FRENCH FLAGS

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



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53.      FRENCH FLAGS

As with the English flags described under figure 20, these are all from contemporary sources.

53a displays the French royal arms of azure, 3 fleurs-de-lis or (called ‘France Modern’), which generally - though not entirely - replaced the older azure semé-de-lis (‘France Ancient’) in the time of John II. A lot of 15th century pictures show standards as well as banners bearing these arms, one showing the tails each striped horizontally red/white/green (Charles VII’s livery colours again). An ordinance of 1306 states that the chief esquire tranchant had charge of the royal standard and the chief valet tranchant carried the king’s pennon and followed him closely so that everyone could see where he was.

Flags such as 53b are depicted alongside the royal standard in most pictures of late- 14th and 15th century French armies. Being red with a gold sun-disc and flames one is tempted to see its origins in the famous Oriflamme (‘gold flame’), the sacred red banner of the Abbey of St Denis. There seem to be no pictures belonging to this period that can be identified with certainty as being the latter, though the ‘Chronique de Flandre’ describes it as a crimson silk vexillum with 3 tails and a green fringe and tassels. My own feeling is that flags such as that depicted here were probably carried as substitutes for the true Oriflamme of which there was, of course, only one. The Oriflamme itself was carried at Mons-en-Pévèle (where it was torn apart by the Flemings), at Roosebeke and at Agincourt, where, its bearer being killed, it was presumably lost. However, we hear of the Oriflamme again in 1419 and yet again in 1465, so it was either rescued or, more probably, replaced. Geoffrey le Baker says of the Oriflamme that ‘when this was raised, no-one was to take prisoners on pain of death’. Other than at Agincourt, it was only carried in armies led by the king himself.

5c is another characteristic French flag, red with a white cross. From 1375 onwards such flags were carried by every French force in the field in the same way as was the English banner of St George. This particular example dates to 1484, others having instead a smaller cross in the middle of the field. 53d shows a variant which incorporates a gold sun-disc between 4 small crosses, from a picture of the Battle of Montl’héry where it is carried among men-at-arms.

53e and f are 2 versions of Joan of Arc’s standard, granted to her by Charles VII in 1429. 53e was sketched by a contemporary in the margin of the official history of the siege of Orleans and bears only the inscription ‘Ihs’ (Jesus) with a cross. 53f is from a later 15th century tapestry in which the inscription is white, the lilies gold, and the angels white with yellow hair and red wings, with between them the figure of God, white-haired with a gold halo and a red cloak over a green shirt, holding a blue and green orb of the world, all on a blue-grey field. In a transcript of her trial we have Joan’s own description of her standard as carried at Orleans: ‘the field was sewn with lilies and on it was painted (the orb of) the world, with an angel at each side; it was coloured white, of the white cloth called boccassin, and on it was written the names Ihesu Maria. . . in silk thread. It was fringed with silk.’ Her pennon is said to have similarly depicted the Annunciation.

53g is the banner of Our Lady of Notre-Dame, carried by Jean de Vienne at Nicopolis in 1396. The Duc de Bourbon had a similar banner during his North African expedition of 1390, described by Froissart as powdered with fleurs-de-lis with Mary in their midst, an escutcheon bearing the duke’s arms beneath her feet. The banner of the Order of the Star was also similar, being red, powdered with gold stars and with an image of ‘Our Lady’.

53h is the banner of the Dauphin Louis, later Louis XI, from the ‘Hyghalman Roll’ of c. 1450. It is quarterly, 1 & 4 France Modern with a bordure gules for difference, 2 & 3 or, a dolphin embowed azure, langued and finned gules. The streamer is white. 53i is another banner, this time that of Bertrand du Guesclin from a late-14th century ms. which shows both his banner and his pennon being carried in action. His arms were argent, a double-headed eagle displayed sable, armed and membered gules, overall a baston of the last.

53j, k and l are the standards of noblemen, bearing their badges and livery colours. 53j is from a 15th century picture of the Battle of Patay and bears the black porcupine badge of the Duc d’Orléans on a white field, while 53k displays Jean, Duc de Bern’s wounded swan device, from a ms. of c. 1388. The field is red, the swan being white with an orange beak, black feet and a red wound on its chest. 53l, the standard of the Duc de Bourbon, has a white cross of St Denis on a blue field at the hoist, the rest of the flag being white over green. The flying stag is gold, the 4 flames red, and the thistles white on the green portion and green on the white. The scrolls are gold, edged in black and with the motto ‘Esperance’ also in black.

Finally, 53m is a flag of Charles VII’s reign (1422-61). It is red, with a green dragon and a natural St Michael with blue and gold wings and a blue bouched shield with a white cross. The sun-discs are gold and the border is red and gold. This may be one of the individual company flags that Charles specified in his military reforms of the 1440s. Each was to be of a different colour so as to be easily distinguishable, and sub-units of the company were to carry flags with their unit numbers in the colour of the main flag, which in this case would have been red. Other flags similar to 53m apparently had the field in 3 stripes, of red, white and green; for example, on Charles VIII’s entry into Troyes in 1486 the flag of his Scottish guards was of red, white and green cloth, with a St Michael device and sun-disc, with the field ‘studded with the sun’s rays, all in gold’. This flag was over 6 feet long.
[53h Another version of the Banner of the Dauphin Louis, later Louis XI, in Chronique de Charles VII by Jean Chartier, 1470-1480AD, BnF MS Français 2691]
[53i Another version of the Banner of Bertrand du Guesclin, in Chroniques by Jean Froissart, 1st Quarter of the 15th Century, BnF MS Français 2642]
[53j Another version of the Flag of the Duc d’Orléans, in Chronique de Charles VII by Jean Chartier, last quarter of the 15th century, British Library MS Royal 20 C IX]



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