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Coats of Arms

College Coat of Arms

The College’s present coat of arms, probably devised and certainly approved by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms, when he visited Cambridge in 1575 to review those of all its (then) fourteen colleges, replaced its first one which had become an embarrassment. Appropriately for an institution “commonly called Jesus College”, it showed the Five Wounds of Jesus: those inflicted at His crucifixion on His hands and feet by the nails, and in His side and heart by the centurion’s spear (Jn. 19.34), an emblem commonly to be found in medieval cathedrals and churches and to this day on the College’s seal.

But it was by 1575 an embarrassing symbol for the College since the Five Wounds had been adopted as the badge, and emblazoned on the banners of, two rebellions protesting against the Crown’s suppression of the nation’s monasteries and nunneries and its protestantizing of the English Church: the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536 and the Rebellion of the Northern Earls in 1569.

This survival from the College’s catholic origins would no longer do for its primary role had, by the end of the1560s, become the training of godly clergy for a reformed and protestant Church of England keen to be cleansed of all remnants of late medieval piety.

So what Robert Cooke provided in its place was a shield with John Alcock’s personal arms (minus the mitre on the cross-band since it was not the College that was a bishop) bordered by ten crowns, symbols of the bishopric and diocese of Ely, whose cathedral church had been founded by the saintly Queen Etheldreda, c. 672. These new arms were topped by Cooke with a crest showing a full-bodied black cock with red comb and wattles (not just a head) emerging from a golden crown, the latter a reference, perhaps, to Henry VII and his Letters Patent (History: The pre-Reformation College).

Mottoes are, strictly speaking, not part of a heraldic coat of arms and may be adopted and varied at will. The motto Prosperum iter facias (May your journey be successful), derived from a verse in Psalm 68, and often used with the coat of arms, appears on a scroll across the cock’s body on the elaborate archway from the First Court into the Cloisters, and is to be read as an expression of good wishes to those entering and leaving the College.

College Arms from the Grant of Arms 1. The College Arms from the Grant of Arms, dated 11 July 1575






2. Modern version of the standard arms
The arms of the See of Ely 3. The arms of the See of Ely
Bishop Alcock's arms 4. Bishop Alcock’s arms