Heraldic flag

Heraldic flag

In heraldry, an heraldic flag is any of several types of flags, containing coats of arms, heraldic badges, or other devices, used for personal identification.

Heraldic flags include banners, standards, pennons and their variants, guidons, and pinsels. Specifications governing heraldic flags vary from country to country, and have varied over time.

Rectangular personal, military, and national flags are sometimes referred to as "standards" or royal standards; these should be distinguished from the heraldic standard, which is a different, specific shape.

Types of heraldic flags


The pennon is a small elongated flag, either pointed or swallow-tailed. It was charged with the heraldic badge or some other armorial ensign of the owner, and displayed on his own lance, as a personal ensign. The "Pennoncelle" was a modification of the Pennon.Boutell, p. 246-251 ]

In contemporary Scots usage, the pennon is four feet long. It tapers either to a point or to a rounded end as the owner chooses. It is assigned by the Lord Lyon King of Arms to any armiger who wishes to apply for it.


The banner is square or oblong and larger than the pennon. It bears the entire coat of arms of the owner precisely in the same composition that is blazoned upon a shield.quote|In the olden time, when a Knight had distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry, it was the custom to mark his meritorious conduct by prompt advancement on the very field of battle. In such a case, the point or points of the good Knight’s Pennon were rent off, and thus the ... small Flag was reduced to the square form of the Banner, by which thenceforth he was to be distinguished|- Charles Boutell, "The Handbook to English Heraldry"The banners of members of Orders of Chivalry are typically displayed in the Order's chapel. Banners of Knights of the Order of the Thistle are hung in the 1911 chapel of the Order in St Giles High Kirk in Edinburgh. [Burnett and Hodgson, pp6–7] Banners of Knights of the Order of the Garter are displayed in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.


The heraldic standard appeared about the middle of the fourteenth century, and was in general use by personages of high rank in the two following centuries. The standard appears to have been adopted for the special purpose of displaying badges. "The badge was worn on his livery by a servant as retainer, and consequently the standard by which he mustered in camp was of the livery colours, and bore the badge, with both of which the retainer was familiar."

A standard is not rectangular. It tapers, usually from 120 cm down to 60 cm and the fly edge is rounded (lanceolate). In England any armiger who has been granted a badge is entitled to fly a standard.

The medieval English standard was larger than the other flags, and its size varied with the owner’s rank. The Cross of St. George usually appeared next to the staff, and the rest of the field was generally divided "per fess" (horizontally) into two colours, in most cases the livery colours of the owner. "With some principal figure or device occupying a prominent position, various badges are displayed over the whole field, a motto, which is placed bend-wise, having divided the standard into compartments. The edges are fringed throughout, and the extremity is sometimes swallow-tailed, and sometimes rounded."

In Scotland, a standard requires a separate grant by the Lord Lyon. Such a grant is only made if certain conditions are met.

The length of the standard depends upon one’s noble rank.cite web
last = Lord Lyon King of Arms
first =
title = Further Guidance on Flags…
accessdate = 2007-07-07

The Oriflamme was the royal standard of the King of France during the Middle Ages.


The Scots guidon is similar shape to the standard and pennon. At 2.40 metres long, it is smaller than the standard and twice the size of the pennon. Guidons are assigned by the Lord Lyon to those individuals who qualify for a grant of supporters to their Arms and to other individuals who have a following such as individuals who occupy a position of leadership or a long-term official position commanding the loyalty of more than a handful of people. The Guidon tapers to a round, unsplit end at the fly.


The Scottish pinsel is triangular in shape, 60 centimetres high at the hoist and 135 centimetres in width tapering to a point. This is the flag denoting a person to whom a Clan Chief has delegated authority for a particular occasion, such as a Clan Gathering when the Chief is absent. This flag is allotted only to Chiefs or very special Chieftain-Barons for practical use, and only upon the specific authority of the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

ee also

* Royal Standard
* Oriflamme
* Flag of the Governor-General of Australia
* Flag of the Governor General of Canada
* Flag of the Governor-General of New Zealand
* Flags of the Lieutenant Governors of Canada
* Queen's Personal New Zealand Flag



* Boutell, Charles: "The Handbook to English Heraldry", edited A. C. Fox-Davies, 11th edition, Reeves & Turner, London, 1914. [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/23186 Etext at Project Gutenberg]
*cite book|last=Burnett|first=C.J.|coauthors=Hodgson, L.|title=Stall Plates of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle in the Chapel of the Order within St Giles' Cathedral, The High Kirk of Edinburgh|location=Edinburgh|publisher=Heraldry Society of Scotland|year=2001|isbn=0-952525-83-6
*Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles: "The Art of Heraldry", 1904; facsimile edition Arno Press, 1976.

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