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Swiss cantons war flags

Last modified: 2004-08-14 by pascal gross
Keywords: switzerland | cantons | war |
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[War flag of Zürich canton] by T.F. Mills

Cantons war flags

The Swiss Confederation of 1803-1813 consisted of 19 cantons, each with a war flag consisting of two flame colours in the quarters and the white cross "traversante". Cantonal crests normally were centered on the junction of the cross. In 1814 three more cantons joined, and in 1817 Switzerland started to slowly gain some military uniformity. French-style cravats in two cantonal colours were replaced on the cantonal war flags by a federal red-white cravat. Most cantonal crests in the center of the flags were replaced by a simple inscription in gold of the name of the canton on the horizontal bar of the white cross.

In 1833 Aargau was the first to break ranks and adopt a federal war flag in place of the cantonal one. General Guillaume-Henri Dufour championed this idea, and in 1840 he prevailed: every canton gave up its own war flag and adopted the federal white cross on white field with cravat in cantonal colours (the reverse of previous practice). The federal Constitution of 1848 reinforced this concept. In 1884, the Canton name on one side of the flag was replaced by the battalion number (e.g. Fusilier Bat. 32)

[War flag of Bern canton] by T.F. Mills

The two-colour flamed canton war flags of 1803-1840, and the two-colour cravats are as follows (in order of the cantons' entry into the Confederation):

1501BaselBS white/black  BL white/red
1803St. Gallengreen/white
1803Ticinored/blue (no flames)
1979Jurawhite/red (no flames)

T.F. Mills, 26 August 1997

[War flag of Bern canton] by T.F. Mills

In Bern a particular flamed flag is extremely popular. The flames are black-red with a white cross reaching to the edge. This is the old war flag of the canton of Bern from the time before the founding of the Swiss Confederation.

Harald Müller, 14 May 1996

[War flag of Aargau canton] by T.F. Mills

Aargau joined the Swiss confederation in 1803 and in 1805 adopted a military organisation and war flag. This flag was typical of the period for most cantons: white cross "traversante" dividing the flag into four quarters with "piles wavy" radiating from the center. Almost every canton had bicoloured flames, Aargau being black and blue. The name of the canton was inscribed in gold on the horizontal arms of the cross.

T.F. Mills, 01 September 1997

[War flag of Neuchâtel canton] by T.F. Mills

Some time ago I posted the Neuchatel war flag of 1815, principally by way of illustrating the central coat of arms (which included the Prussian eagle). The general pattern in 1803-1817 was for cantons to display the coat of arms in the center, and thereafter these were replaced by the inscribed name of the canton instead. Aargau, as a new canton in 1803, opted for the newer style from the start.

T.F. Mills, 01 September 1997