Sold - The Washington Family Coat of Arms

From the 17th Century

About 1200, the Norman knight William de Hertburne procured the village of Wessyngton. As was common, he changed his surname to that of his new land and became William de Wessyngton. In time, the name "Wessyngton" changed to “Washington.” Their status as a knightly family allowed the de Wessyingtons to adopt a coat of arms reflecting their high position, and that coat contained two silver (Argent) bars and three stars of red (Gules). At the crest, the Raven rested in the Crown (Corona).

There were a number of Washington descendents with the given name of Lawrence. In the branch of George Washington, Lawrence Washington (1568-1616) had a son Reverend Lawrence Washington (1602-1653), who was a Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford and Rector of Purleigh. He had two sons, John (1633-1677) and Lawrence (1635-1677). These brothers saw the new opportunities in trade with the American colonies and relocated there. Together the brothers founded the illustrious Washington family of Virginia. John Washington was the great-grandfather of George and Lawrence was the great-uncle. John had a son Lawrence Washington who was born in 1659 and died in 1698. He was the grandfather of George. And George’s brother, from whom he inherited Mount Vernon, was also named Lawrence. There may well have been men of the name Lawrence Washington in other branches of the family.

This document, headed as being for “Lawrence Washington,” is a set of instructions for the construction of the Washington family coat of arms. The coat at top is quartered with another that says, rather enigmatically, “St. Mervery or Ivather” which is either another family or a patron saint. The supremacy of the Washington arms in the first and fourth quarter means that the coat was in the male line, and the raven above further indicated the standing of the Washington family. The lower coat related solely to the Washingtons. Though undated, this document is written on paper whose watermark dates from the middle of the 17th century, being a shield and fleur de lis - the mark of the English papermaker Thomas Gunther. The instructions were “gallicé, latiné & anglicé,” or written in French, Latin, and English, and show the positions, colors and arrangements of the various elements of the quartered coat to whoever would create it. It also gives a “Carmine Heroico,” or heroic verse, below the third illustration.

While it is not certain why or by whom this document was created, one plausible explanation is that these instructions were sent by members of the Washington family who remained in England to those who emigrated to the United States. George Washington, who was proud of his family’s heraldry and used his coat of arms on his bookplates, seals and china, later changed the bird to a Griffin. This coat was the inspiration for the flag of Washington, D.C.