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15th Century Flags (Spain)

Last modified: 2013-12-09 by eugene ipavec
Keywords: coat of arms: quartered (counterquartered) | columbus (christopher) | cross: formy (green) | letters: 2 (green) | fy | crowns: 2 (yellow) |
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Ensigns 13th-15th Centuries

I have no knowledge of Spanish ensigns from the battle of Covadonga in the 8th century, starting point of the Reconquista, until the 13th century. There is a great anarchy on the flags used by different expeditions, captains, and local privateers. The first ensigns denoting nationality I know of date from the 13th century. Boats based on Castilian harbours would fly the quartered flag of Castile and Leon as ensign, while those based on Aragonese harbours would use the striped flag of Aragon. Both the usage and the shapes and proportions lacked all uniformity, and different paintings show several versions. They were used until 1517, when the Burgundy cross flag took over.

José Carlos Alegría, 29 Dec 2001


Royal Band of Castile, Juan II 1407 – 1454

[Royal Band of Castile, Juan II 1407 – 1454 (Spain)]
image by Sergio Camero, 23 Sep 2005

The Royal Band of Castile was the King's personal banner. The "dragantes" can represent dragons, snakes or lions. This Band was used by Juan II (1407 – 1454).

Sergio Camero, 23 Sep 2005


Royal Standard of the Catholic Kings 1492-1506

[Royal Standard of the Catholic Kings (Spain 1492)]
N.B. after the conquest of Granada a pomegranate was added to the base of the shield
image by José Carlos Alegría

The Royal Flag carried by Columbus was white with the arms of the Catholic Kings: quarterly, 1st and 4th quarters counterquartered of Castile and Leon, 2nd and 3rd quarters per pale Aragon and Sicily; crest: an open royal coronet or; supporter: St. John's eagle displayed sable, nimbed, beaked and membered or, langued and armed gules; at dexter and sinister base of the escutcheon, respectively, a yoke and a bundle of five arrows, all proper the arrows pointed argent. This is similar to the 1938-1945 and 1945-1977 coats-of-arms, but the Catholic Kings' one lacked the "Una Grande Libre" scroll, the pillars of Hercules and the Granada arms on the point. Source: Calvo and Grávalos 1983, illustrations no. 69.

The Catholic Kings were not the Kings of Castile and Leon – Elizabeth was Queen of Castile and Leon, Ferdinand was King of Aragon and Sicily (and Count of Barcelona, which was the basis of his realms). Upon the death of Elizabeth (1506) and the mental illness of the their daughter Joan – caused by the death of his husband Philip I the Fair (1506), Duke of Burgundy and King Consort of Castile and Leon – Ferdinand governed temporarily Castile as Regent.

Santiago Dotor, 28 Jan 1999

The symbols associated to the (first) Catholic Kings, namely the eagle of Saint John, the yoke and arrows and the motto Tanto Monta, Monta Tanto, as well as other traditional, pre-Catholic Kings' symbols such as the royal bend of Castile, gradually disappeared from Spanish coats-of-arms and flags along the 16th century, as Austrian and Burgundian symbols became gradually more frequent. Thus, the eagle of Saint John – which is basically a black (sometimes proper) eagle displayed with wings inverted and a nimbus behind its head – was replaced with the Austrian double-headed eagle. The Tanto Monta, Monta Tanto motto was substituted by the Plus Ultra. The yoke and arrows were replaced with the pillars of Hercules, etc.

After that it was not until the early 1930s when the Spanish Phalanx party adopted the yoke and arrows as their emblem. Later, the 1938 and 1945 Decrees adopted the eagle of Saint John and the yoke and arrows as part of the national arms, and the bend of Castile as the standard of the head of state.

Historically there was no convention on where the arrows should be pointing or what number should they be. In 15th century coats-of-arms they could be seen as any number from five to nine arrows, pointing upwards, downwards or sideways.

Santiago Dotor, 31 Oct 2000

The yoke and the arrows are the personal badges of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Yoke (yugo) for Ysabel and arrows (flechas) for Ferdinand.

Victor Lomantsov, 01 Nov 2000

Representations of Columbus' landing in 1492 are only that, later-date representations, and probably inaccurate. Almost the only genuine source is Columbus logbook, which mentions that the landing was made under three flags, Columbus bearing "the royal flag, and his captains two flags which the Admiral carried in all the ships as Ensign, each white with a green cross addorsed by the crowned letters F and Y". The royal flag is generally understood to be a white flag with the arms of the Catholic Kings (not including yet the pomegranate in base for Granada). Other authors however suggest it might be the royal banner of Castile and Leon, considering that it was Queen Elizabeth (and not both Catholic Kings) who sponsored the expedition.

Santiago Dotor, 25 Jan 2002

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