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Schwyz canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2006-07-27 by pascal gross
Keywords: switzerland | schwyz | canton |
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[Flag of Schwyz]
by T.F. Mills

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Description of the flag

Gules, a Confederate cross couped in the hoist argent.

On a red field, a small white cross with long narrow arms in the top corner of the hoist.

The flag on the FOTW page is incorrect in two respects. The cross is depicted in the sinister chief, which is correct for the shield of the coat of arms, but not for the flag. This distinction between the shield and the flag was established in 1815. The proportions of the cross are different from the national Swiss cross: the arms are longer and narrower. The proportions of the cross were fixed by law in 1963.

Symbolism of the flag

The red flag of Schwyz was the battle flag of the Holy Roman Empire (Reichssturmfahne). Red was a symbol of sovereignty and power over life and death. The white cross, added later, had the usual Christian significance, and later became a symbol of the Confederation.

History of the flag

Emperor Friedrich II presented the blood-red war banner of the empire to the warriors of Schwyz in 1240. Like the Uri banner, this flag was granted as symbol of an "immediacy", i.e. sovereignty within the Empire. For over 100 years it was plain red with no adornments. Sometime in the 14th century, a depiction of the crucifixion appeared in the first quarter. This was often a very complex image (resembling a Russian icon) called the "Heilig Rych", including representations of Christ, Mary and the apostle John. Pope Sixtus IV confirmed this addition to the flag in 1480, augmenting it to include specifically the crown of thorns and the nails. In 1512 the 12 members of the Confederation, plus three allies (St. Gallen, Appenzell and Wallis) went to war on behalf of the Pope against the French and liberated Milan. Pope Julius II conferred the title "Defenders of the Liberty of the Church" on the Confederation, and presented every Canton with an expensive damask cantonal banner with an embroidered "Heilig Rych" in the first quarter (this time depicting the coronation of Mary, the Queen of Heaven).

The first solid proof of the white cross appearing on the Schwyz war banner dates from 1475. The original augmentation of a crucifix was perhaps granted by Rudolf in 1289 for services rendered in his war against Bohemia. In 1291, Schwyz joined its neighbours Uri and Unterwalden in the original Swiss confederation. The long-armed cross of Schwyz later became the insignia of the Confederation, appearing on warriors' tunics and their thighs, and on long red pennons attached to some cantonal war banners. All depictions of the Passion on the Schwyz flag were eliminated in 1815 and reduced to the simple white cross.

T.F. Mills, 16 October 1997

The flag was originally a battle flag, red in color, flying at battles of Morgarten (1315), Laupen (1339 and Sempach (1386). In the 14th century, the cross was introduced appearing in the hoist quarter, sometimes accompanied by the figures of Mary and Joseph. There are two major legends regarding the addition of the cross, one that it was cut from a missal given to Count Rudo.

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

Phil Nelson, 14 October 1998

Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours




[livery colours]

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

For Schwyz this type of flag adopts the position of the cross in the upper left corner as it is on the coat of arms, and therefore appears there in the flaggen.  For the knatterfahnen, we are talking about vexillology and not heraldry, the cross is of course in the upper right corner. The livery colours also retain the little white cross (located on the left corner like the flag), this is to avoid confusion with any political banner.

Pascal Gross, 17, 23 April 2001