Medieval Flags

Medieval flags are some of the more enduring images from the Middle Ages. Today, many European nations still fly medieval flags to signify their rich history.

From the beginning, flags were used for the purpose of identification. By looking at a flag, observers were able to identify the status, association, or religion of the flag bearer. If a flag was extremely colorful, it hinted nobility because peasants could not afford dyes. Also, banners were used in wars to help soldiers identify friends or enemies. In the later years, medieval flags were almost exclusively emblazoned with a coat of arms or crest. This practice, called heraldry, began in the 12th century.

The colors on a medieval flag had certain meanings. For instance, gold usually symbolized generosity while silver or white represented peace or sincerity. Green symbolized hope and blue represented truth and loyalty. Red, an extremely popular color in those times, represented military strength and a warrior. Some flags even had marks of cadence which revealed the place a person occupied in the family tree. The oldest son’s, for instance, bears a “label” while the next in line bears a “crescent” mark somewhere. There were a plethora of symbols that had more subtle meanings and complicated implications. However, one symbol that most people recognize is the lion. Emblazoned on the personal flag of Richard the Lionhearted, the lion is often featured on flags in a variety of positions known as attitudes.

In time, medieval flags changed. Styles came and went, depending on preference. Some of the most well known medieval flags include:

Gonfalon : A long flag that often had pointed ends and streamers. It was suspended from a crossbar and popular in Italy. Today, most colleges and universities have gonfalons for ceremonial uses.

Gonfanon: A flag that was flown from a vertical staff with the symbols going all the way down to the end.

Guidon: A triangular flag of medium size. Guidons are popular in the United States military today.

Oriflamme: It was not a shape or style of flag but was the actual battle standard of the King of France himself. Red and orange in color, it flew from a lance instead of a pole. It was destroyed in the French Revolution.

Streamers: Long, tapering flags often used aboard ships.

Pinsil: This was unique to Scotland . It’s a medium-sized flag, flown vertically, displaying the owner’s crest.

Pennon: A medium-sized flag that was attached to the head of a spear.

Banner: A perpendicular long flag. The banner is the most common style of flag and most medieval flags seen today are banners.

Today, medieval flags still capture many people’s interest. Though they are no longer carried into battle, they are still displayed with a great deal of pride.