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Kingdom of France: Regiment flags

Last modified: 2006-03-04 by ivan sache
Keywords: regiment | cross (white) |
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Flags used in battles during the Ancient Regime

During the Ancient Regime, French regiments used three flags in battle order:

- the white flag, as the royal flag.
- the Colonel's colour, often white with the coat of arms of the Regiment's Colonel. The Colonel's colour first appearence was in the vieux corps or vieilles bandes, which were indeed the first six regiments of the Royal army (Gardes Françaises, Regiments of Picardie, Champagne, Piedmont, Navarre and Normandy), created in 1569; in 1635, the use of the Colonel's colour was extended to the petits vieux (Regiments of Richelieu, Bourbonnais, Auvergne, Talard, Pons and Régiment du Roi). In 1661, all regiments were granted such a flag. The flag was granted to the regiment's veteran company.
- the drapeau d'ordonnance, which was the true distinctive regimental flag, often white crossed with regimental colors in the four squares, red-crossed for the Irish regiments, etc..

Under King Louis XIV, the size of infantry flags was 2.10 m x 2.28 m; it was decreased to 1.78 m x 1.78 m under the Regency and Louis XV and further decreased to 1.54 m x 1.62 m under Louis XVI.

In 1703 they were three ordonnance flags by battalion; this number was decreased to two in 1749, and finally to only one in 1776, except for some foreign regiments.

Source: L. & F. Funcken L'uniforme et les armes des soldats de la guerre en dentelle, Vol. 1, Casterman, 1975.

Jérôme Sterkers, 24 January 2002

The white cross flag template

[The white flag of template]

The white flag template used for several regiment flags - Image by Pierre Gay, 30 June 1995

King Charles VII founded the core of the permanent French army, with the first companies of Gendarmes, and Louis XI his son created the first troops of the King's Household. The habit developed of using a white cross as the basis of the design of regimental flags, and by the XVIIIth century almost every regiment had a white cross (exceptions: two Burgundian regiments had the traditional red saltire, an Irish regiment has a red cross, a German regiment had no cross at all). It seems that this lack of consistency in colours (a white cross being hard to make out on a background of multiple colours) made for some confusion: in 1690 at Fleurus, the French infantry was subjected to some "friendly fire" and thereafter it was decided that all regimental flags would have a white "scarf" hanging from the top of the staff.

François Velde, 30 June 1995

Colour plate of the regimental flags (1771)

A colour plate called Tableau militaire des drapeaux, étendards et guidons des troupes au service de la France, 1771 (Military plate of the flags, standards and guidons of the troops in French service, 1771), can be found on the website of the Departmental Archives of Yvelines.

Pascal Vagnat, 5 October 1999

Index of regiments