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British Royal Standards since 1042

Last modified: 2005-03-19 by rob raeside
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Royal Standards of England

Saint Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)

Edward the Confessor is described as having arms consisting of a cross surrounded by five martlets. I don't know the exact colours, nor whether the arms were used as a standard. [As England, in the days it had Saint Edward as its patron, used a white cross on a blue field, this does suggest these were the colours of his arms.]  (Evans 1970)

Peter Hans van der Muijzenberg, 23 April 2002

Edward the Confessor's standard was shield-shaped, light blue with a gold cross and birds. The cross is equal-armed and thin, with fleur-de-lis edged arms (not sure of technical terms for any of this - maybe a fleury cross?). The doves are between the arms and one below (looking left, five in all).
Source: Norman Davies "The Isles."

Nathan Lamm, 30 June 2002

That's an interesting statement, that Edward the Confessor's arms were in the colours of blue and white/silver.  It might or might not be, but for the record, when later English kings displayed their arms (notably Richard II, who occasionally impaled Edward's arms with the quartered French fleurs de lys and the English lions, as shown on this page, they had a gold cross and martlets on a blue field. In fact it's not at all known whether Edward or any of the Saxon kings actually did bear arms. The arms attributed to Edward come from a coin minted during his reign, which shows four martlets between the arms of a cross. The fifth martlet was added because when the charges were placed on a shield, the base looked a bit empty - this was when shields were still quite long and pointy, as they were in Norman times. The word martlet is used in English translation of similar birds (footless) that appear in French, Dutch and German arms, and the equivalents in those languages are frequently used for the English bird. The French term merlette actually indicates a footless duckling, not a martin or swallow, as in the case of the English bird. Merlettes (in the duckling form) appear frequently in Dutch heraldry. And in German heraldry yet another bird is used, also without legs, based on the lark, and is called a gestümmelte Amsel. For further details, see François Velde's page. 

Mike Oettle, 29 June 2002

Harold II (1066)

The first English monarch whose standard was depicted may well be King Harold II, whose Dragon 'flag' is pictured on the Tapestry of Bayeux, as is the gonfalon of William I.  (Evans 1970)

William I, the Conqueror (1066-1087)

An interpretation of the image of the gonfalon and discussion is shown on our Battle of Hastings page. (2:7).

William II, Rufus (1087-1100), Henry I (1100-1135), Stephen (1135-1154), Henry II (1154-1189)

Whether any of these used a Royal Standard is unknown.

Peter Hans van der Muijzenberg, 23 April 2002

From William I up to (but not including) Richard I, Two lions, passant gardant.  Davies in "The Isles" explains that Duke Rollo of Normandy (ancestor of William) had a lion on his banner, and two lions had been on Normandy's banner (still are) by the early 1000's. Still used by Plantagenets as Henry II claimed throne through his Norman mother. Second lion therefore cannot stand for England, but I have seen that they stood for Normandy and Main; however, heraldry apparently wasn't that  standardized by then to allow for this. 

Richard I adds a lion, as that was the symbol of Aquitane (still is) and he was Duke (pre-king). Again, not sure if heraldry allowed for this then. In any event, three lions.

Source: Norman Davies "The Isles."

Nathan Lamm, 30 June 2002

Richard I, Lion-Heart (1189-1199)

Richard Lionheart likely used a shield with gold lions (although the number of lions could be in dispute). On crusade, a crusader in his armny might have used a crescent as Islam at the time had no such easily recognisable symbol, using instead battle flags in plain red, plain white or plain black.

Mike Oettle, 2 October 2002

John (1199-1216), 
Henry III (1216-1272), 
Edward I (1272-1307), 
Edward II (1307-1327), 
Edward III (1327-1340 ...)

[Royal banner of England] by Vincent Morley

Starting with Richard I, all of the monarchs of England and after them the monarchs of The United Kingdom, have used a banner of their arms as their royal standard. In the case of Richard I his arms (and those of his predecessor Henry II) were Gules three lions passant guardant or. The lions reportedly represent England, Normandy, and Aquitaine. (1:1)

#1,2,7 Evans (1970), Neubecker (1932),

The royal banner of Edward I is the earliest Royal banner of England for which a contemporary blazon is known (Symposium Conservation of Flags).

