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Historical Flags (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany)

Last modified: 2004-12-29 by santiago dotor
Keywords: schleswig-holstein | holstein | slesvig | coat of arms (lions: blue) | coat of arms (lions: 2) | holstein-gottorp | disc (yellow) | lions: 2 (blue) | cross: scandinavian (white) |
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The question was raised, "have Schleswig-Holstein always been ruled together — and therefore one flag?" They have since King Christopher III of Denmark inherited Holstein in 1440. The union of the Duchy of Schleswig with the County of Holstein was unusual since they were fiefs of different states (Schleswig of Denmark, Holstein of the Empire). I do not know what flag either of them used before 1696. My guess is in both cases the banner of their arms.

Norman Martin, 22 January 1998

The divisions of Schleswig-Holstein began as early as 1490. The Duchies divided into royal portions e.g.:

  • Alsen,
  • Apenrade,
  • Arrö,
  • Fehmarn,
  • Flensburg,
  • Hadersleben,
  • Rendsburg,
  • Segeberg,
and Gottorp or ducal portions, e.g.:
  • Apenrade,
  • Eiderstadt,
  • Eckernförde,
  • Gottorp,
  • Kiel,
  • Neumünster,
  • Neustadt,
  • Oldenburg,
  • Plön,
  • Schleswig,
  • Stapelholm,
  • Steinburg,
  • Tondern,
  • Trittau;
in addition there were mixed portions, e.g. Itzehoe. Finally, there was one line —the Sonderburg— which was totally seperated (i.e. did not participate in the common government). The matter was complicated by the fact that the ducal vassal often was at political odds with the royal lord, especially during periods when Denmark was quarelling with Sweden.

As a result of the Okkupationspatent of 1713 the king annexed the ducal (Gottorp) portions of Schleswig (but not Holstein), effective 1721 (but Schleswig was not formally annexed to Denmark). Fifty years later the Gottorfers withdrew from Holstein as well as a result of their accession to the Russian throne in 1762. Formally this abdication took place in "1767/73" and applied to all their claims in Holstein. In 1806, Denmark assumed unrestricted control. The entire history consists of a step-by-step transition from what was originally a personal union to a total annexation into the Danish state (remember though that 1815-1844, Schleswig and Holstein were members of the German League). Source: Reich und Länder edited by Georg Sante, 1964 (also called Territorium-Plötz).

Norman Martin, 21 February 2001

In 1581 the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein was divided into a royal part, the King of Denmark being duke, and a ducal part, known as Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp (Gottorp was the residence of the duke). This is the large, general picture. There were also some minor areas which were shared and some other areas with different status. In 1721 Denmark incorporated all of Schleswig into the royal part of the Duchy, alienating the duke at Gottorp. Anyway he did a couple of wise career moves that made him end up as king of Sweden in 1751, creating a royal dynasty that lasted to 1818. The duke, Adolf Frederick, was made heir to the Swedish throne in 1750. That same year he renounced all his claims to territories in both Schleswig and Holstein in favour of the King of Denmark. He was promised Oldenburg and Delmenhorst in Germany instead. In 1773 he took possession of these two territories.

Jan Oskar Engene, 22 February 2001

Holstein used to be a German fief whereas Schleswig was a Danish fief. Originally, Holstein was only the name for the northern part of the current area of this name, the other parts were Stormarn, Dithmarschen and Wagrien. The border between Schleswig and Holstein runs for the most part along the river Eider, but Kiel also belongs to Holstein.

Stefan Schwoon, 21 May 2001

The Lords of Holstein got the Principality of Schleswig in 1386 from the Danish kings. The king of Danmark got both titles in personal union with Denmark after the last Lord of Holstein died in 1460. Since this time, Denmark tried to complete the unification, but officially these territories remained in the Holy Roman Empire. At the time of the French revolution, the Germans started to fight against making these territories Danish. In 1848 a German government was constituted, supported by troops of the German Confederation, but Great Britain and Russia demanded to leave Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark and the troops left. In 1864, Prussian and Austrian troops conquered Schleswig-Holstein. The dispute about its future caused the war between Prussia and Austria in 1866. Schleswig-Holstein became a Prussian province. Northern Schleswig was handed over to Denmark in 1920, while southern Schleswig remained German.

J. Patrick Fischer, 31 July 2001

Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein before 1685

Flensburg 1614 flag in the colours of Oldenburg
[Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein before 1685, first option]     
by Edward Mooney
[Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein before 1685, second option]
by Santiago Dotor

As to the question of what flags were used before 1696, I have re-read two articles, Schütt 1968 and Schütt 1992. From Schütt's discussion it seems that before 1685, ships in the duchies used either the Dannebrog or a flag in the colours of the House of Oldenburg, that is red and yellow. Schütt mentions instances were ships from the duchies used striped flags in red and yellow. For instance in an illustration dated 1614, a Flensburg ship is shown wearing an ensign striped 11 times red and yellow. The explanation for this situation may have been that ships from the duchies took advantage of the Dannebrog when sailing north to Denmark or Norway, but that when sailing elsewhere, especially to ports in countries hostile to Denmark (Sweden for instance), a less conspicuous than the Dannebrog may have been favoured, hence the red and yellow flags.

I would say it that, though there may be some evidence suggesting the early use of the Dannebrog even in the duchies, there is no reason to assume that the Dannebrog was the only flag of the duchies as early as 1440. As I explained above, also red and yellow flags were used. Anyway, we must be careful not to assume that our modern functions of flags also applied to distant times.

Jan Oskar Engene, 27 February 2001

Please note that the flag with 11 stripes were only one variation on the red over yellow theme. As far as I understand, there were other variations on the red over yellow theme as well.

