Friday, March 23, 2012

Flags:, by Andrew Macgeorge - Full Text



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In a nation like ours, with a dominion so extended, and with communication by sea and land with all parts of the world, the flags under which ships sail and armies and navies fight, cannot be without interest. Yet there are few subjects in regard to which the means of information are less accessible. The object of the present volume is to give, in a popular form, some account of our own flags, and of those of other nations, ancient and modern, with some notices regarding the use of flags, in naval warfare and otherwise.
I have taken occasion to point out certain heraldic inaccuracies in the construction of our national flag, and also in the design on our bronze coinage. I shall be glad if what I have written be the means, by directing public attention to the subject, of effecting the correction of these errors.
A. M.
Glenarn, December, 1880.


Introductory, 11
Ancient Standards, 13
Different Kinds of Flags—Gonfanon, Pennon, Penoncel, 28
Banners, 29
Standards—the Royal Standard, 36
Standards borne by Nobles, 44
Flags of the Covenanters, 51
National Flags, 54
The Union Flag, 55
The Union Jack, 64
The Ensign, 67
Special Flags, 71
The Pendant, 72
Signals and other Flags, 73
Use of Flags in Naval Warfare, 75
International Usage as to Flags, 88
Flags of the British Army, 96
Use of Flags by Private Persons, 102
Foreign Flags—France, 103
The American Flag, 110
Other Foreign Flags, 113
Conclusion, 117
Index, 119


Plate Page
I. Standard presented by Napoleon I. to his Guards at Elba, a short time before he invaded France in 1815, Frontispiece
II. The "Bluidy Banner" carried at Bothwell Brig, A.D. 1670, 54
III. Union Flags and Pendant, 62
IV. National Flags and Standards, 108
V. Do. do. 112
VI. Do. do. 116
1. Ancient Egyptian Standards, 14
2. Other forms of Egyptian Standards, 15
3. Do. do. 15
4. Assyrian Standard, 17
5. Another form of Assyrian Standard, 17
6. Assyrian Standards and Standard-bearers, 18
7. Other varieties of Assyrian Standards, 19
8. Persian Standard, 20
9. Turkish Horse-tail Standard, 20
10. Standard of Turkish Pacha, 21
11. Roman Eagle, 21
12. The Roman Wolf on Standard, 21
13. Group of Roman Standards, 22
[pg x]14. Roman Standard—Various Devices on same Staff, 23
15. Another form with different Devices, 23
16. Other Roman Standards, 24
17. Roman Labarum, 24
18. Standard of Constantine, 25
19. Dragon used as Roman Standard, 25
20. Standard of Earl of Warwick, 1437, 45
21. Flag of the Earl Marshall, 46
22. Standard of Earl Douglas, 1388, 48
23. Later Banner of the Douglas's, 49
24. The "Blue Blanket," 1482, 51
25. Flag of the Covenanters, 1679, 52
26. The Union Flag as now borne, 59
27. The Union on the Bronze Penny, 64
28. Regimental Colours of 24th Regiment, 97
29. Queen's Colours of 24th Regiment as presented to the Queen, 98
30. The Oriflamme, circa A.D. 1248, 104
31. The French Eagle, during the Empire, 108
32. United States Flag, as used in 1777, 111


On that morning when the news arrived from South Africa of the disaster at Isandlana, there was general mourning for the loss of so many brave men; but there was mourning also of a different kind,—with some perhaps even deeper—for the loss of the colours of the 24th Regiment. And yet, after all, it was only a bit of silk which had been lost, having on it certain devices and inscriptions—a thing of no intrinsic value, and which could be replaced at a cost merely nominal. But it possessed extrinsic qualities which could be measured by no money value, and every one felt that the loss was one to redeem which, or rather to redeem what that loss represented, demanded, if necessary, the putting forth of the strength of a great nation. And so, when it was found that the colours never had been really lost—that they had been saved by brave men who had laid down their lives in defending them—there was throughout the nation a feeling of intense relief that national honour had been saved; a feeling of rejoicing far beyond what was[pg 12]evoked by the news of the capture of the Zulu king and the termination of the war. So at sea. In our great wars in which the navy of Great Britain played so prominent a part, we became so accustomed to see the flag of the enemy bent on under our own ensign, that if an exceptional case occurred where the position of the two flags was reversed, it went home to the heart of every loyal subject with a pang which the loss of many ships by storm and tempest would not have produced.
Yet how few of us know what the national colours are, what the Union is, what the Royal Standard is. Not to speak of civilians, are there many officers, in either the army or the navy, who, without a copy before them, could accurately construct or describe the flag of the nation under which they fight, or tell what its component parts represent? I doubt it. And, after all, they would not be so much without excuse, for even at the Horse Guards and the Admiralty, there is some confusion of ideas on the subject. I have before me "The Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Army," issued by the Commander-in-chief, in which flags which can be flown only on shore are confounded with flags which can be flown nowhere but on board ship. Yet the subject is really an interesting one, and, connected as it is with national history, it is deserving of a little study.
Flags are of many kinds, and they are put to many uses. They are the representatives of nations; they[pg 13]distinguish armies and fleets, and to insult a flag is to insult the nation whose ensign it is. We see in flags, says Carlyle, "the divine idea of duty, of heroic daring—in some instances of freedom and right." There are national flags, flags of departments, and personal flags; and as signals they are of the greatest value as a means of communication at sea.


