A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 30

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CHAPTER XXX

HERALDIC FLAGS, BANNERS, AND STANDARDS

When it comes to the display of flags, the British-born individual usually makes a hash of the whole business, and flies either the Sovereign's personal coat of arms, which really should only be made use of over a residence of the Sovereign when the Sovereign is actually there, or flown at sea when the Sovereign is on board; or else he uses the national flag, colloquially termed the "Union Jack," which, strictly speaking, and as a matter of law, ought never to be made use of on land except over the residence of the Sovereign in his absence, or on a fortress or other Government building. But recently an official answer has been given in Parliament, declaring what is presumably the pleasure of His Majesty to the effect that the Union Jack is the National Flag, and may be flown as such on land by any British subject. If this is the intention of the Crown, it is a pity that this permission has not been embodied in a Royal warrant.

The banner of St. George, which is a white flag with a plain red cross of St. George throughout, is now appropriated to the Order of the Garter, of which St. George is the patron saint, though I am by no means inclined to assert that it would be incorrect to make use of it upon a church which happened to be specifically placed under the patronage of St. George.

The white ensign, which is a white flag bearing the cross of St. George and in the upper quarter next to the staff a reproduction of the Union device, belongs to the Royal Navy, and certain privileged individuals to whom the right has been given by a specific warrant. The blue ensign, which is a plain blue flag with the Union device on a canton in the upper corner next the staff, belongs to the Royal Naval Reserve; and the red ensign, which is the same as the former, except that a red flag is substituted for the blue one, belongs to the ships of the merchant service. These three flags have been specifically called into being by specific warrants for certain purposes which are stated in these warrants, and these purposes being wholly connected with the sea, neither the blue, the red, nor the white ensign ought to be hoisted on land by anybody. Of course there is no penalty for doing so on land, though very drastic penalties can be enforced for misuse of these ensigns on the water, a step which is taken frequently enough. For a private person to use any one of these three flags on land for a private purpose, the only analogy which I can suggest to bring home to people the absurdity of such action would be to instance a private person for his own private pleasure adopting the exact uniform of some regiment whenever he might feel inclined to go bathing in the sea. If he were to do so, he would find under the recent Act that he had incurred the penalty, which would be promptly enforced, for bringing His Majesty's uniform into disrepute. It is much to be wished that the penalties exacted for the wrongful display of these flags at sea should be extended to their abuse on shore.

The development of the Union Jack and the warrants relating to it are dealt with herein by the Rev. J. R. Crawford, M.A., in a subsequent chapter, and I do not propose to further deal with the point, except to draw attention to a proposal, which is very often mooted, that some change or addition to the Union Jack should be made to typify the inclusion of the colonies.

But to begin with, what is the Union Jack? Probably most would be inclined to answer, "The flag of the Empire." It is nothing of the kind. It is in a way stretching the definition to describe it as the King's flag. Certainly the design of interlaced crosses is a badge of the King's, but that badge is of a later origin than the flag.

The flag itself is the fighting emblem of the Sovereign, which the Sovereign has declared shall be used by his soldiers or sailors for fighting purposes under certain specified circumstances. That it is used, even officially, in all sorts of circumstances with which the King's warrants are not concerned is beside the matter, for it is to the Royal Warrants that one must refer for the theory of the thing.

Now let us go further back, and trace the "argent, a cross gules," the part which is England's contribution to the Union Jack, which itself is a combination of the "crosses" of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick. The theory of one is the theory of the three, separately or conjoined.

"Argent, a cross gules" was never the coat of arms of England (except under the Commonwealth, when its use for armorial purposes may certainly be disregarded), and the reason it came to be regarded as the flag of England is simply and solely because fighting was always done under the supposed patronage of some saint, and England fought, not under the arms of England, but under the flag of St. George, the patron saint of England and of the Order of the Garter. The battle-cry "St. George for Merrie England!" is too well known to need more than the passing mention. Scotland fought under St. Andrew; Ireland, by a similar analogy, had for its patron saint St. Patrick (if indeed there was a Cross of St. Patrick before one was needed for the Union flag, which is a very doubtful point), and the Union Jack was not the combination of three territorial flags, but the combination of the recognised emblems of the three recognised saints, and though England claimed the sovereignty of France, and for that reason quartered the arms of France, no Englishman bothered about the patronage of St. Denis, and the emblem of St. Denis was never flown in this country. The fact that no change was ever made in the flag to typify Hanover, whilst Hanover duly had its place upon the arms, proves that the flag was recognised to be, and allowed to remain, the emblem of the three patron saints under whose patronage the British fought, and not the badge of any sovereignty or territorial area. If the colonies had already any saint of their own under whose patronage they had fought in bygone days, or in whose name they wished to fight in the future, there might be reason for including the emblem of that saint upon the fighting flag of the Empire; but they have no recognised saintly patrons, and they may just as well fight for our saints as choose others for themselves at so late a day; but having a flag which is a combination of the emblems of three saints, and which contains nothing that is not a part of those emblems, to make any addition heraldic or otherwise to it now would, in my opinion, be best expressed by the following illustration. Imagine three soldiers in full and complete uniform, one English, one Scottish, and one Irish, it being desired to evolve a uniform that should be taken from all three for use by a Union regiment. A tunic from one, trousers from another, and a helmet from a third, might be blended into a very effective and harmonious composite uniform. Following the analogy of putting a bordure, which is not the emblem of a saint, round the recognised emblems of the three recognised saints, and considering it to be in keeping because the bordure was heraldic and the emblems heraldic, one might argue, that because a uniform was clothing as was also a ballet-dancer's skirt, therefore a ballet-dancer's skirt outside the whole would be in keeping with the rest of the uniform. For myself I should dislike any addition to the Union device, as much as we should deride the donning of tulle skirts outside their tunics and trousers by the brigade of Guards.

