Medieval banners provided a visual method of recognizing friend from foe. On the medieval battlefield, each medieval banner or flag was emblazoned with the arms of its owner to distinguish one from another (Medieval Banners, ND). There are many different types of flags and banners.
The banner, the most common of all the medieval flags and banners, was a personal flag of nobility and knighthood, usually fixed to a traverse bar painted or embroidered with arms of its bearer, its size denoting rank in a proportional manner. Here, follows the rankings prescribed: Emperor- six feet square, King- five feet square, Prince or Duke- four feet square, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, or Baron- three feet square, Baronet to knight bachelor- two feet square or less (Richard; ND). Banners were generally made up on a stiff or rigid foundation to prevent flapping. They were decorated with a gold or coloured fringe all around the edge (Norris; 1066-1485). It was common to carry the banner fixed to a spear. Banners were also attached to long trumpets and were blazoned with the arms of the lord who employed the trumpeters (Norris; 1066-1485). Truly authentic banners were made by authentic materials, ideally wool, linen or silk and hand sewn (Silverlock; ND).
The Oriflamme was horizontally or square oblong, one end being decorated with the addition of pointed tongues. Usually made of red silk, it had the effect of a golden flame when fluttering in the wind (Norris; 1066-1485). The name ‘Oriflamme’ was given to the banner that was carried before the French Kings (Norris; 1066-1485).
The word Pennon means a wing or a feather. The Pennon is a small flag (averaging between eight and three feet), this flag is either single-pointed or swallow-tailed (Norris; 1066-1485). The Pennon had many shapes over time. In the Eleventh Century, the pennon was square, one end being decorated with the addition of pointed tongues. The Pennon flag was around for over a hundred years. During the reign of Henry III, the Pennon acquired a distinctive shallow tail. Another version of the single-pointed Pennon was introduced in the Thirteenth Century (Norris; 1066-1485).
A long narrow Pennon also referred to as a streamer, was usually single-pointed. The Pennoncelle is commonly flown from the masts of ships (Norris; 1066-1485). The Pennoncelle is not more than 18 inches in length (Kwantlen; 1996)
The guidon is an enlargement of the Pennon. It was usually carried before a troop of retained men as a rallying point in battle (Norris; 1066-1485). The Guidon was a medium-sized flag of triangular shape. The fly (the end furthest from the staff) may be rounded. It bears the affiliation badge (eg. country) in the hoist (the part next to the staff) and the livery colours and personal badge in the fly (Kwantlen; 1996)
The original meaning of the word is an ensign- that which stands. Later in time, it was signified as a staff with a flag. It was a name given in the early Middle Ages to the most imposing kind of flag (Norris; 1066-1485). The Standard was mainly used during the reign of Edward III. It was a military flag which served as a mustering point and a rallying flag during campaigns and tournaments (Richard; ND). The Standard varied in size according to the rank of the owner. The Standard is decorated with a fringe of gold or a single row of small alternating square of two tinctures of the shield. The decoration contained only crests, badges, mottos or livery colours and ornaments and not personal arms as with a banner (Richard; ND). The Standard was hung from a high window or tower in the owner’s castle (Norris; 1066-1485).
The Gonfalon flag was mostly used for decoration. It was a long flag, pointed, or shallow-tailed, or of several tongues. It could display a coat of arms or any relevant design. The Gonfalon was much used for religious ceremonies and processions (Norris; 1066-1485).
The above flags and banners where decorated with unique custom and hand crafted designs. Various methods were used to make a unique banner. Fabric paint was used and a fabric pen was incorporated to sketch the outline of the design. The paint was then used to colour in the chosen design. Oil paints were utilised also. Appliqué was another decoration method, where the design was cut out on another fabric and either sewn or glued on to the banner. Embroidery was easy when used with thick wool or cotton thread. The design was outlined in a chain stitch. Solid satin stitch also worked well and created a well presented banner. However, embroidery took at least a month to complete (Silverlock; ND).
A variety of colours were used to stress the importance of the banners. Early natural colours were utilised for authentic or traditional banners. However there were certain rules of heraldry. Firstly, ‘metal’ colours were not allowed to be placed together. These would include white, yellow, silver or gold.
Secondly, ‘tinctures’ were not allowed together. These included blue, black, red, green, brown, purple (Silverlock; ND). However, over time these rules have been broken and it has become more acceptable to use whatever colours needed to make the banner unique.
Medieval Banners: Conclusion
Medieval banners were a form of knowing who was who in the medieval world, with the banners decorated with a personal coat of arms. This decoration could distinguish if the approaching troupes were allies or enemies. Banners were all different shapes and sizes decorated with a variety of symbols and colours. Medieval banners were an important part of the medieval period and were used in ceremonies, tournaments and battles. It was a way to show who an individual belonged to and under what king he fought. Medieval banners continue to make an appearance throughout history.
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