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Variants of the National Flag (Spain)

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Civil, State and War Flag and Civil and War Ensign
Civil Flag and Ensign variant with no coat-of-arms
by Antonio Gutiérrez, taken with permission from the S.E.V. website

[Civil Flag and Ensign variant with no coat-of-arms Spain]
by Jorge Candeias

See also:

Flag Variants

According to Law 39/1981 of 28th October 1981 (Boletín Oficial del Estado no. 271 of 12th November 1981), official entities must display the flag with coat-of-arms. Neither the Constitution nor the 1981 Law limits the use of this flag to official entities however, so it is both a civil and a state (and war) flag. It is not infrequent to see the flag displayed without the coat-of-arms, but I believe the reason is only one of cost. Only people not affording to pay for a coat-of-arms-bearing flag (both individuals and low-level or small sized administrations) display a plain flag. This is becoming more and more infrequent however, since nylon flags with a printed coat-of-arms are now cheap to obtain.

Santiago Dotor, 7 April 1999

I know at least four laws stating the plain flag (with no coat-of-arms) as the national flag:

  1. Decree of August 29th, 1936 (National flag in Nationalist Zone)
  2. Royal Decree 1511, of January 21st 1977 (Regulations on flags, standards, ensigns...)
  3. Spanish Constitution of December 27th, 1978 (Art. 4)
  4. Law 39, of October 28th, 1981 (Flag of Spain)

Antonio Gutiérrez, 27 May 1999

[Many flag books] show a civil ensign for Spain the national flag without coat-of-arms. I believe Spain has only one national flag and ensign, the one with coat-of-arms. Any merchant or fishing ship can fly the coat-of-arms version. Many don't, just because the cost of a flag with a colored coat-of-arms is much higher than one without it.

José Carlos Alegría, 11 September 2000

[For instance] Smith 1975, p. 124, says, "The war ensign and most military colors of Spain include the national coat of arms (...). The national flag, however, remains the starkly simple red-yellow-red".

Wayne J. Lovett, 20 September 2000

There are two separate questions here. Firstly, which is the Spanish civil flag. The 1978 Constitution says:

Artículo 4
1. La Bandera de España está formada por tres franjas horizontales rojas, amarilla, y roja, siendo la amarilla de doble anchura que cada una de las rojas.
that is:
Article 4
1. The flag of Spain is made of three horizontal stripes red, yellow and red, the yellow one being twice as wide as each of the red ones.
The Flag Act no. 39/1981 of 28th October 1981 (published on the Boletín Oficial del Estado no. 271 of 12th November) says however:
Artículo 2º.
1. La bandera de España, de acuerdo con lo preceptuado en el artículo cuarto de la Constitución española, está formada por tres franjas horizontales, roja, amarilla y roja, siendo la amarilla de doble anchura que cada una de las rojas.
2. En la franja amarilla se podrá incorporar, en la forma que reglamentariamente se señale, el escudo de España. El escudo de España figurará, en todo caso, en las banderas a que se refieren los apartados 1, 2, 3 y 4 del artículo siguiente.
that is:
Article 2
1. The flag of Spain, according to what is specified in article four of the Spanish Constitution, is made of three horizontal stripes red, yellow and red, the yellow one being twice as wide as each of the red ones.
2. The yellow stripe may bear the coat-of-arms of Spain in the way which shall be legally approved. The coat-of-arms of Spain shall appear anyway in the flags to which paragraphs 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the following article refer.
Paragraphs 1 through 4 of article 3 refer to buildings and facilities of the national, autonomous, provincial or island governments and local councils; buildings, ships and planes of the Armed Forces and of the national police corps (National Police and Civil Guard); and buildings and official vehicles of diplomatic and consular missions.

So the (civil) flag of Spain may bear the coat-of-arms whereas the state and war flag must bear it allways. Which is then the correct civil flag? Both.

However, given the facts that:

the flag with the coat-of-arms is almost universally used as civil flag. So from my point of view, the plain flag is some sort of optional civil flag simply out of factual use. As Wayne Lovett pointed out, not even the Olympic Team displayed a plain flag.

