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


This is an appropriate point at which to mention another type of flag that is to be found in a number of Swiss and Italian sources during this era, used mainly by individual crossbow (and, later; handgun) companies. 109a and b are from what appears to be the earliest depiction of such flags, an Italian fresco depicting the condottiere Guidoriccio da Fogliano's Sienese army in 1328. They are actually miniature versions of the white and black Sienese city banner, those of the crossbow companies displaying a crossbow device in red; in the fresco those without the crossbow (109b) are associated with groups of spears, and can therefore be taken to be the flags of spear-armed infantry units. There is no way of distinguishing the flags of individual companies, however, the fresco showing more than a dozen such 3 or 4-tailed flags which are all identical; in reality they may have very well carried identifying numbers or letters. Another Sienese fresco of 1373 shows such flags still in use, differing only in having 2 tails and in the crossbow being entirely within the white portion; 6 such flags are shown this time, 3 with crossbows.

Clearly the Swiss used such flags too, calling them schutzenfahnen, or fahnleinen (see 108h). They occur in a number of late-15th century illustrated chronicles, in addition to which a number have actually survived to the present day. 109c depicts one of the latter, a Fribourg example of c. 1480 (black over white, brown crossbow), while 109d and e are from Schilling's 'Berne Chronicle': d is Bernese (red) while e is in Zurich's colours of blue and white, the crossbow being brown in both cases. A handgun was often substituted for the crossbow by the end of this period, while many Swiss examples had a crossbow on one side and an arquebus on the other.

The only other employers of such flags appear to have been the Burgundians under Charles the Bold. Among the multitude of Burgundian flags captured by the Swiss in 1476-77 there was at least one flag belonging to a crossbow company. This displayed a variety of devices comprising a stone bridge and an escutcheon with a blue lion and gold billets, in addition to a complete crossbow, a crossbow stock sans bow, and about 10 crossbow bolts. Perhaps the number of bolts indicated the company.

Next: 110 & 111. BURGUNDIAN PIKEMEN, in Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 1 by Ian Heath