This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Historical Flags 1506-1700 (Spain)

Last modified: 2002-11-30 by santiago dotor
Keywords: cross: saltire (red) | cross: burgundy | alabama | florida | galleon | eagle (black) | order of the golden fleece | crown: royal |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors

See also:


The history of Spanish ensigns is a difficult one to follow, since the forming of Spain as a nation in the 15th century until the establishment of the red-gold-red ensign by royal decree on May 28th 1785. As far as I know, from Charles I (1518) until Charles II (1665), the main symbol, in different designs, of the Spanish ships, was the red Burgundy cross on different field colours, most frequently white. Only sometimes were royal standards or standards with religious symbols, on red and crimson fields, to be seen. The only documented ensign apart from that is the one used by the Spanish Galleons.

José Carlos Alegría, 23 October 2000

Burgundy Cross Flag 1506-1785

Ensign 1506-1670s, thereafter Jack until 1785

[Burgundy Cross Flag (Spain)]      [Burgundy Cross Flag (Spain), square]
both by António Martins

The Burgundy cross in Crampton 1990, a plain "saltire raguly gules" on white — it looks very realistic, like two untrimmed logs crossed.

António Martins, 27 June 1997

The Burgundy cross, based on the wooden cross where St. Andrew was crucified, is an old vexillological symbol used by Spain, specially at sea, for many years. In much more recent times, it was used by the Carlists (Requetés) during the Spanish Civil War and afterwards, and by the Traditionalist Party (Partido Tradicionalista) during the post-Franco years.

José Carlos Alegría, 30 August 1999

The basic pattern of a saltire raguly couped Gules, or plainly speaking a red saltire resembling two crossed, roughly-pruned branches, on a usually white field (but also blue, purpure etc.), was the Spanish military flag from the 16th century up to 1843, when the 1785 War Ensign was adopted for use on land too. The saltire was originally a Burgundian emblem, first introduced in Spain as the personal badge of Phillip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and King Consort of Castile and Aragon, married to Joan of Castile and Aragon (daughter of the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Elizabeth), the parents of Charles I (Charles V as German Emperor). As such, the emblem has been called in Spain "cross (or, more properly, saltire) of Burgundy", even if the term "cross/saltire of St. Andrew" has also been used.

To say that the flag is that of the Spanish armed forces because its patron saint is Saint Andrew, is a post-facto explanation with not much vexillological background. Spanish infantry did fly it, as also did cavalry, artillery, engineers, etc. It was first used not by regular infantry but by the equivalent to the present Spanish (Foreign) Legion, the Tercios, volunteer expeditionary troops including infantry and cavalry.

From the 1930s up to recently there has been scarce use of the Burgundy Cross by infantry units in flags, uniforms etc., whereas it is displayed in all Spanish Air Force planes — that is what the stylized saltire fin marking stands for.

On the other hand, it is a mistaken explanation, since the patron saint of the Spanish Infantry is not St. Andrew but Our Lady's Immaculate Conception! Actually none of the Spanish Armed Forces' branches-of-service have St. Andrew as its patron... The Burgundy Cross is nevertheless related to St. Andrew indeed, not through the patronage of a Spanish army branch, but through its Burgundian origin — St. Andrew being the patron saint of the Duchy of Burgundy.

Santiago Dotor, 6 October 1999

Flags having this cross with many minor variations were the most common symbol for Burgundy in the late middle ages, sometimes with a white field and sometimes with any of a wide variety of colored and multicolored fields. It also appears, less frequently, with a white cross on a red field. With the union of the Burgundian and Spanish crowns under Philip the Fair, it became (again with many variations) a flag of the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) and of the Spanish crown and military forces. I have seen flags in old flag charts as Ostend and Biscay and a wide variety of them are illustrated in Calvo and Grávalos 1983 with dates as early as 1520 and as late as 1931, frequently as unit flags (which then usually have a badge or name of the unit as well).

