, Yorkshire.
|Durham Quad, Trinity College, Oxford. The Old Library
where the Washington-crest window is now is in the medieval building
at left, with the Trinity chapel at right (south). Photo taken on the Hall side.
Durham College was one of the victims of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. It was privatized in March 1545, was transferred to private owners in 1553, and was purchased by civil servant Sir Thomas Pope on February 20, 1555 (February 1554 under the existing calendar) to found Trinity College barely two weeks later. Durham College was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St Cuthbert, and the Trinity. Pope is believed to have taken the Trinity College name from the last element of the Durham dedication. Pope, a childless Catholic, hoped to be remembered in college prayers and his wishes are still honored.
Both versions of the Washington family coat of
arms above show three five-pointed red stars over two horizontal red bars on a white field ("argent,
two bars gules, above, three mullets gules"). This is the flag or crest that is widely
believed to have inspired the Stars
and Stripes. The Washington coat of arms was certainly the basis for the design used since 1938 of the flag of
the District of Columbia.
A BBC documentary in 2002 featured Selby Abbey Church in North Yorkshire
(not itself a cathedral, but modeled on the huge Durham Cathedral recently used for the first two Harry Potter movies). The Abbey Church shows the Washington coat of arms on one of its stained glass windows of the Abbey Church. This belief dates back at least to the U.S. centennial year 1876, when in "Washington:
A Drama in Five Acts," a verse play by Englishman
Martin Farquhar Tupper, the character Benjamin Franklin says: "We, and not he - it was unknown to him - took up
his coat of arms" to fashion a flag. His play was widely performed and the story was retold St. Nicholas, the magazine for American children.
However, the American Heraldry Society has worked itself into a lather about the claim that the Washington coat of arms inspired the Stars and Stripes. It argues that records on the design for the American flag don't support this belief. However, to my mind its arguments are not conclusive:
- The Society accepts that George Washington used his coat of arms more than any other president has done since, so that however modest his advocates make him out to be, his love of his crest being known may have influenced the many people who wanted to honor him, whether or not he himself expressed desire for the honor. Tupper's play is consistent with that scenario.
- The Society credits design of the flag to Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, on the basis that he is the only person who billed Congress for his work, asking for a quarter-casket of wine. Yes, he had some artistic ability and had spent more than a year in England, including some time with future Prime Minister Lord North. However, (1) Hopkinson's design used six-pointed stars, whereas the stars on the American flag are five-pointed mullets as in George Washington's arms, and (2) Hopkinson had the stars arranged in the form of two crosses, like the Union Jack, whereas the first approved flags had the stars arranged in three rows or a circle. The Congress demurred in paying Hopkinson's bill, partly on the basis that he claimed too much credit, since many people were involved in designing the flag.
The Trinity Coillege window is one more piece of evidence for linking the Washington stars and stripes to the U.S. flag.