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Neuchâtel canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2011-12-24 by rob raeside
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[Flag of Neuchâtel] image by T.F. Mills

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Description of the flag

Tierced per pale vert, argent and gules, in sinister chief a cross couped silver.

Divided vertically into three equal parts green, white and red. In the top corner of the fly is a small white Confederate cross. The cross is the old Confederate style with long, narrow arms, and not the modern federal one with shorter, stubbier arms.

T.F. Mills, 04 November 1997

Symbolism of the flag

There are two theories about the symbolism of the Neuchâtel colours, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The current cantonal flag was first adopted in the mid-19th century by the republican and revolutionary party. Their flag was either unimaginatively taken directly from the Italian republican and independentist movement, or the colours represented revolution (green and white) and allegiance to Switzerland (red with white cross).

T.F. Mills, 04 November 1997 

The colors are based upon the national colors of the herald of Neuchâtel, green and white the colors of rebellion and red and white, the colors of the Swiss flag. The cross was added in 1870 to distinguish the flag from the Italian flag. The flag of 1350 (or, on a pale gules, three chevronels argent) was discarded in 1848, but there have been three unsuccessful plebicites to reintroduce this flag (1921, 1931, 1954).

Source: Angst (1992), "A Panoply of Colours: The Cantonal Banners of Switzerland and the Swiss National Flag"

Phil Nelson, 14 October 1998

Today, I read in the newspaper some definitions of the colours one can find on the French Swiss cantons' flags. The sources are quite sure (Mr. Maurice de Tribolet, who looks after the records of the Republic and Canton of Neuchâtel and the article was in the newspaper "Le Temps" of the 04.01.2001, the biggest French Swiss newspaper). The flag had to be created after the "Revolution of the 1st March 1848" and the Republicans had no time to try to find a new state flag. They decided the "red" would stand for the south of the Canton because that is a great region for wine production, the "white" would stand for the valleys and their "white walls" and the "green" would stand for pastures and forests in the north of the Canton.

Nasha Gagnebin, 4 January 2001

History of the flag

Neuchâtel was long a buffer state between France and Switzerland. From the mid-11th century the counts of Neuchâtel prospered, and their arms consisted of a yellow field with two white bands, each charged with three small red chevrons. This was simplified in the 1350 battle flag (see image) as three white chevrons on a single red band ("or, on a pale gules, three chevronels argent"). Despite some complicated variations, such as the 1815 war flag which incorporated also the arms of Prussia, this flag remained in general use until 1848.

The male line of the county of Neuchâtel died out in 1373, leading to a long struggle as a succession of claimants sought to assert control. The arms of Louis de Chalons, prince of Orange ("gules, a bend or") became quartered with those of Neuchâtel. While the aristrocracy struggled, the city of Neuchâtel became increasingly independent and allied itself in 1406 with Bern. In 1512 the Swiss Confederation seized the county of Neuchâtel, but was forced to yield it back in 1529 to Jeanne, Duchess of Orléans-Longueville. The Swiss nevertheless maintained close ties with the citizens of Neuchâtel and in 1598 the city-state became an allied state of the Confederation. In the 17th century Neuchâtel merged with the neighbouring county of Valangin and became a principality. In 1707 the house of Orléans-Longueville died out, by which time the city of Neuchâtel had become powerful enough to choose its own prince. They chose the geographically and genealogically distant claimant, King Friedrich I of Prussia. The King ruled through a governor, who was subject to Neuchatel law. The Prussian eagle was now superimposed on the quartered Neuchâtel-Chalons arms.

When the old Swiss Confederation collapsed in 1798, Neuchâtel was left in the lurch. Since Napoléon was at war with Prussia, he seized Neuchâtel and installed Marshal Berthier as its prince. With the fall of Napoléon, the King of Prussia reasserted his claims and the people of Neuchâtel renewed their ties with Switzerland. Neuchâtel was admitted as a full canton in 1815, but with the unique distinction of owing nominal fielty to a distant monarch. This led to conflict between the local monarchist and republican parties, exacerbated by the European revolutions of 1830 and 1848. The republicans staged a coup in 1848 and along with their provisional government adopted what later became the modern official flag of Neuchâtel. The conflict in Neuchâtel threatened in 1856 to break out into full civil war, sucking in Prussia and Switzerland. Cooler heads prevailed and in 1857 the King of Prussia renounced all claims to Neuchâtel, which became a full-fledged member of Switzerland -- with the 1848 revolutionary banner as its flag.

The adoption of the 1848 flag was a deliberate snub of the royalists in Neuchâtel, and was accomplished without even formal enactment. Its design became particularly problematic after Italian unification in 1870, which made the white cross all the more important. A better design would have been to reverse the red and green bands and put the white cross in the normal point of honour. Attempts to restore the flag of 1350, which is far more meaningful to Neuchâtel history, were rejected in plebiscites held in 1923, 1931, and 1954.

T.F. Mills, 4 November 1997

I was interested to learn that the predominant colors in the Neuchâtel arms were red and yellow. This explains why the infantry of Berthier's Neuchâtel Battalion (which fought for Napoleon in Spain, Russia, Germany and France) wore yellow "Spencer" coats with red collar, cuffs, turnbacks and lapels -- a most colorful and unusual uniform, even by the gaudy standards of the Grand Army.

Tom Gregg, 3 February 1997

Neuchâtel flag of 1350

[Neuchâtel flag of 1350] image by António Martins

Neuchâtel flag of 1836-1848

[Neuchâtel flag of 1836-1848] image by ND

Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours




[livery colours]

images by Pascal Gross

Flaggen are vertically hoisted from a crossbar in the manner of gonfanon, in ratio of about 2:9, with a swallowtail that indents about 2 units. The chief, or hoist (square part) usually incorporates the design from the coat of arms - not from the flag. The fly part is always divided lengthwise, usually in a bicolour, triband or tricolour pattern (except Schwyz which is monocolour, and Glarus which has four stripes of unequal width). The colours chosen for the fly end are usually the main colours of the coat of arms, but the choice is not always straight forward.

Knatterfahnen are similar to Flaggen, but hoisted from the long side and have no swallow tail. They normally show the national, cantonal or communal flag in their chiefs.

Željko Heimer, 16 July 2000

The little cross of the flag has been kept on the livery colours of Neuchâtel canton, to avoid confusion with an Italian banner.

Pascal Gross, 22 April 2001