Norman Martin, 27 January 2000

Many variants of the Burgundy cross existed, but all consisted in either:

  1. the saltire being throughout or couped i.e. reaching or not the borders;
  2. the total number of 'stumps' on each of the saltire's arms (including no 'stumps' at all);
  3. the number of 'stumps' being identical or not on each side of the saltire's arms;
  4. the 'stumps' ending with a cut parallel to the saltire's arm or with a right-angle cut;
  5. the 'stumps' being of the same width as the saltire's arms or thinner;
  6. the colours of the saltire and the field — mostly red on white, but also red on yellow, white on blue, red on purple etc.; or
  7. the saltire being represented as a heraldical 'saltire raguly' or more realistically like two branches, sometimes even joined with a ribbon.
The "brick arrangement" in the flag spotted in Puerto Rico must certainly be [a mistaken representation or] an optical effect.

Santiago Dotor, 31 January 2000

Possible origin of the Alabama and Florida flags

The cross of Burgundy was one of the standards used by the Spanish military in the southeast United States. I am not sure, but it just struck me that this may be the inspiration for the Alabama and Florida flags.

Nathan Bliss, 20 January 1998

The [Alabama] state flag was patterned after the battle flag of the confederate Army of Northern Virginia (ANV). It was also intended to be a square flag just like the ANV battle flag was. I have a color drawing of it from the Governor William Oates Papers in the Alabama State Archives.

Greg Biggs, 13 October 1998

While both the modern Alabama and Florida state flags may have some historical tribute to Spanish rule in their design, both were definitely patterned after the battle flags of the Army of Northern Virginia — under which the bulk of the troops from both states fought. Both of these flags have documentation stating the influence of the ANV battle flag in their design — particularly the flag of Alabama, which was created under the administration of Governor William Oates, a former regimental commander in the ANV.

Greg Biggs, 21 December 1999

Well, I see that both the ANV battle flag and the Alabama state flag are square and show a saltire. Other than that I find it difficult to see how the latter was "patterned after" the first. It seems strange to me that among the US states which adopted a flag patterned (supposedly or really) on the ANV battle flag, the only ones which experienced Spanish government, Alabama and Florida, have a flag which clearly recalls the old Spanish Colours (red saltire, no stars, on a white field), whereas the rest (Georgia, Mississippi etc.) have flags which clearly recall the ANV battle flag (blue saltire with stars on a red field).

Santiago Dotor, 21 December 1999

The colors of the modern flag of Alabama certainly match those of the Spanish regimental flag — and in that case it was a bit of subterfuge to make it not look exactly like the ANV battle flag. The case is still out on the Florida flag I think — although the Spanish connection may be stronger there.

Greg Biggs, 6 September 2000

Civil and War Ensign c.1520-c.1701

Possibly ensign of vessels operating in Spanish waters

[Ensign 1520-1701 (Spain)]
by José Carlos Alegría

A plain horizontal tricolour of red-white-yellow appears to have been used in many instances as an ensign. Siegel 1912 has it as 'special ensign' (table 46, besondere Flagge), as 'civil ensign' (table 46, Handelsflagge 1737, 1769) and as 'costumary flag' (table 33, Spanien, gewöhnl[iche] Fl[agge]). (...) Calvo and Grávalos 1983 mentions an article in The Flag Bulletin XI.3 about the origins of this flag.

Santiago Dotor, 26 October 2000

Hugo O'Donnell states in Símbolos de España 1999 that this ensign is documented as far back as 1588, when "84 banderas de lienzo de colores blanco, amarillo y colorado" (84 flags of linen in colors white, yellow and red), in several sizes, were given to the galleon San Martín for further distribution among the squadrons. Some had coat-of-arms, but most did not. The version without arms has been called Pabellón particular de España, besides Bandera de los Galeones de España.

