BURGUNDIAN FLAGS



An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 1
by Ian Heath


115.      BURGUNDIAN FLAGS

We have an embarrassing wealth of information on Burgundian flags as a result of the meticulous recording, and in many cases the actual preservation, of the vast masses of booty taken by the Swiss at the battles of Héricourt, Grandson, Morat and Nancy. Over 600 flags were captured at Grandson alone, for example, several of those pictured here being among them. In addition Schilling of Lucerne's chronicles contain illustrations of many more. It is apparent from all of these sources that the principal Burgundian flag devices were the St Andrew's cross (usually, but not always, formed either of 2 ragged staves or 2 arrows points downward); the motto 'Je lay emprins', in modern French 'Je l'ai entrepins' ('I have undertaken it'), sometimes abbreviated to 'Je lay'; plus flints, steles and flames in abundance.

Saints were also apparent on many flags, particularly St George, who was depicted mounted on cavalry flags and on foot on infantry flags. 115a is therefore a cavalry flag; it is white over green (probably faded blue), with St George in black armour worn under a gold cloak and white surcoat with a red cross, and with a red and white torse wrapped round his gold helmet, wielding a gold sword and mounted on a white horse with red harness; the dragon, ground and motto are all gold, as is the border. This is fairly certainly a guard flag, Charles the Bold having 'large standards', guidons and comets with pictures of St George made specially for his household, guard and mounted archer units in 1474. A similar flag carried against Liege in 1467-68 was of white taffeta with St George and the dragon painted on it in oils along with St Andrew's crosses and the duke's motto.

Saints other than George also occur on Burgundian flags, each ordinance company apparently having its own saint and colour on its flag, examples being St Sebastian (gold field), St Adrian (azure), St Andrew (red) and St Christopher (silver). 115b and c depict two variants of this type of flag, in which the saint was always contained within a cartouche or panel near the staff. 115b is a cornet with St Jude, wearing red and holding a pen and white prayer sheet, seated on a brown chair against a white background edged in red with his name in black. The main field is also white, with cross, steles etc. and motto all in red, the extremities being red over blue with gold device, all edged in gold. 115c, depicting St Thomas wearing brown and seated on a blue throne, is a cavalry standard. It has a red field overall, except for the tail extremities which are light blue (top) and dark blue (bottom), with the edges and all the devices in gold except for the flints and the intertwining lace round the cross, which are black. The fringe is alternately light and dark blue. 115d depicts another variant of the 'saintly' cavalry standard, from Schilling's picture of the Battle of Grandson.

115e is the banner of Burgundy, which is to be found in every conceivable shape and size in the recorded Swiss booty, dozens of this shape having been captured. It is divided quarterly, the first and fourth quarters being New Burgundy (azure, semé-de-lis or, within a bordure compony of gules and argent); the second being Old Burgundy (bendy of 6, azure and or, within a bordure gules) impaled with Brabant (sable, a lion or armed and langued gules); and the third being Old Burgundy impaled by Limburg (argent, a lion gules crowned and armed or); with overall an escutcheon of Flanders (or, a lion sable armed and langued gules). Flanders had been added to the Burgundian domains by John the Fearless (d. 1419), Limburg and Brabant by Philip the Good, Charles the Bold's father (during whose lifetime Charles bore this coat-of-arms with a label of 3 points argent overall).

115f and g are 2 examples of what are probably infantry flags, both captured at Grandson. The former is red with a white cross and gold steles and flames, while the latter is blue with the edging and all the decoration in gold. Although these are both of a rounded form, Schilling shows infantry flags which are instead about 4 feet square. The flint-and-stele device so prominent in these flags was first adopted after the capture of the Comte de Nevers at Nicopolis in 1396, and was revived by Philip the Good in 1421.

115h is a rare example of an individual company flag. Probably copying the earlier practice of Charles VII of France (see note 53m), an ordinance of 1473 had specified that each conducteur was to carry his own ensign of a distinctive design and colour, his chiefs d'escadre having comets of the same pattern but bearing one to four C's to denote the squadron. Their chiefs de chambre in turn wore banneroles (long, narrow pennons as depicted in 120a) of the same design on their helmets, these being numbered from CI to CIV, or CCI to CCIV, and so on. Although the flag depicted here does not seem to fully comply with these regulations, the company, squadron or chambre number 'III' is clearly visible, embroidered in gold like the flint, steles, cross and flames. This flag is also a good example, along with 115i and j, of a flag divided horizontally into 2 or 3 colours, a fairly common practice. 115h is white over blue, 115i (captured at Héricourt) is blue/white/blue, and 115j is blue over red. Other combinations of blue, red and white are to be found in Schilling's pictures.

115k is just one example of the many Savoyard flags captured by the Swiss, this particular example being red with a white cross and a green fringe that changes to red at the ends of the cross arms. Schilling's picture of Grandson includes a Savoyard cavalry unit bearing a small, nearly-square red banner with a white cross. Other Savoyard flags were white with a red cross, while yet others followed the Burgundian patterns set out above, with ragged crosses, saints, and other Burgundian devices.

115l is the flag of a Lowland contingent in Burgundian service, as witnessed by the Flemish motto 'euw plaisy' ('en votre plaisir' at your pleasure), embroidered in gold on a blue field with the cross in brown; this was captured at Héricourt in 1474. A great many similar simple flags, often bearing no more than the cross, are depicted in the sources.

Finally, 115m and n are 2 guild flags such as were carried by communal troops from the Low Countries not only during the Burgundian Wars but also throughout this entire period. They come from the same source as figure 111 and are probably the flags of the goldsmiths' and stonemasons' guilds. Seemingly each guild carried its own main banner plus a number of lesser pennons for its sub-units. Colours varied immensely from town to town, but the various emblems were usually in gold or silver (or yellow and white).
[115d. c.f. The Battle of Morat (Murten), by Diebold Schilling the Elder]
[115e Another version in Defeat of the prince of Orange, Chronique de Charles VII by Jean Chartier, Last quarter of the 15th century, British Library MS Royal 20 C IX


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