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

Sir John Gell's on display at NAM. 

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

The Royal United Services Institute have a flag which appears to have been altered - possibly dating to the period, but bearing a lamb of St Wilfred device. The device is the correct way up when the flag is displayed horizontally, which would strongly suggest it is a later addition. The flag was exhibited in their 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.

There are two cavalry cornets in existence, 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.

There are a number of Scots Covenanter flags in existence, some on display at the National Museum of Scotland (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. NAM has a surviving copy of Levett's report in their library (illustrations are not coloured, but annotated instead), this copy has additional information concerning officer's names. This copy was said to be by Richard Symonds, another Royalist spy.

Another source documenting the London regiments was created by John Lucas in 1647, who had an interest in heraldry. 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 have a good knowledge of Scot's flags from the Third Civil War due to the fact that they were so roundly defeated at  Preston (1648) and Dunbar (1650) - the (many) captured flags were documented in a book by Fitzpayne Fisher who faithfully painted them.

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.

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.

Part 1
Part 3


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