In the same book, there is another reference, dated 1647. On the designation of the second Juan de Austria as commander in chief of the Armada (Real Instrucción dada al Srmo. Sr. D. Juan de Austria en 28 de mayo de 1647 al confiarle el gobierno de todas las fuerzas marítimas), one of the atlantic squadrons, called Flandes [Flanders], was to fly the mentioned red-white-yellow ensign, with a Burgundy cross on the white part. And another squadron, called América, the same ensign, but with the eagle and crown.

It seems Roger Harmignies wrote on The Flag Bulletin XI.3 that the origin of this ensign is the combination of the colors of Spain [the red and yellow of Castile and Aragon] and Austria, as it was the time when Joan of Castile married Philip [the Fair] of Burgundy (early 16th century).

José Carlos Alegría, 10 January 2001

Ensign for the Spanish Netherlands c.1520-c.1701

Possibly ensign of vessels operating in Flemish waters

['Flanders' Ensign 1520-1701 (Spain)]
by José Carlos Alegría

A horizontal tricolour of red-white-yellow (...) defaced with a Burgundy cross on the white stripe (sometimes centred, sometimes offset to the hoist) is usually reported as the flag of the Spanish Netherlands:

Santiago Dotor, 26 October 2000

Galleons' Ensign c.1520-c.1701

Possibly ensign of vessels operating in American waters

[Galleons' Ensign c.1520-c.1701 (Spain)]
by José Carlos Alegría

This ensign —documented in several charts, by different authors— is the one used by the Spanish Galleons, the biggest war vessels of the Spanish Navy at the time.

José Carlos Alegría, 23 October 2000

I have also seen this flag labelled Spanish Galleons in several sources, among them:

However, I wonder whether the flag was first spotted on a Spanish galleon but was actually much more widely used in the Spanish Navy from the early 16th century to the very end of the 17th century.

Santiago Dotor, 26 October 2000

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, a galleon was a "full-rigged sailing ship that was built primarily for war, and which developed in the 15th and 16th centuries. The name derived from "galley," which had come to be synonymous with "war vessel" and whose characteristic beaked prow the new ship retained."

Santiago Dotor, 2 February 2001

Size of Ensigns 15th-19th Centuries

I recently saw a facsimile copy of a 1752 book on shipbuilding, with (...) a stern view showing (...) an enormous, almost square ensign (about as high as the ship itself, without the masts, ca. 15m x 15m or even larger) showing the Burgundy cross on a clear field (probably white). (...)

Santiago Dotor, 18 October 2000

According to the Diccionario Enciclopédico Ilustrado de la Lengua Española Sopena, Barcelona, 1954, a bandera de combate or 'combat flag' is "a national flag, very large sized, which is hoisted over the stern of warships when they go into battle or in very solemn events". Is this the practice of Spanish ships? Depictions of sea battles of the 15th to 19th centuries usually show that most warships of different nationalities have large flags and pennants, not only Spanish ships but also Dutch, Portuguese and British. However, it might be that the Spanish Navy's flags were unusually larger than the rest. A book I have on piracy and the Spanish Armada (Heretics in Paradise: English corsairs and sailors on the Venezuelan shores during the second half of the 16th Century, Colección Quinto Centenario del Encuentro de Dos Mundos, Editorial Arte, Caracas, 1994) has several illustrations of sea battles and particular ships. Even though all ships bear many different flags of large size and bright colours, it is certainly the Spanish fleet which boasts the largest 'combat flags'. We should remember that ensigs and war pennants had an enormous estrategic importance in naval warfare.

Guillermo Aveledo, 29 October 2000

CHANNELS :: Compare Country infoCountry guide & StudyFlagsMapsSightseeingTravel WarningsHotel Directory DESTINATIONS :: AsiaAfricaCaribbean Middle EastNorth AmericaSouth AmericaCentral AmericaOceania PacificEuropePolar Regions UTILITIES :: WeatherWorld TimeISD CodesTravel Links Link Exchange
DestinationsMonuments WONDERS :: AncientModernNatural | Privacy Policy