It is chiefly of our own flags that I intend to speak, but it may be interesting to say something of those which were in use among the peoples of ancient history.
From the earliest times of which we have authentic records, standards or banners were borne by nations, and carried in battle. It was so in Old Testament times, as we know from the mention of banners as early as the time of Moses. They are repeatedly referred to by David and Solomon. The lifting up of ensigns is frequently mentioned in the Psalms and by the Prophets, while the expression, "Terrible as an army with banners," shows the importance and the awe with which they were regarded.
Fig. 1.—Egyptian Standards.
We find representations of standards on the oldest bas-reliefs of Egypt. Indeed, the invention of standards is, by ancient writers, attributed to the Egyptians. According to Diodorus, the Egyptian standards consisted generally of the figures of their sacred animals borne on[pg 14]the end of a staff or spear, and in the paintings at Thebes we find on them such objects as a king's name and a sacred boat. One prominent and much used form was a figure resembling an expanded semicircular fan, and another example shows this form reversed and surmounted by the head of the goddess Athor, crowned with her symbolic disk and cow's horns. Another figure also used as a standard resembles a round-headed table-knife. Examples of these, and of the sacred ibis and dog, are shown in Fig. 1.[1] But on the Egyptian standards—those which[pg 15]were no doubt used in Pharaoh's army—there were various other figures, including reptiles such as lizards and beetles, with birds crowned with the fan-like ornament already referred to. A group of these is given in Fig. 2; but they had many other forms. Those represented in Fig. 3, and which show some curious symbolic forms, are taken from the works of Champollion, Wilkinson, and Rosellini.
[1]For this, and figures 6, 14, and 15, I am indebted to the courtesy of Messrs. A. and C. Black. They appear in the Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. ix. p. 276.
Fig. 2.—Egyptian Standards.
Fig. 3.—Egyptian Standards.
That the Hebrews carried standards after the exodus is, as I have already said, certain, and the probability is that they derived the practice from the Egyptian[pg 16]nation, from whose bondage they had just escaped, for they bore as devices figures of birds and animals, and also human figures, just as the Egyptians did. One of the earliest of the divine commands given to Moses was that "every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard with the ensign of their father's house."[2] The ensignprobably meant the particular device borne upon the standard by each tribe; and tradition has assigned as these the symbolic cherubim seen in the visions of Ezekiel and John—Judah bearing a lion, Reuben a man, Ephraim an ox, and Dan an eagle. This is the opinion of the later Jews. The Targumists believe that, besides these representations, the banners were distinguished by particular colours—the colour for each tribe being analogous to that of the precious stone in the breastplate of the high-priest. They consider also that each standard bore the name of the tribe with a particular sentence from the Law. The modern opinion, however, is that the Hebrew standards were distinguished only by their colours, and by the name of the tribe to which each belonged.
[2]Numbers ii. 2.
Apart from the direct Scripture evidence on the subject, this bearing of distinguishing standards is what might be expected in a military organization such as that of the Israelites, just as we find them using warlike music. It is interesting to note that even the particular trumpet signals to be used for the assembling and advance of the[pg 17]troops, and in cases of alarm in time of war, are carefully prescribed,[3] while the association of their military standards with the trumpet is indicated in the exclamation of Jeremiah: "How long shall I see the standard and hear the sound of the trumpet?"[4]
[3]Numbers x. 3.
[4]Jer. iv. 21.
Fig. 4.—An Assyrian Standard. Fig. 5.—Another Assyrian Standard.
As the standard was among all nations regarded with reverence, so the standard-bearer was selected for his strength and courage. So important was this considered[pg 18]that Isaiah, in describing the ruin and discomfiture that was about to fall on the King of Assyria, could find no stronger expression than to say that his overthrow would be "as when a standard-bearer fainteth."[5]
[5]Isa. x. 18.
Fig. 6.—Assyrian Standards and Standard-bearers.
The standards of the Assyrians, like those of the Egyptians, consisted of figures fastened on the end of spears or staffs; but of these very few varieties have been yet discovered. Layard says[6] that "standards were carried by the Assyrian charioteers. In the sculptures they have only two devices [Figs. 4, 5, 6]: one a figure, probably[pg 19]that of a divinity, standing on a bull and drawing a bow; in the other, two bulls running in opposite directions. These figures are inclosed in a circle and fixed to a long staff ornamented with streamers and tassels. The standards appear to have been partly supported by a rest in front of the chariot, and a long rope connecting them with the extremity of the pole. In a bas-relief of Khorsabad this rod is attached to the top of a standard." The interesting illustration given in Fig. 6 is from a sculpture in which these standards are represented with the figures of the standard-bearers, and in which also the ropes or supports of the staff are indicated.