Jan Oskar Engene, 1 March 2001

Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein 1685-1844

Except in the Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp portion 1696 to 1720 (or maybe later)

[Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein 1685-1844] 28:37
by Edward Mooney

In 1685, authorities banned the use of other flags than the Dannebrog in Schleswig (including Flensburg, the major port) and in the royal parts of Holstein. Schütt's opinion is that this prohibition was directed at the red and yellow flags.

Jan Oskar Engene, 27 February 2001

Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp Civil Ensign 1696-1720

Possibly used until 1773 or even 1843 / reported 1700 and 1848

[Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp Civil Ensign 1696-1720 (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany)] 2:3
by Jaume Ollé
Flag adopted 1696, abolished 1720

In 1696 Duke Frederick IV of Gottorp introduced an ensign for his part of the Duchy. This was red with a swallow tail and charged with the crowned arms of Schleswig (on a gold field two blue lions passant, facing left). The crown and the shield were both golden. The white nettle leaf of Holstein was set as a frame around the shield. This ensign was used only for a few years. The Gottorp part of the Duchy was abolished in 1720, taken over by the King and the Danish flag became the appropriate one for the entire Duchy [of Schleswig-Holstein]. Nevertheless, the flag of Duke Frederick survived in flag charts and flag books for over a century. I made a drawing of this flag [not the image above] in which the lions faced the free end of the flag, based on a flag chart picture and description in Henningsen 1969. A red banner charged with the coat of arms of Schleswig-Holstein was made for the festival in Aabenraa in 1843. This was supplanted, however, by the blue-white-red introduced a year later. Sources: Jessen-Klingenberg 1994 and Henningsen 1969.

Jan Oskar Engene, 12 November 1996

A red swallow-tailed flag with a white nettle leaf. Superimposed on the leaf the crowned arms of Schleswig (on a gold field two blue lions passant facing left). In use from 1696-1720. Some sources [old flag charts] report continued use until 1843. Siegel 1912 reports flag as rectangular.

Norman Martin, 22 January 1998

I have no reason one way or the other to conclude whether Gottorp-ruled portions of Holstein flew the 1696 ensign (or some variation thereof) between 1721 and 1773 — notice the most important Gottorp-ruled ports were in Schleswig.

Norman Martin, 21 February 2001

[This was] certainly an ensign. Flags at sea was what they cared about in those days. The decree introducing it is specifically about flags for merchant ships. (...) There is no question about the introduction year, 1696, but I am not absolutely sure as to 1720 as the end year. I suppose, nevertheless, that although the Gottorp duke continued to be duke in Holstein, in actual practice there were few possibilities for using the flag. I would hold 1720 as the likely year the flag went out of use, though I have not seen any formal abolition of the flag. As has been mentioned [see the Introduction], the duke formally renounced his possessions in 1750, and was definitely out by 1773. Nevertheless, based on the little I know about this, I think it is a fair judgement 1720 was the last year this flag was used. (...) Many flag charts show the ensign with the lions facing the fly.

Jan Oskar Engene, 22 February 2001

Editor's note: see an image of this flag in Danckerts c.1705 chart as 86. Vl[ag] van Sleeswyk-Holstein.

Flüger used until 1848

The German editors of Norie and Hobbs 1971 added two charts (which were not originally in Norie and Hobbs 1848) with German flags that were important over time. One of them is no. 4, Flüger: Schleswig-Holstein (im weissen Schild das Wappen der Heimatstadt oder der Landschaft. Im Besahnmast gefahren bis 1848.) (In the white shield the arms of the home town or of the region. Flown from the mizzen mast until 1848.): a red, long flying flag with a white disk (I guess this is the shield in the comment) near the hoist. I believe a Flüger is a pennant of which the part near the hoist fixed to a piece of wood, and that is indeed how these are pictured in Norie and Hobbs 1971.

Peter Hans van der Muijzenberg, 12 November 2001

Holstein Flag 18th Century

Reported 1750

[Holstein 1750 (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany)] 3:5
by Jorge Candeias

Blue-red bicolor. Illustrated in Smith 1975, p. 205.

Norman Martin, 22 January 1998

Schleswig-Holstein Flag 18th Century

Reported 1750

[Schleswig-Holstein 1750 (Germany)] 3:5
by Jaume Ollé

Blue-red bicolor with arms at the center. Illustrated in Smith 1975, p. 205.

Norman Martin, 22 January 1998

I understand that from 1685 until 1844, the Dannebrog was the flag of all Schleswig-Holstein, except for the Gottorp duchy 1696-1720/1773. If that is correct, what are these blue-red flags in a 1750 flag chart (cf. Smith 1975 p. 205) — maybe simply a mistake? That chart is not the best reference, as has been stated for its depiction of the Lübeck state flag.

Santiago Dotor, 22 February 2001

Well, previously to 1696, ships may have flown the Dannebrog, but also flags of individual towns — maybe that is the explanation for the blue-red flags, though I seem to recall that yellow-red was more frequently used. At any rate, flag use did not become systematically regulated until the late 1600s.

Jan Oskar Engene, 22 February 2001

Schleswig-Holstein 1845-1849/1851

Used since 31st July 1845, in Schleswig until 8th September 1849, in Holstein until 5th March 1851

[Schleswig-Holstein 1845-1849] 28:37
by Edward Mooney
Flag adopted 31st July 1845, abolished in Schleswig 8th September 1849, in Holstein 5th March 1851

Editor's note: see Denmark.

Schleswig-Holstein 1852-1865

[Schleswig-Holstein 1852-1865] 28:37
by Edward Mooney
Flag adopted 22nd July 1852, abolished 1865

Editor's note: see Denmark.