University of Houston Law Center LEX Seal

I happened to see on Yahoo Answers a question I had always wondered about myself - why are there three ducks on the seal of the University of Houston Law Center? So I did a little research. According to the Law Center website:

The Law Center seal includes three martlets above an opened text inscribed with “LEX,” the Latin word for law. Martlets, symbolizing peace and deliverance, also appear in the University of Houston seal – which in turn is drawn from the coat of arms of General Sam Houston who claimed descent from Sir Hugh of Padavan, an 11th century Norman knight.

I did a little more digging and found a more satisfying justification than symbols of "peace and deliverance" - two things you'll find very little of in a law school.

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CONTINUOUS PROJECT, ALTERED OCCASIONALLY

History of the Lex Seal at the University of Houston Law Center

Published on Aug 22nd, 2010 by

University of Houston Law Center LEX Seal

I happened to see on Yahoo Answers a question I had always wondered about myself – why are there three ducks on the seal of the University of Houston Law Center? So I did a little research. According to the Law Center website:

The Law Center seal includes three martlets above an opened text inscribed with “LEX,” the Latin word for law. Martlets, symbolizing peace and deliverance, also appear in the University of Houston seal – which in turn is drawn from the coat of arms of General Sam Houston who claimed descent from Sir Hugh of Padavan, an 11th century Norman knight.

I did a little more digging and found a more satisfying justification than symbols of “peace and deliverance” – two things you’ll find very little of in a law school. The martlets (also martelette, martinet or martin), “a byrde whose fete be so lytle, that they seeme to haue none.”1. It became used in heraldry as a mark of cadency for a fourth son, symbolizing their position as having no footing in the ancestral lands.2.

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to have a Wills and Trusts professor with an interest in primogeniture, you may recognize the English practice by which the first son inherited the estate. The second and third sons traditionally went into the Church and the Army, and the fourth had no well-defined place. As the fourth son received no part of the family wealth and had to earn his own, the martlet was also a “symbol of hard work, perseverance, and a nomadic household.”3

A number of universities have adopted the martlet – Pembroke College, Cambridge, University College, Oxford, and McGill – sometimes shown without feet, thus denoting an inability to land and symbolizing the “constant quest for knowledge and learning.”4

The University of Houston Law Center no doubt inherited the martlets from the University of Houston as a whole, which adopted the seal in 1938, derived from General Sam Houston’s coat of arms.

I probably could have lived a long time without ever again pondering the significance of the ducks, but I like the image – a fourth child with no claim to the estate or designated career path but creating a legacy of his or her own through hard work and perseverance, in a never-ceasing flight in pursuit of knowledge and learning.

  1. Thomas Elyot, Latin Dictionary (1538) []
  2. Oxford English Dictionary []
  3. Wikipedia: Martlet; Arthur Charles Fox Davies, A Complete Guide to Heraldry, 244, 489-90 (2008) []
  4. Wikipedia: Martlet []

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