Secondly, which is the Spanish civil ensign. I am afraid I am no expert here, and I believe that only Navy ships are entitled to use the flag with the coat-of-arms. However I know neither where this is established, nor what do merchant ships use in practice. My only ship flagspotting has to do with yachts and similar vessels, which naturally fly the yacht ensign.

Santiago Dotor, 20 September 2000

I would like to state my accordance with what Santiago Dotor said. In fact the flag act of 1981 does not clearly differentiate between a civil ensign with coat-of-arms and one without the civil ensign may or may not bear the coat-of-arms. Strange as it may appear, it is so.

The official Spanish Navy flag regulation still valid today dates from 21st January 1977 (Real Decreto 1511/1977, de 21 de enero de la Presidencia del Gobierno Boletín Oficial del Estado núm. 156 de 1 de julio por el que se aprueba el Reglamento de Banderas y Estandartes, Guiones, Insignias y Distintivos). Title 1, Rule 1 deals with the national flag (bandera nacional): this has the plain three stripes and no coat-of-arms. Under the chapter "Use" of this flag one word only is written: "General". So there is no doubt that this plain bicolour flag is the national flag and may be used everywhere by everybody as he pleases.

This has been repeated by the 1981 flag act. Rule number 2 of the Navy Regulations deals with the coat-of-arms, Rule number 3 with the "national flag with the arms of Spain" (bandera nacional con escudo de España). Under Chapter 3 concerning the use of this national flag with coat-of-arms is written, "warships, arsenals, Navy stations, their castles and fortresses, as well as any others on the coast, airports, campments, quarters and other military dependencies. Offices and buildings belonging to the administration of the state including those abroad which may have extraterritorial status." And that's it. As we have read, the 1981 flag act allows the use of the flag with coat-of-arms by everybody else as well.

From what Santiago Dotor stated and from the Navy regulations we can deduce, that the Navy and any official, military or governmental office or building will fly a national flag with coat-of-arms only, while both a flag with coat-of-arms or one without coat-of-arms may be flown at any other places legally by anybody. This includes the ensign of the merchant navy, which is a plain bicolor flag (have a look at your local harbour!). Almost all fishing boats, passenger ferries, merchant ships, trawlers etc. fly the plain bicolour, while all yachts fly the official yacht ensign and all Navy ships fly the flag with coat-of-arms. All the revenue ships fly another special flag, ships of the mail lines fly a special ensign too, but this is another story.

There is another question as well. The plain flag is some sort of poor man's flag, for everyday use outside commercial buildings, at gas stations, restaurants, tourist resorts, local popular flag dressing of streets and places etc. Spaniards do not (yet) fly the national flag outside their homes, neither with nor without coat-of-arms, though a few fly their regional or local flag. For a sunday use, a gala use, a special event, you will certainly choose the "more important", richer, more beautiful flag, that with coat-of-arms, like a sunday dress or a military uniform with medals instead of an average drill uniform.

Emil Dreyer, 20 September 2000

I still have one remaining doubt. As I said before, the broad majority of civil flags used in Spain display the coat-of-arms (because they are perfectly legal, easy to find, and no longer expensive). Why is it that the tendency with civil ensigns is the opposite one, i.e. to have no coat-of-arms? The example of a fishing or commercial boat is particularly puzzling, since this is the most similar instance (from the points of view of economic resources and vexillological knowledge) to the average "civil flag bearer". Why does the latter choose almost always a flag with coat-of-arms, while the first chooses one without it?

Santiago Dotor, 25 September 2000

Luis Miguel Arias reported in the Spanish Vexilologia mailing list that he wrote to the Spanish Naval General Headquarters asking whether there is any legislation which determines that the ensign with arms cannot be used by merchant ships, i.e. as civil ensign. The Naval GHQ answered him mentioning two laws Real Decreto 23335/1980, de 10 de octubre (utilización de la Bandera Nacional y otras, a bordo de buques nacionales) and Ley 39/1981, de 28 de octubre (uso de la bandera de España y el de otras banderas y enseñas), none of which forbids using the flag with arms as civil ensign.

Santiago Dotor, 26 February 2002