[6]Nineveh and its Remains.
Fig. 7.—Assyrian Standards.
There were, however, varieties in the forms of the Assyrian standards other than those mentioned by Layard. In the annexed cut (Fig. 7) the one to the left is from a sculpture in the British Museum. The others are given on the authority of Botta.
Fig. 8.—Persian Standard. Fig. 9.—Turkish Horse-tail Standard.
Fig. 10.—Standard of Pacha.
The Persians, like the Assyrians, carried their standards, in battle, on staffs or spears attached to chariots. Their royal standard was a golden eagle with wings expanded carried on the end of a spear. They had also a figure of[pg 20]the sun which they used on great occasions when the king was present with the army. Quintus Curtius describes one of these figures of the sun, inclosed in a crystal, as making a very splendid appearance above the royal tent. But the proper royal standard of the Persians for many centuries, until the Mahommedan conquest, was a blacksmith's leather apron, around which the people had been at one time rallied to a successful opposition against an invader (Fig. 8). Many other national standards have had their origin in similar causes. Something which was at hand was seized in an emergency, and lifted up as a rallying point for the people, and afterwards adopted from the attachment which clung to it as an object identified with patriotic deeds. In this way originated the horse-tails borne as a standard by the modern Turks (Fig. 9). Under[pg 21]the old system, among that people, the distinction of rank between the two classes of pachas was indicated by the number of these horse-tails, the standards of the second class having only two tails, while those of the higher had three. Hence the term a pacha of two tails or three. A further mark of distinction appears to have been the elevation of one of the tails above the others, and the surmounting of each with the crescent, as shown in Fig. 10.
Fig. 11.
Fig. 12.
The Romans had various forms of standards, some composed entirely of fixed figures of different devices, including figures of animals. The eagle, according to Pliny, was the first and chief military ensign. In the second consulship of Caius Marius (B.C. 104) the eagle (Fig. 11) alone was used, but at a subsequent period some of the old emblems were resumed. These were the minotaur, the horse, and the wild boar; and on the Trajan Column we find as one of their standards the historic wolf (Fig. 12).
Fig. 13.—Roman Standards.
One of the most ancient of the Roman standards had an origin similar to that of the[pg 22]apron of the Persians and the horse-tails of the Turks. It was derived from a popular rising which took place in the time of Romulus, and was composed of a wisp of hay attached to the end of a pole (as seen in Fig. 13), and carried into battle. From its name, manipulus, the companies of foot soldiers, of which the hastati, principes, andtriarii of each legion were composed, came to be called maniples—manipuli. Another standard borne by the Romans was a spear with a piece of cross wood at the top with the figure of a hand above, and having below a small round shield of gold or silver, as shown in Fig. 13. On this circle were at first represented the warlike deities Mars and Minerva, but after the extinction of the commonwealth it bore the effigies of the emperors and their favourites. From these coin-shaped devices the standards were called numina legionum. The eagle was sometimes represented with a thunderbolt in its claws, of which an example will be[pg 23]seen in Fig. 13. Under the later emperors it was carried with the legion, which was on that account sometimes termed aquila. The place for this standard was near the general, almost in the centre.
Fig. 14.
Fig. 15.
Another common form of the Roman standard consisted in a variety of figures and devices exhibited on the same staff, one over the other. On the top of one of these will be seen a human hand (Fig. 14). This by itself, or inclosed, as here, within a wreath, was, as I have mentioned, a frequent device, and was probably of oriental origin. It is also found as a symbol in ancient Mexico; and at the present day the flagstaffs of the Persians terminate in a silver hand. Among the pieces composing this form of standard are also found the eagle, and figures of the emperors inclosed in circles, with other devices (Fig. 15). A common form is that numbered 5 in Fig. 16. This example is taken from the Arch of Titus. The eagle surmounting the thunderbolt with the letters S P Q R (No. 3) was also a common form. The letters indicateSenatus Populusque Romanus. The examples Nos. 1[pg 24]and 2 in Fig. 16 are from Montfaucon. No. 4 is given by Mr. Hope.
The vexillum of the Romans was a standard composed of a square piece of cloth fastened to a cross bar at the top of a spear, sometimes with a fringe all round as shown in Fig. 13, and sometimes fringed only below (No. 4, Fig. 16), or without a fringe, but draped at the sides (Fig. 17). When placed over the general's tent it was a sign for marching, or for battle.