The flag which should float from a church tower should have no more on it than the recognised ecclesiastical emblems of the saint to whom it is dedicated: the keys of St. Peter, the wheel of St. Catherine, the sword of St. Paul, the cross and martlets of St. Edmund, the lily of St. Mary, the emblem of the Holy Trinity, or whatever the emblem may be of the saint in question. (The alternative for a church is the banner of St. George, the patron saint of the realm.) The flags upon public buildings should bear the arms of the corporate bodies to whom those buildings belong. The flag to be flown by a private person, as the law now stands, should bear that person's private arms, if he has any, and if he has not he should be content to forego the pleasures arising from the use of bunting. A private flag should be double its height in length. The entire surface should be occupied by the coat of arms.

These flags of arms are banners, and it is quite a misnomer to term the banner of the Royal Arms the Royal Standard. The flags of arms hung over the stalls of the Knights of the Garter, St. Patrick, and the former Knights of the Bath are properly, and are always termed banners. The term standard properly refers to the long tapering flag used in battle, and under which an overlord mustered his retainers in battle. This did not display his armorial bearings. Next to the staff usually came the cross of St. George, which was depicted, of course, on a white field. This occupied rather less than one-third of the standard. The remainder of the standard was of the colour or colours of the livery, and thereupon was represented all sorts of devices, usually the badges and sometimes the crest. The motto was usually on transverse bands, which frequently divided the standard into compartments for the different badges. These mottoes from their nature are not war-cries, but undoubtedly relate and belong to the badges with which they appear in conjunction. The whole banner was usually fringed with the livery colours, giving the effect of a bordure compony. The use of standards does not seem, except for the ceremonial purposes of funerals, to have survived the Tudor period, this doubtless being the result of the creation of the standing army in the reign of Henry VIII. The few exotic standards, e.g., remaining from the Jacobite rebellion, seldom conform to the old patterns, but although the shape is altered, the artistic character largely remains in the regimental colours of the present day with their assorted regimental badges and scrolls with the names of battle honours.

With the recent revival of the granting of badges the standard has again been brought into use as the vehicle to carry the badge (Plate VIII.). The arms are now placed next the staff, and upon the rest of the field the badge is repeated or alternated with the crest. Badges and standards are now granted to any person already possessing a right to arms and willing to pay the necessary fees.

The armorial use of the banner in connection with the display of heraldic achievements is very limited in this country. In the case of the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava the banner or flag is an integral and unchangeable part of the heraldic supporters, and in Ross-of-Bladensburg, e.g., it is similarly an integral part of the crest. In the warrant of augmentation granted to H.M. Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain on her marriage, banners of the Royal Arms of

PLATE VIII.

Complete Guide to Heraldry Plate8.jpg

England were placed in the paws of her supporters. Other cases where arms have been depicted on banners are generally no more than matters of artistic design; but in the arms of Scotland as matriculated in Lyon Register for King Charles II. the supporters are accompanied by banners, the dexter being of the arms of Scotland, and the sinister the banner of St. Andrew. These banners possess rather a different character, and approach very closely to the German use. The same practice has been followed in the seals of the Duchy of Lancaster, inasmuch as on the obverse of the seal of George IV. and the seal of Queen Victoria the Royal supporters hold banners of the arms of England and of the Duchy (i.e. England, a label for difference). James I. on his Great Seal had the banners of Cadwallader (azure, a cross patté fitché or) and King Edgar (azure, a cross patonce between four martlets or), and on the Great Seal of Charles I. the dexter supporter holds a banner of St. George, and the sinister a banner of St. Andrew.

Fig. 688.—"Middle" arms of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. (From Ströhl's Deutsche Wappenrolle.)

Fig. 688.—"Middle" arms of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. (From Ströhl's Deutsche Wappenrolle.)

Of the heraldic use of the banner in Germany Ströhl writes:—

"The banner appears in a coat of arms, either in the hands or paws of the supporters (Fig. 688), also set up behind the shield, or the pavilion, as, for instance, in the larger achievement of his Majesty the German Emperor, in the large achievement of the kingdom of Prussia, of the dukedom of Saxe-Altenburg, and further in the Arms of State of Italy, Russia, Roumania, &c.

"Banners on the shield as charges, or on the helmet as a crest, are here, of course, not in question, but only those banners which serve as Prachtstücke (appendages of magnificence).

"The banners of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are long and narrow, and frequently run in stripes, like battlements. However, in the second half of the thirteenth century flags were also to be met with, with the longer side attached to the stick. Later on the banners became more square, and show on the top a long strip, generally of another colour, the Schwenkel (i.e. something that flourishes), waves to and fro. To bear a red Schwenkel was a special privilege, similar to the right of sealing with red wax.

"The ecclesiastical banner has three points, and is provided with rings on the top in order that it may be fastened to the stick by them, in an oblique position.

"The banner always represents the field of the shield, and assumes accordingly its tincture. The charges of the shield should be placed upon the banner without the outline of a shield, and the edge against the flag-staff is considered the dexter; it follows from this that the figure must be turned towards it.

"For instance, if the shield bear the following arms, argent an eagle gules, the same figure, suited to the size of the flag, appears on the banner, with its head turned towards the staff. If it be wished to represent only the colours of the arms upon the flag, that of the charge is placed above, and that of the field below. Thus, for example, the Prussian flag is black and white, corresponding to the black eagle on the silver field; the flag of Hohenzollern is white and black, corresponding to their coat of arms, quartered silver and black, because in the latter case, so soon as a heraldic representation is available, from the position of the coloured fields, the correct order of the tinctures is determined."