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Oxford University (England)

Last modified: 2019-03-09 by rob raeside
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[Flag of Oxford University] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 22 March 2019

See also:


Description of the flag

University of Oxford
Latin name: Universitas Oxoniensis
Full name: The Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Oxford

Flag:
A white flag with centred arms.
Source: https://www.123rf.com/photo_71285815_close-up-of-waving-flag-with-university-of-oxford-emblem-3d-rendering.html
(also available as animated image at https://de.depositphotos.com/141131340/stock-video-close-up-of-waving-flag.html but I am in doubt, whether there is more than an animation).

Coat of Arms:
Shield Azure, on an open book Argent bound Gules, garnished and having on the dexter side seven seals Or, between three coronets Or. On the book is a black inscription “DOMINUS (on dexter page) ILLUMINATIO MEA(on sinister page)”, literally “The Lord is my enlightenment”, often translated as “The Lord is my Light”

Meaning:
Neither was Oxford University founded by King Alfred nor Cambridge by King Arthur. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096. The university grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. A representation of the arms is known since the middle of the 15th century. The words on the book have not always been the same and the present inscription, though it dates from the middle of the sixteenth century, was not universally used. The arms seem to be inspired of those of the University of Paris (see here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Paris#/media/File:Coat_of_arms_of_the_University_of_Paris.svg), similar but distinct: fleurs-de-lis instead of coronets in different order, close book instead of open book.
Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Oxford
And John P. Brooke-Little: Oxford University and its Colleges, Oxford 1962
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 22 March 2019


Oxford University boating flags

In general, most of the college boat clubs fly a banner of arms of the college concerned. The best time to see these flags are during Eights Week, in 5th Week of Trinity term in late May and during Torpids in Hilary term, in February. These are regattas held on the River Thames, featuring crews from most of the colleges and private halls, plus a few other organisations (medical schools & so on) connected with the University. The majority of the college boat houses are located on the Thames in Christ Church Meadow and this is where and when you can see the most colourful display of flags in Oxford, as each boat houses flies at least one flag during Eights Week and Torpids. Many fly more than one as the boat houses are shared between colleges. It is possible that some of the college boat clubs have their own individual flags. You can also see college flags at their own premises elsewhere in the City on other occasions, mainly associated with the University, the death of college Fellows and so on. They tend to fly the Union Flag on national occasions. However, the greatest concentration in a small area is during Torpids and Eights Week.
Colin Dobson, 16 June 2005

We have two sheets of drawing of Oxford and Cambridge club flags amongst a donation at the Library, but there is no source. Further, they have all been redrawn in coloured pencil, so the precise shades are not always apparent. I have corrected some using more general sources on the colleges. The flags are all drawn as 3:2.

  • Balliol: five horizontal stripes magenta (a deep pink), white, dark blue, white, magenta
  • Brasenose: black with a yellow border [the width of the border is one-sixth of the length]
  • Christ Church: blue with a red bishop's mitre [I am not sure that this is correct. Christ Church College was founded by a cardinal, and a cardinal's red hat appears on the college tie, so it may be a mistake by the artist or in the original source]
  • Corpus Christi: three horizontal stripes red, navy, red
  • Exeter: black with a magenta border
  • Jesus: light green with a white border
  • Magdalen: divided vertically black (hoist) and white
  • Merton: blue with a red cross and a white border
  • New: five horizontal stripes brown, white, brown, white, brown
  • Oriel: divided vertically navy (hoist) and white
  • Pembroke: three horizontal stripes cerise, white, cerise
  • Queen's: seven horizontal stripes red, white, blue, white, blue, white, red 1:1:1:2:1:1:1
  • St. John's: three horizontal stripes yellow, black, scarlet
  • Trinity: navy with a white border
  • University: navy with a gold border
  • Wadham: light blue
  • Worcester: five horizontal stripes blue, white, red, white, blue

This is not all the colleges, obviously. Some might not have a rowing club - this would be true of the all-women's colleges in times gone by. I have found this extra college colours which I include for completeness, rather than saying they actually have rowing flags.