Fig. 16.—Roman Standards.
Fig. 17.
Fig. 18.
Fig. 19.
The labarum of the emperors was similar in form, and frequently bore upon it a representation of the emperor, sometimes by himself and sometimes accompanied by the heads of members of his family. It has been said that the Emperor Constantine bore on the top of his standard the sign of the cross, but this was not so. The cross at that time was known only as a heathen emblem, and was not adopted by the Christians till afterwards. That[pg 25]which Constantine bore was what in his time was the only recognized Christian emblem—the first two letters of our Lord's name (Fig. 18)—the Greek X (English CH) and P (in English R). The labarumwas made of silk. The term is sometimes used for other standards, and its form may still be recognized in the banners carried in ecclesiastical processions. The labarum, like the vexillum, had sometimes fringes with tassels or ribbons.
The dragon, an ensign of the Parthians, was adopted by the Romans as the standard of their cohorts. It appears as such on the Arch of Severus. It was also the device of the Dacians, and indeed seems to have been a general ensign among barbarians. Besides being carried as a separate figure in metal—as shown in Fig. 19—it was frequently embroidered in cotton or silk on a square piece of cloth borne on a cross bar elevated on a gilt staff; the bearer being called draconarius. From the Romans the dragon came to the Western Empire. It was borne by the German Emperors. In England also it was for some time the chief standard of the kings, and of the Dukes of Normandy, and according to Sir Richard[pg 26]Bacon it was the standard of Utor Pendragon, king of the Britons.[7] The golden dragon was in the eighth century the standard of Wessex, and it was displayed in a great battle in 742 when Ethelbald, the king of Mercia, was defeated. It was also borne on a pole by King Harold as a standard. It was borne by Henry VII. at Bosworth Field, and at a later date it was carried as a supporter by Henry VIII. and Edward VI., and also by Elizabeth. In many of the illuminations of MSS. in the fifteenth century we also find a gold dragon on a red pennon, as one of the ensigns in the French armies.
[7]Nisbet's Heraldry, vol. i. p. 343.
The infantry flag of the Romans was red, that of the cavalry blue, and that of a consul white.
The banners of the Parthians resembled those of the Romans, but they were more richly decorated with gold and silk.
In early times the Greeks carried as a standard a piece of armour on a spear, but although they had an ensign, the elevation of which served as a signal for giving battle either by land or by sea, they were not regularly marshalled by banners. In their later history their different cities bore different sacred emblems. Thus the Athenians were distinguished by the olive and the owl, and the Corinthians by a Pegasus.
At what time the form of standard which we call a flag was first used is not known. It was certainly not the[pg 27]earliest but the ultimate form which the standard assumed. The original form was some fixed object such as we have seen on the Egyptian and Roman examples, and the vexillum and labarum were transitional forms. The waving flag is said to have been first used by the Saracens. Another account is that the flag first acquired its present form in the sixth century, in Spain. The banners which Bede mentions as being carried by St. Augustine and his monks, when they entered Canterbury in procession, in the latter part of the sixth century, were probably in the form of the Roman labarum. He calls them little banners on which were depicted crosses.
Of our own national flags the earliest forms were those which bore the cognizance of the ruler for the time being. The well-known ensign of the Danes at the time of their dominion in Britain was the raven. The dragon, as we have seen, was in the eighth century the cognizance of Wessex, and the Saxons had also on their standards a white horse. Of our later royal standards and those of other nations I shall speak afterwards.
The forms of flags in our own country have varied very much. It was not till the time of the Crusades, when heraldry began to assume a definite form, that they became subject to established rules. Up to that period flags were, as a rule, small in size, and they usually terminated in points, like the more modern pennon. Such were the standards of the Normans. At the Battle of[pg 28]the Standard in 1138 the staff of the English standard was in the form of the mast of a ship, having a silver pyx at the top, containing the host, and bearing three sacred banners dedicated respectively to St. Peter, St. John of Beverley, and St. Wilfrid of Ripon, the whole being fastened—like the standards of the Persians and Assyrians—to a wheeled vehicle.
From an early period the practice has prevailed of blessing standards, and this has continued to our own day in the British army when new colours are presented to a regiment—there being a special form of service at the consecration. The banner of William the Conqueror was one blessed and sent to him by the pope. Indeed, it has been the practice of the popes in every age to give consecrated banners where they wished success to an enterprise.

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