Trinity College's Coat of Arms was granted by Letters Patent on 5 March 1964, but its origins lie much further back in the College's history.
In 1878, the Council of the College adopted several fundamental elements of Trinity's Coat of Arms: the arms shown on the escutcheon (shield), the crest, and the motto. The elements are used separately and together for different purposes.
On 12 November 1877, the Council passed a motion proposed by then Warden, Dr Alexander Leeper, to adopt a coat of arms. The design as described in the minutes, incorporated 'three trefoils with a chevron vert on a field argent and a fleur-de-lys argent for crest'. Meaning, three green clover leaves and a chevron on a silver (white) background, surmounted by a silver fleur-de-lys; the Council adopted the design formally at its meeting of 17 January 1878. The shield forms the central part of the coat of arms. Early forms of the Trinity arms are shown with a shield of the Swiss style, with a double-scooped upper border. In some instances, this was altered to a shield with a straight top edge in a shape known as Old French.
Dr Leeper was often asked why he had chosen the fleur-de-lys for the crest, to which he replied, 'It was suggested to me by Tennyson’s line "Wearing the white flower of a blameless life." It seemed suitable and inspiring for such a society as ours.' As in most arms, the crest is placed above the shield, sitting on a helmet. The crest has been adopted as the emblem of the College’s alumni association, the Union of the Fleur-de-Lys.
‘Pro Ecclesia, Pro Patria’ is a Latin motto meaning ‘For the Church, for the Country.' Dr Leeper noted that this showed the ecclesiastical and national character of the College. 'While a Church of England foundation, it was also to be an integral part of our national University.' The motto on a scroll appears below the shield.
The shield, crest and motto together form the coat of arms. In 1906, Dr Leeper established a fund to pay for obtaining a formal grant of arms from the College of Heralds in London, but the College’s status, originally as a Trust for a Crown Land Grant, prevented it. It was not until 1957 with the passing of the second Trinity College Act by the Victorian parliament, that an application was possible.
The Council, then under the Presidency of Archbishop Frank Woods, made an application in 1962, but the submitted design based on Dr Leeper’s original, was rejected as being too similar to an existing grant (that to the Sleford family and the town of Sleaford in Lincolnshire). Modifications were made –the addition of the stars to the chevron and to the fleur-de-lys, and the inclusion of the laurel branches – and the arms were granted on 5 March 1964.
The Arms are emblazoned, 'argent on a chevron gules between three trefoils slipped vert three mullets of eight points argent', and a crest 'on a mount vert and within two branches of laurel fruited, or 'a fleur-de-lys argent charged with a mullet of eight points azure'. Meaning, on a silver (white) background, three silver eight-pointed stars on a red chevron between three green clover leaves with stalks; above a green hill, between two gold branches of laurel bearing fruit, a fleur-de-lys bearing a blue, eight-pointed star.
While the Coat of Arms is used on official documents and on formal occasions, there is some history of use of the shield alone. Examples include the College’s honour boards and the badges in the stonework of the Behan Building. In 2010, the College refreshed the shield for use as a logo on daily business correspondence and on electronic communications such as the website. The logo is a key element in the presentation to modern audiences of the College as a contemporary organisation and does not replace the use of the Coat of Arms in places where more formal use, such as when the College seal is affixed, is required.