ENGLISH FLAGSAn extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1
by Ian Heath
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20. ENGLISH FLAGS
The flags depicted here are taken entirely from contemporary descriptions and illustrations. For a general explanation of the use and meaning of these various kinds of flag see Appendix 1.
Until 25 January 1340 the English royal banner bore the arms of England, which were gules, 3 lions passant guardant in pale or. Thereafter, however, it was quartered with the arms of France (azure, semé-de-lis or, changing to azure, 3 fleurs-de-lis or in about 1400). In this form it persisted until 1603. 20a shows a late-14th century version of the quartered arms of England and France. King Richard II sometimes impaled these arms with those of Edward the Confessor, described as gules, a cross patonce or and 5 doves argent (Froissart mistakenly says only 4). Richard sometimes bore these arms on their own as depicted in 20b (during his Irish expedition, for example), and this flag was also among those borne in King Henry V’s division at Agincourt.
20c and d both carry the arms of St George, comprised of a red cross on a white field. A banner of St George accompanied every English army in the field, whatever its size - Henry Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV, actually had 2 with him on his Prussian expedition of 1392, though his tiny force may have numbered fewer than 100 men; in this instance the flags are described as getens (guidons) made of worsted and buckram. We know too that in Bordeaux Castle in the 1330s there were stored ‘sufficient banners’ to supply however many individual detachments there might be, including 15 banners of St George and 6 bearing the arms of England. Of the 2 depicted here, 20c is from a picture of Sir John Knollys’ company on the march in 1370, where the staff is painted red, and 20d is from a 15th century picture of Wat Tyler’s mob.
20e, f and g are all knights’ banners. The first is that of Sir John Chandos, described by Froissart as ‘argent, a sharp pile gules’ when first flown at Nájera in 1367. This banner was still carried by, and was lost with, Sir William Glasdale at the siege of Orleans in 1429. 20f is the banner of Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, which he fought under during his expedition in Flanders in 1383. It is described by Froissart as quarterly, 1 & 4 argent a bend gules, 2 & 3 azure a fret or, over all a bordure gules for difference (Henry being the youngest of the Despenser family). 20g, from a late-15th century source, shows the banner of Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford (d. 1417), gules and or quarterly, a mullet argent in the first quarter.
20h, j and k are all standards. 20h is Edward III’s royal standard, comprising a blue over red field charged with a gold lion, gold crowns, and gold sunbursts emanating from white clouds; the lion is armed blue in the red portion and red in the blue portion. The scroll portions are white with gold edges and the motto ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ in gold, while the hoist comprises the arms of St George. The border is alternately red and blue. 20i is another royal flag, this time an ensign belonging to Richard II and shown in a near-contemporary picture of his Irish expedition. The field is red and the ostrich feathers are gold; his father the Black Prince had carried a similar standard, described in his will as black with silver feathers.
20j is Sir John Talbot’s standard, from a ms. of c.1445. The field is here red over black with a white talbot dog, though a later French illustration depicting the Battle of Patay in 1429 has the field entirely red. Red is also the colour of the field in 20k, which is the standard of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, charged with his white bear and ragged staff badges and with the arms of St George again carried in the hoist, which was the normal practice by the 15th century. The fringe is red and silver.