  • Hertford: red, maroon & white
  • Keble: navy, scarlet and white
  • Lady Margaret Hall: navy, gold & white
  • St. Anne's: navy & gold
  • St. Catherine's: maroon & light blue
  • St. Edmund's Hall: maroon & amber
  • St. Hilda's: navy & white
  • St. Hugh's: navy, gold & white
  • St. Peter's: green & gold
  • Somerville: scarlet & black

See also:

Ian Sumner, 20 June 2005

The flags you describe are radically different from the flags that are seen nowadays, which are heraldic banners of the college arms or incorporate simple heraldic devices. For example, Christ Church now uses navy blue a cross white. In the lithograph I saw this was the same, except with a swallow tail. From memory, some of the other non-banners now in use are:

  • Merton: white a crimson cross couped
  • St John's: white on a navy blue cross the Lamb of God white (see this image for the current St John's BC flag flying over the college banner of arms)
  • Magdalen: red three lilies in fess proper
  • Worcester: black a Maltese cross pink

Andrew Yong, 20 June 2005

I have three old postcards which have the flags of the Oxford University colleges pictured. They may be of the college boat clubs rather than the colleges themselves:

Card 1: Jesus, Wadham, Pembroke, Worcester, St. Edmund Hall, Hertford, Keble, St. Catherine's
Card 2: University, Marton, Balliol, Exeter, Oriel, Queen's
Card 3: New, Lincoln, Madgalen, Brasenose, Corpus Christi, Christ Church, Trinity, St. John's

Peter Andrew Henry, 11 July 2006

I'm not sure of the provenance of that document - it looks quite old. At least one of them - Merton - does not reflect current usage, I'll try to research this on the occasion of the next regatta, when most of the flags should be displayed, however this will have to wait until the start of the next academic year, which is many months off. Most, but not all, of the Oxford colleges have boat houses, usually shared with one other college or institution, on the River Thames, where it runs through Christ Church Meadow in Oxford. Most of the boathouses have two flag poles, one for each college and they usually fly a flag when regattas are being held. See this photograph, from the University College Boat Club web site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oobrien/10670513/in/set-263531/, wherein may be seen (third from right) the St John's Boat Club flag above the St John's College flag on the same flagpole: http://info.sjc.ox.ac.uk/socs/sjcbc/oldsite/gallery/nearflag.jpg.

The colleges themselves, mostly located in the city centre, have their own range of flag flying days and would typically fly a banner of arms on a day associated with the University, such as Degree Day, and the Union Flag on a national flag flying day. There are 39 colleges and 7 permanent private halls - a total of 46, although not all have boat clubs and there are also a number of other boat clubs associated with the University coming out of institutions such as the medical school.

As pointed out above, some college boat clubs, such as St John's - not in these post card files - have their own flag, which is different from the college flag. Also, there are numerous other eccentricities, such as Christ Church College, which flies a banner of arms of its founder. Ian Sumner wrote about a sheet of Oxford and Cambridge college club flags in the collection of the Flag Institute, which differs from this latest source. Without being able to compare that source with this source fully, it would seem to me that the drawings referred to therein are taking the actual colours of the boat crews - as worn on their clothing - and transposing them to flags, for some reason.

In the third card there is (probably) an error where the Corpus boat flag is shown as a crimson pelican on a blue background, when in fact, it is a yellow or gold pelican on a blue background, as depicted on the link at http://www.ucbc.org.uk. Second flagpole from the left and also the arms shown on the College web site, from whence it comes: http://www.ccc.ox.ac.uk and can also be seen atop the sundial in the middle of the quad. Note also its unusual ratio. It is a very large flag when flown on the flagpole above the Porters Lodge at the entrance to the College.