Edward III (... 1340-1377)

In 1340 Edward III of England changed his arms to reflect his claim to the French throne, quartering the French Royal arms with the English, and to demonstrate he valued France above England, he placed the French arms in the first quarter [and was nevertheless not disposed as King of England]: quartered azure seme' de fleur-de-lys and gules three lions passant guardant or langued gules (ratio 5:6) - Evans (1970) 

Richard II (1377-1399)

Richard II impaled these arms with those of Edward the confessor - Evans (1970) 

Henry IV (1399-1413)

[English royal standard of 1399] by Sam Lockton

The English Royal Standard of 1399 was used at least to the reign of Richard III.
Sam Lockton, 9 September 2002

Henry V (1413-1422)
Henry VI (1422 ... 1471)
Edward IV (1461 ... 1483)
Edward V (1483)
Richard III (1483-1485)

[personal banner of Richard III] by Sam Lockton

Personal banner of Richard III.
Sam Lockton, 9 September 2002

Click here to view a manufactured banner with more detail on it.
Charles Ashburner, 24 March 2004

Henry VII (1485-1509)
Henry VIII (1509-1547)

[Tudor standard]     [Tudor standard] by Martin Grieve
obverse     reverse (as illustrated)

Based on the larger Royal Standard at Buckland Abbey, Plymouth.
David Prothero, 24 May 2004

Between 1405 and 1603 the Royal Arms of England were Quarterly, France Modern and England; three fleur-de-lis in the 1st and 4th quarters, and three lions passant guardant in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The arrangement of the quarters should be the same on the obverse of the Royal Standard and a mirror image on the reverse. However contemporary illustrations of Tudor Royal Standards invariably(?) show the quarters on the reverse side of the standard in the same relative positions as on the obverse side. This occurs, twice on a 1545 plan of Calais (the frontispiece of Perrin's book 'British Flags'), 43 times in the 1546 Anthony Roll, and three times on the Northumberland manuscript of the 1596 expedition to Cadiz. There is rarely enough detail to see which way the lions are facing except on one of the standards from the plan of Calais, in which they are facing away from the hoist.

The only surviving Royal Standards of the time are at Buckland Abbey near Plymouth. As displayed only the obverse is visible, but the House Steward has confirmed that the reverse sides are a mirror image of the obverse.

The mages above are based on a photograph of one of these two standards. It is 7' square (2070 x 2070mm); the other is 7' high x 2'10" wide (2070 x 864mm). Both have a green and white fringe. The quarters are separate pieces of patterned silk damask sewn together. The fleur-de-lis and lions are painted in gold leaf with black outline and details. The lions have blue claws and nostrils, and red tongues.
David Prothero, 3 June 2004

Buckland Abbey short Royal Standard

[Tudor standard] by Martin Grieve [Tudor standard detail] detail of lion by Martin Grieve

The unusual proportions of the lion are due to the shortness of the standard.

David Prothero, 22 June 2002

 by Martin Grieve

The earliest reference to this flag is in an inventory of Drake family property dated 1778/9. Two royal standards and six other colours are listed as, 'Old Sir Francis Drake's Sash and Cap. His silk Colours in Number eight'. It is not considered to be a replica, and can thus, at the very latest, be dated 1603, when the Union of the English and Scottish Crowns resulted in a new design of royal standard.

Unlike the seven feet square (2070 x 2070mm) royal standard, which is made with silk damask, this seven feet by two feet ten inches (2070 x 864mm) royal standard is made with plain silk. A strip of canvas along the hoist edge has eleven eyelets for lacing the flag to a staff. This suggests that it had naval connections and may have been used in April 1581, when Queen Elizabeth I knighted Francis Drake on board the Golden Hind at Deptford. Alternatively it may have been used by Drake on a small ships such as a pinnaces, in the course of his voyages of 1585-86, or 1595.

Details from "The Battle's Sound" by Cynthia Gaskell Brown.

