Flags and Colours Part 2: Evidence

Part two of the KeepYourPowderDry guide to Civil War flags and colours looks at evidence - surviving flags, and contemporary records.

Surviving Flags

There is a watchett (blue green) piles wavy ensign in the collection at the National Army Museum  (not on display), which very little is known about. One source claims it predates the Civil Wars (early 1630s), whereas NAM currently believe it dates from 1688 and belonged to Prince William of Orange (before he became King William III)

Picture courtesy of the National Army Museum

Of course, the ensign belonging to Sir John Gell's Regiment of Foot takes pride of place in the refurbished NAM.

I have read that when the museum was conserving Gell's flag, and the museum was undergoing major refurbishment, that it was planned to alternate display of the two flags in the NAM collection.

Antony House in Plymouth, have a yellow ensign on display with black lion devices (possibly belonging to Alexander Carew's Cornish parliamentarian regiment of foot).

The Royal United Services Institute have (had?) a burgundy coloured flag possibly dating to the period, bearing lamb of St Wilfred devices. The devices are the correct way up when the flag is displayed horizontally, which would strongly suggest they are later additions. An image of this flag appears in the Airfix Magazine Guide to ECW Wargaming; Peachey and Prince also make reference to it in Volume 1 of ECW flags series. The flag was exhibited in the RUSI museum which used to be housed in the Banqueting House in London, where King Charles had an appointment with a man with a big axe. It is believed that this flag may be in storage at the National Army Museum, but I have not been able to have this confirmed by either NAM or RUSI.

There are two cavalry cornets, known as the Yate cornets (although there is some debate if they are contemporaneous replicas) at Bromesberrow Church. Update: just visited it - pictures here.

My first impression was how small they were. The Commandery had a project to reproduce these two cornets which were displayed alongside the originals briefly, the replica cornets are now on permanent display in Worcester.

The Museum of London  have six cavalry cornets dating most probably from the Second Civil War which have been made into four screen panels. The cornets were double-thickness and have been taken apart to form the 12 panels of the screens, fringing and pole sleeves have been removed (although some remnants remain). Five of the pairs match (both sides being painted the same) while the last two do not but are believed to come from the same cornet (different design on each side). These are believed to be the cornets of different  troops from one  Royalist regiment which fought in the Kentish Rebellion.

Blount describes one cornet which is suspiciously like one of those that makes up the screens - so we might infer that they are from Colonel Robert Hatton’s Regiment of Horse. Whilst not on display an image of two of the panels is available here. I have learnt today that it is hoped the cornets will be displayed when the museum moves to a new site (currently scheduled for 2026). These cornets are shown as the end pages of the Forlorn Hope rules book from Partizan Press.

In April 2005 Bonham's Auctioneers put a cavalry cornet under the hammer: the cornet was alleged to have been captured by Bernard Brocas at the First Battle of Newbury (a Telegraph article about the sale states it was Second Newbury). The cornet is light green silk damask, woven with a foliage design and bearing the motto Constanter et Fideliter; the cornet, according to the story, was taken from a member of the Hesilrigge family. However, only Sir Arthur is believed to have fought in the wars, and he was not present at First Newbury, or even slain at the Second. Sadly the cornet was sold to a private collection.

The cornet captured by Bernard Brocas, picture from the Daily Telegraph/Bonhams

There are a number of Scots Covenanter flags in existence, some on display at the National Museum of Scotland  and Greyfriar's Kirk (both in Edinburgh); others are listed at Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association.

Eye witness evidence

We know a great deal about the flags of the London Trained Bands and Auxiliaries thanks to Royalist spy William Levett. He observed a muster of the regiments on the 26th September 1643 and documented his observations in a report with coloured pictures. A number of regiments did not muster on that day but it appears Levett was aware of their flag designs. The National Army Museum has a surviving copy of Levett's report in their library MS 6807-53 ( illustrations are not coloured, but annotated instead). Another copy, with additional annotations and notes, is held by the British Library Harl MS 986, this copy is believed to have belonged to Richard Symonds*, another Royalist spy.