In summary, some of these flags are quite complex and I would suggest further research is required.
Colin Dobson, 11 July 2006

On eBay at http://www.netsoc.tcd.ie/~peterh/arms1.jpg is the same card set but from a different year. It's difficult to tell whether it's older or newer, but there are some differences. I have noticed that the arms of St Catherine's College were incorrect on the other cards, where the arms of St Catherine's Cambridge were actually depicted. This version has the arms of St Catherine's before it became collegiate. That could be an indicator of the year.
Colin Dobson, 30 July 2006

1:1 proportions are supported by this postcard, which I have just found on the internet: http://www.richardwebster.net/suffolkcards/acatalog/oxford_eights.html. It also shows a swallowtail pattern.
Andrew Yong, 12 April 2007

Most boat clubs borrow a banner of arms from the Porter for the day. The postcards [linked above] are historical, rather than a reflection of current practice. I am not sure there are any hard and fast rules in respect of the construction of these flags; if anything it looks rather good that there are some unusual sizes and ratios along that stretch of the river in Christ Church Meadow.
Colin Dobson, 12 April 2007

Boat clubs of Oxford colleges have crests, but the pattern isn’t unique. Many of them display the college arms superimposing a pair of oars in saltire, others display the oars in saltire with the coat of arms above, some a logo or the club flag pattern instead the coat of arms. St. John’s Boat Club has additional club arms, having the pattern of the club flag. All others have in common that the crest also displays the blade pattern. An example can be seen for Worcester College, which is the only one to display two different blade patterns, one for the men's crew, one for the women's crew. The coat of arms in the crest displays the college pattern but in the boat club colours pink and black.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 20 March 201


Source: “The arms of the Colleges; &c in Oxford' by J. Owen & E. Bowen c.1720

(…) A charming 18th Century engraving displaying the coats of arms of the major colleges in Oxford, which was published in John Owen and Emanuel Bowen's pocket road atlas, Britannia Depicta or Ogilby Improv'd (London: T. Bowles, 1720). The mileage chart above relates to the road from Oxford to Cambridge.

'Britannia Depicta' (1720-1764) was one of the most popular atlases of the 18th century being published in many editions for close to fifty years. The maps themselves were engraved by Emanuel Bowen (1694?-1767), who was one of the most renowned and prolific map makers of the period. As with many of his maps, he has included copious amounts of text -- written by John Owen -- describing the county.

An original copperplate engraving with later hand colour was available. The printed areas are approximately 11.6 cms by 18.2 cms. (…) Guaranteed to be over 290 years old” at https://www.wellandantiquemaps.co.uk/arms-colleges-c-oxford-j-owen-e-bowen-c1720.
I made a screenshot from the enlargements of the single coats of arms. Except for New College all have been drawn with baroque shields, bordered with rococo ornaments. Some general differences to modern sources I mention just in total:
Probably due to physical limits the heraldic metals might be not always depicted properly.

1) The leopards of the English Arms are always depicted as Argent, which might be a mark of differentiation, but I don’t believe that. (arms of Oriel, Lincoln, Brasenose). It is the same with a few charges, e.g. Virgin Mary in the arms of the Lincoln Bishopric (Brasenose, Lincoln) and the pelican (Corpus Christi)
2) The tincture of stars is not always recognisable (Lincoln, St. John’s).

Here are the significant aberrations of single colleges, note the encoding in Petra Sancta and the later hand colour:
3) Queens: background tincture Or and mullet on 1st eagle’s breast missing
4) Merton had used the current pattern in a Baroque shield.
5) Exeter: bordure Gules instead of Sable.
6) All Souls: background tincture Argent
7) Jesus: background tincture encoded as Azure in Petra Sancta but recoloured Vert, thus the blue background had been in use at least until 1720, encoding is distinct to that one in Lincoln arms, where the background is encoded as Vert
8) Brasenose: the quartered arms at sinister here have different chevron tinctures, those of Sutton with horns are Sable, but those of Southworth with crosslets are Gules.
9) Balliol: shield Gules with orle Argent, completed version of the current sinister field
10) Corpus Christi: in a baroque shield a round badge as follows: parted per pale, at dexter Gules a sword Argent in bend beneath a pair of keys Argent in bend sinister, i.e. mirrored in comparison with current arms of the bishopric, at sinister Azure a pelican Argent etc. in stead of Or; the badge is surrounded by the belt (Argent) of the Order of the Garter
11) New: Round badge charged with the colleges arms surrounded by the belt (Azure) of the Order of the Garter without shield.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 12 March 2019