Thursday, July 4, 2013

HERALDRY: Washington, the U.S. Flag, and Sulgrave Manor (Updated June 2, 2016)

Washington coat of arms and a version of the U.S. coat of
 arms, above a portrait of George Washington at the
Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire, England,
near Banbury. Photo by  JTMarlin, June 29, 2013.
I have just come back with more information, beyond what I posted last month, on the connections between George Washington's family and the Stars and Stripes.

One visit was to the Sulgrave Manor, near Banbury ("Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross") in England. It's an amazingly informative historical site, with helpful information on George Washington's ancestors. I recommend the DVD they sell at the gift shift.

The locals around Sulgrave during the week before July 4 every year get together and re-enact the French and Indian wars, in which George Washington played a significant role.

The staff of the Sulgrave Manor is convinced that the Stars and Stripes were derived from the Washington coat of arms.

To recap the origin of my quest, it is the surprisingly flat statement on the American Heraldry Society website, in an article written in 2006 by Joseph McMillan, Director of Research for the Society, that:
"[T]here is not a shred of evidence that the one [coat of arms of the Washington family] had anything to do with the other [coat of arms of the USA, or the U.S. flag]".  [Emphasis added by me.]
It is one thing to say there is no evidence and another to reject all of the evidence. I was once on a jury in which a fellow juror rejected multiple pieces of evidence – from fingerprints, a video security camera showing the robbery in progress, personal identification by the jewelry store owner, and cell-phone call records showing contacts before the robbery with an accomplice. She eventually disclosed that no evidence would lead her to convict the individual and she admitted that she should have disqualified herself during the voir dire. She agreed to vote guilty on condition the charges were reduced. Afterwards the judge revealed several additional pieces of evidence from the trial of the accomplice (also found guilty) that had to be excluded.

In the hope that I can convince objective readers, I am describing two key pieces of evidence collected recently, one on my visit last week to the Sulgrave Manor in England and the other in two visits to the British Library.

1. The Pairing of the Washington and U.S. Coats of Arms by Paul Revere and the Colonial Dames

Today, on the Fourth of July, I provide my photo of the frame above the portrait of George Washington, contributed by the Colonial Dames of America. The actual shipment of the gift was interrupted by the Great War, but fundraising was broadly based in the years before the war. It is clear that the Colonial Dames are strongly asserting the connection between the two coats of arms via their use of Paul Revere's pairing of the two in a design at William and Mary University.

The eagle appears as an early alternative to the raven in the Washington coat of arms. The eagle in the United States shield holds an olive branch in its right talon and 13 arrows in its left talon. The original design shows the eagle's head facing to its right (dexter), the viewer's left, toward the olive branch. President Truman found the eagle's head on a version of The Great Seal turned the other way (sinister), toward the arrows, and instructed that in accordance with the meaning of the creation of the Department of Defense (as opposed to the Department of War) – and, one could add, the original designers of the seal – all versions of the Great Seal shall have the head of the eagle again facing its right (dexter), toward the olive branch.

2. The "Revolutionary" Mullets in the Washington Coat of Arms

Those who believe that there is no connection between the stars and stripes on the Washington coat of arms and the Stars and Stripes make a great deal of the fact that on a coat of arms the stars are not stars. They are "mullets" - i.e., the rotating spurs on the bottom of boots worn by knights.  Nothing to do with the white stars on the Stars and Stripes signifying a "new constellation". Well, my research on coats of arms produces some information that hoists these purists on their own petard:
  • The small holes in the center of the mullets, around which the spur would revolve, appear in the earliest versions of the Washington coat of arms but not usually in later versions. What was once proudly claimed by a knight wearing armor as a spur evolved into an unpierced mullet.
  • A French heraldry book at the British Library puts mullets in the class of estoiles (these days the word estoile refers to the wavy six-pointed star) and says that they are always, unless specified in the blazon otherwise, six-pointed in France and eight-pointed in Germany. 
  • That would mean in Norman England, a mullet would properly be a six-pointed, as it was in the earliest versions of the Washington Coat of Arms, in the fourth volume of the history of Durham County in the British Library.
  • Somewhere early in the Washington family's early history the mullet became five-pointed (or with five "rayons" in the French heraldic vernacular). This change was called "revolutionary" in one of the books I consulted, possibly only tongue in chief, but perhaps with a significant meaning.
  • My theory is that George Washington was extremely proud of the five-pointed mullet. George Washington, in the Betsy Ross story, had the six-pointed stars in the designs for the canton of the early versions of the Stars and Stripes changed to five-pointed stars. One version is that she showed him a way to cut a square of cloth into a five-pointed star with one cut of the scissors. This would obscure the connection to the  "revolutionary" Washington family arms design, and avert the charge that Washington was trying to introduce a monarchy into the new United States.
  • Another deflection of attention from the closeness of the five-pointed star to the Washington coat of arms would have been his response to concern about removing the (then) two Christian crosses of the British flag from our American flag – those of St. George and St. Andrew (the cross of St. Patrick came later). According to the story, Washington said, "But we are adding the stars of Heaven..." When Washington introduced the new flag in 1776 to Congress, he said that the stars represent "the new constellation".
  • We don't have to document that George Washington personally intervened for his own family aggrandizement. That would have been out of character. It would have been enough for those around him to see how deep was Washington affection for the family coat of arms – widely displayed in his stationery, bookplates and silver.