Yet another source documenting the London regiments was created by John Lucas in 1647 who had an interest in heraldry (a copy is held by the Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson B48, another at the British Library  Add MS 14308) . He documented the ensigns of the Trained Bands and the London horse cornets (as well as documenting officers' names).

Parliament also had its spies documenting the regiments marching in and out of Oxford. Sadly they weren't quite as diligent as either Levett or Symonds merely describing the number of white  regiments, blew regiments and so forth.

We know what quite a few cavalry cornets, from the early years of the wars, look like due to a document with the title Sketches of regimental banners from the English Civil Wars (Add MS 5247). Whilst many British Library documents have been digitised, none of those referenced on this page have- a small number of pictures from this document are available online.

Many of the flags illustrated in Sketches... were reproduced (some with slight differences) in the pithily titled The Colours of Standards, and armorial bearings of certain officers in the parliament army 1642: and a List of the colours taken by the Earl of Essex general of the Parliament Army at Edgehill October 23 1642: and also of the colours taken by Sir Thomas Fairfax General of the Parliament Army at Knaseby June 14 1645. This bears the name of Tarmile, and is generally referred to as Turmile. An original is held at the Dr Williams Library, London (MS Modern Fol. 7) and a photographic copy at the National Army Museum (NP7373)

We have a good knowledge of Scot's flags from the Second and Third Civil Wars due to the fact that they were so roundly defeated at  Preston (1648)  and Dunbar (1650) - the (many) captured flags were documented by Payne (sometimes Fitzpayne) Fisher who faithfully painted them. The British Museum holds the original documents: Preston  Harl MS 1460, and Dunbar Harl MS 6844 fol. 123

The Frenchman, Henry Estienne Lord of Fossez, wrote the somewhat snappily titled "The art of making devises : treating of hieroglyphicks, symboles, emblemes, aenigma's, sentences, parables, reverses of medalls, armes, blazons, cimiers, cyphres and rebus". It contains many images and descriptions of Civil War heraldry and flags. The book was translated by Thomas Blount , and his English translation was published in the 1646. You will usually see it referred to as Blount's "The Art of making Devises" in flag reference books (the laying out of print in modern times is clearly much more expensive per word than it was in the seventeenth century). The book is available as a facsimile copy from time to time, just ensure that the copy has the plates included. It is also available online.     

Finally, the correspondence of officers and gentry provide us with many clues.  We have some descriptions of captured flags in letters from officers: again, they weren't as diligent as Levitt, Symonds or Fisher; we often know the design of the flag, but not to whom they belong. Some we can deduce - fourteen flags belonging to one regiment at Marston Moor almost certainly belonged to Newcastle's lambs, as they were the only Royalist regiment fielding that many companies. We can also glean some clues to colours of flags from receipt books, for example Earl Henry Clifford of Skipton Castle purchased "ensigns' staffs and crimson and cerise silk for his emblems on their standards". Lots of details from contemporaneous letters can be found on the rather fabulous BCW Regimental Wiki.

If you are wondering what the strange italicised codes are, e.g. MS Add 5247, they are library catalogue numbers for original documents

Was there a particular order for the colours to be carried in battle?

Before battle is engaged a regiment would show its colours to the enemy, then they would move away from the front rank to safety in the middle or even at the back of the regiment.

There is a diagram that shows how the individual company flags were ordered in the pike block when a 'full' regiment was present. Colonel Rainsborough's NMA regiment paraded in London on the 7th August 1647.

From Elton's The Compleat Body of the Art Military 

Sealed Knot/ English  Civil War Society

Okay not strictly historical evidence, but useful nonetheless from a wargaming stand point. Re-enactors also have a part to play. The regiments they re-enact field flags and colours, some of which are conjectural. These people are passionate about what they do and spend many hours researching their regiment - I have used some dragoon guidons from Sealed Knot regiments for my own regiments.

* Symonds kept a notebook and a diary. The diary, covers events from the 29th March 1644, and is available in a couple of versions. Unless you are really really interested in churches, funerial monuments and stained glass windows featuring coats of arms, you might be better going for the abridged version. (You'll thank me for it, trust me.)

Part 1
Part 3

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