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English Royal Standards, 1042-1066

Last modified: 2010-07-12 by rob raeside
Keywords: royal standard | edward the confessor | harold ii |
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Saint Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)

[Edward the Confessor supposed banner]image by Eugene Ipavec, 8 July 2006
[This is a 'fictitious' flag and was a design invented in the heraldic age.]
Christopher Southworth, 8 July 2006

Edward the Confessor is described as having arms consisting of a cross surrounded by five martlets. I don't know the exact colours, nor whether the arms were used as a standard. [As England, in the days it had Saint Edward as its patron, used a white cross on a blue field, this does suggest these were the colours of his arms.]  (Evans 1970)
Peter Hans van der Muijzenberg
, 23 April 2002

Norman Davies in "The Isles" states "Edward the Confessor's standard was shield-shaped, light blue with a gold cross and birds. The cross is equal-armed and thin, with fleur-de-lis edged arms (not sure of technical terms for any of this - maybe a fleury cross?). The doves are between the arms and one below (looking left, five in all).
Nathan Lamm, 30 June 2002

That's an interesting statement, that Edward the Confessor's arms were in the colours of blue and white/silver.  It might or might not be, but for the record, when later English kings displayed their arms (notably Richard II, who occasionally impaled Edward's arms with the quartered French fleurs de lys and the English lions, as shown on this page, they had a gold cross and martlets on a blue field. In fact it's not at all known whether Edward or any of the Saxon kings actually did bear arms. The arms attributed to Edward come from a coin minted during his reign, which shows four martlets between the arms of a cross. The fifth martlet was added because when the charges were placed on a shield, the base looked a bit empty - this was when shields were still quite long and pointy, as they were in Norman times. The word martlet is used in English translation of similar birds (footless) that appear in French, Dutch and German arms, and the equivalents in those languages are frequently used for the English bird. The French term merlette actually indicates a footless duckling, not a martin or swallow, as in the case of the English bird. Merlettes (in the duckling form) appear frequently in Dutch heraldry. And in German heraldry yet another bird is used, also without legs, based on the lark, and is called a gestümmelte Amsel. For further details, see François Velde's page
Mike Oettle, 29 June 2002

As intimated above, this is unlikely to have been a Royal Standard when Edward the Confessor was king, but it was used as a Royal Banner in the reign of Edward I, and was displayed with other Royal Banners when Caerlaverock Castle was captured in 1300. As it was a banner of arms it was probably more like this image, taken from 'British Flags' by W.G. Perrin (1922).
David Prothero, 8 July 2006

It would appear that it wasn't *entirely* a fanciful creation of the 13th Century heralds. Four birds (of an indeterminate type) did appear on the reverse of some coins from the reign of Edward the Confessor, so unlike other "saintly" banners of the period that of St Edward had a small basis in fact. Of course if Edward had flown such a banner he would have been anticipating the introduction of heraldic symbolism by two or three hundred years, but something trivial like a couple of hundred years (or so) should not be allowed to get in the way of a good legend.
Christopher Southworth, 11 July 2006


Harold II (1066)

The first English monarch whose standard was depicted may well be King Harold II, whose Dragon 'flag' is pictured on the Tapestry of Bayeux, as is the gonfalon of William I.  (Evans 1970)


Continued as House of Normandy