David Prothero, 19 June 2004

See also our pages:

Edward VI (1547-1553)
Mary I (1553-1554...)
Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

As in 1365 Charles V had reduced the number of fleur-de-lys in the French Arms to 3, Henry IV changed his arms likewise, to indicate the claim was still current. Though the English kings became Kings of Ireland in 1541, this was not represented in their Arms, even though Henry VIII did devise arms for Ireland: Azure a harp or stringed argent. (ratio 5:7)

Evans (1970),

Neubecker (1932) pictured an English royal banner around 1450 with around the free sides a red and green border. (ratio 1:1?). He also has a picture of the standard of the Duke of Lancaster, later King Henry IV, similar to that of Henry VII:

[standard of Henry VII] by Dave Martucci

Its design is similar to this image, if with somewhat longer "slips", and it has a cross of St. George at the hoist. The fly is white over blue, with close to the St. George cross a large red rose on the dividing line, and flyward of that a white swan with outstretched wing (and a crown around its neck), the white holds a row of smaller red roses (except that after the first in the row, some space is taken up by the upper part of the swan, the blue holds a row of alternating I-don't-know-what-s and tree-stumps. The free side(s) have a blue and white border. The text explains the red rose and the blue-white as being for Lancaster, and the St. George cross and the Swan for Henry's wife, of the house of the counts/earls Bohun. (ratio 1:3?)

The similarity is no coincidence since "early standards were usually divided along their length into two tinctures and were charged with various devices and mottoes." (Symposium Conservation of Flags)

Mary I (1554-1558)

When Mary I married Philip II of Spain she impaled her arms with those of her husband, quartered gules a castle or (Castille), and argent a lion rampant gules (Leon) - Evans (1970) 

Peter Hans van der Muijzenberg, 23 April 2002

Royal Standards of Scotland

Curiously, of the equal parts of the United Kingdom, it's much easier to find information on the Southern part, than on the Northern part. The following summarizes information from elsewhere on FOTW:

Malcolm IV (-1165)

Assuming the son of Malcolm IV, William the Lion, was the first to use the Lion rampant as the Royal arms, then Malcolm must still have been using the previous standard, the Dragon standard.

 William the Lion (1165-1214(?))

William the Lion is generally credited with adopting the Lion rampant arms. The lion is apparently referred to as the "Lion of Bravery" or "Lion of Justice", without further explanation of these titles. [Around the same time, in England, the latter was used as nickname for one of the Kings, I believe.] Explanations for the arms themselves exist; apparently all focusing on the lion, where the unusual aspect of the arms is the amount of detail introduced by the double tressure flory-counter-flory.

Alexander II (1214(?)-?), Alexander III (?-?)

Alexander II is the first Scottish king known to use the Lion rampant arms, as a seal, in 1222. We do mention that the lion rampant often occurs in the arms of the Scottish nobility, but not whether this includes the specific tressure, nor whether this can be through relations with the crown.

 James VI ( - 1603 ...)

The Arms of Scotland: or, a lion rampant gules armed and langued azure surrounded by a double tressure flory-counter-flory gules. Whether this was used as a Royal standard at the time is not clear.

Peter Hans van der Muijzenberg, 23 April 2002 

I would not bother too much about minor details of design and colour. The standards are really banners of arms, and arms need only to conform to a written description. In 1937 the, then new, Queen's Standard was criticised because a few details were thought by some to be wrong. Garter King of Arms wrote that, "there are no standard colours and the exact shade should be left to the artistic sense. A coat of arms should be an artistic construction. The female bust decoration on the Irish harp is a late Georgian or Victorian introduction. I would prefer to revert to the earlier historic harp but if the female harp is preferred it does not matter. It is not an advantage to standardise. If that is done, improvements in design are impossible. If you go, say, to the Royal Academy, you will see trees painted by artists, in a hundred different ways. But they are all trees. Your proposition would be that a tree, if it appeared in your flag book as painted by Leader must always afterwards appear as Leader painted his trees; that is to say you will stereotype the design of one artist at a particular period of design. That is neither Heraldry nor Art."

David Prothero, 27 April 2002

Continuing to: Royal Standards at the time of the Union of the Crowns