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Historical portuguese sea merchant flags

(Work in progress!)

Last modified: 2005-04-29 by
Keywords: sea merchant flags | merchant flags | cross: christ knightsʼ order | bezants | quinas |
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The sea merchant flags

The actual use of flags depicted in old maps and charts is not always confirmed; these flags were used by cartogrphers to mark portuguese-held territories in navigation maps. Obviously, the fact that this or that flag was registered in a map from a particular year does not mean that its use was restricted to that time nor that it was the only one then used by portuguese commercial vessels. Also, the phantasy and uninformedness of most cartographers, many of them not navigators nor living in Portugal and modern misinterpretations make some details doubtful...
António Martins, 22 May 1997


Blue quina on white

[Blue quina on white]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

This design, without border and with reversed colors, began to appear on portolanoes in the 15th century and is still attested in the 17th century: Jorge Reinel between 1518 and 1520 [jre1X]; Herrera 1601/1615 in [xviXXa]. The reversed colours (blue quinas on white) were on the flame used by ships sailing with the financial support of the Senatus and the city of Lisbon.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997


Quina flag

[Quina flag]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

Shown in [qpt94], quoting the map of Mateu Prunes, 1563 [mpr63]: A plain blue field charged with five white circles in saltire. This of course is a banner of the basic modern quina: azure five plates (bezants) per saltire.
António Martins, 22 May 1997 and 26 Jan 2004


Red bordered quina

[flag from João Freire]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

Shown in [qpt94], quoting the map of João Freire, mid 16th ct. [jfrXX], and also depicted in a portuguese postage stamp of the early nineties, hoisted on a rowboat, showing the 1494 arrival of Corte-Real to Labrador: As the previous one, but bordered red.
António Martins, 22 May 1997 and 26 Jan 2004

This precise design (with the red border, but a little narrower) is to be found on the Sanches 1623 Planisphere [scs23].
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997


Red castle-bordered quina

[flag from João Freire]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

In the Atlante Miller [rlh19] the [red bordered quina] flag has also eight golden castles on the red border.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997


Red castle-bordered inverted quina

[flag from Homem Reineis, 1519]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

Shown in [qpt94], quoting «the so called Miller atlas of Lopo Homem Reineis, 1519» [rlh19]. Silver charged with five blue circles saltire and border red charged with eight castles. The original depiction shows azure field, but this is most certainly a tint alteration.
António Martins, 22 May 1997


Banner of arms

[flag from Corte-Real, 1574]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

Shown in [qpt94], from the Account on the successful second siege to Diu of Jerónimo Corte-Real, 1574 [jcr74]. A banner of the portuguese coat of arms: silver chaged with five blue eschuteons pointing downwards and arranged in cross, each bearing five silver circles saltire, all bordered with red charged with eigth castles gold. Very similar to the “national” flag of 1485-1495, this having only seven castles;
António Martins, 22 May 1997


Indented edge with shield shape

[flag from Fernão Vaz Dourado, 1570]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

Shown in [qpt94], from [fvd70]: Blue over red per band (from top hoist to lower fly) charged with a gold shield bearing five blue circles in saltire. Edge serrated postage stamp-like.
António Martins, 22 May 1997

The circular indentations of the border are to be found on many 16th and 17th century portuguese flags. The gold of old portolanoes can represent white: several examples exist of that. A similar flag is to be found in the Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado (1571) [fvd71] flying over Japan.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997

Sometimes, the gold of old portolanoes can represent white due to pigment chemichal alteration, but I canʼt imagine the “original” flag as white (instead of gold) shield with white bezants...)
António Martins, 22 May 1997


Indented edge with square

[flag from Fernão Vaz Dourado, 1570]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

Shown in [qpt94], from [fvd70]: Very similar to the previous: Gold field charged with five silver circles saltire and bordered blue over red per band with the same edge serration.
António Martins, 22 May 1997

This particular colour arrangement seems to be the result of a colour degradation of the previous design.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997

Dunno: they both appear on the same map [fvd70] so one would expect that pigments would alterate at the same rate (but could be due to unqual exposition to sunlight on second thought...). Anyway, change from shield to square would be quite a chemical alteration!
António Martins, 22 May 1997


War ensign as of 1756

[bel56], as shown in the cover of [sie63], calls it «Pavillon de Guerre / de Portugal» (2nd of the flags partly visible on the 6th row from the bottom): A white flag with on a shield a red field with a white border, the red field quartered by a narrow white cross. Red with white cross: Has there ever been an appropriate connection between Portugal and what is now the Order of Malta?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 05 Jan 2001 and 27 Jan 2001


Merchant ensign as of 1756

[13 red-white stripe flag]
António Martins, 24 Jan 2001

[bel56], as shown in the cover of [sie63], calls it «Pavillon des / Marchands Portugais» (3rd of the flags partly visible on the 6th row from the bottom): A flag of equal stripes in red and white. [Might be seven in red and white, or six in white and red.]
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 05 Jan 2001

The number of stripes probably varied, they were just “many” (more than five and less than fifteen, Iʼd guess, from an optical reasoning) — I just dont know…
António Martins, 29 Jan 2001

green version

[13 green-white stripe flag]
António Martins, 24 Jan 2001

Thereʼs also a green version. This flag, by the way, was possibly influenced by the Catalonian quatre barres and in turn influenced some british flags, which generated the Continental Colours and hence the Old Glory as we know it, with all its descendants, from Chile to Malaysia.
António Martins, 24 Jan 2001


Pavillon de Tercere?

[bel56], as shown in the cover of [sie63], calls it «Pavillon de Tercere» (6th of the flags partly visible on the 6th row from the bottom): A red flag with a shield divided by a silver bar, azure and sable. [[sie63] asserts that "Tercere" is a misspelling of Veere".]
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 05 Jan 2001

"Tercere", or rather "Tercère", seems to be a francification of "Terceira" one of the azorean islands, (analogous to "Madeira" → "Madère"). I had no info on this flag before, but Iʼm sure it is not a “subnational” flag as we understand today. Most probably an ensign used by local authorities, or simply a misidentification.
António Martins, 24 Jan 2001


from anonymous atlas, c.a 1930

[flag from c.a 1930]
by António Martins, 22 May 1997

Shown in [qpt94]: Extended Christ Order cross on white over blue gironny charged with silver eschuteon bordered blue and charged with five blue circles saltire.
António Martins, 22 May 1997

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