Heraldic flags

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Medieval Flags

The armorial banner is what we think of as a flag today, either square or taller than it is wide. A banner usually had only a coat of arms on it. A cross-bar was sometimes used to straighten and display the banner. Since the banner denotes the presence of the individual whose arms it displays, it should be used only the actual presence of that person. During the Middle Ages, banners were ordinarily used by senior commanders or by senior knights known as 'knights banneret'.
Gonfanon, gonfalon 
A gonfanon is a decorative flag flown from a cross bar along the length. It may display a coat of arms, or a badge, or some other decorative device. If arms or a badge are displayed, other decorations may be added to the sides and bottom. The gonfanon is one-sided. The tail or bottom of the gonfanon may be square, pointed, shield-shaped or swallow-tailed, as the owner prefers. The gonfanon is the most frequently-seen flag in the SCA, as it is convenient to display indoors.
A truncated standard with a single tail which displayed a national badge in the hoist, livery colors and a single badge.
Pennon, Pennant, Pennoncelle 
These are all flags which taper from the hoist to the fly, to either one or two points. They be of a single color, or split into livery colors, or display a badge. They may be of various sizes. Knights during the Middle Ages used pennons displaying their arms. The removal of the tails of the pennon on the battlefield, transforming the flag into a small banner, was a symbolic promotion from 'knight bachelor' to 'knight banneret'.
The standard is a specialized type of flag which is very much longer than it is wide and tapers slightly from the hoist to the fly, ending in either one or two pointed or rounded tails. The standard has a national badge (like the Cross of St. George for England, or St. Andrew for Scotland) in the hoist, and then is divided lengthwise into livery colors. Badges belonging to the owner are strewn over the length of the standard, and a motto or war-cry or slogan may be lettered in bands across the width of the flag as well. During the Middle Ages, standards were rallying points for great household armies and bands, and ordinarily displayed the badges and motto of a great lord. The arms were not displayed on the standard.

Flag Terminology

The part of the flag farthest from the pole.
The part of the flag next to and attached to the pole.
The horizontal span of a flag.
Livery colors 
Livery colors are displayed on standards, guidons and sometimes other flags. It is usual SCA habit to treat the principal color and metal of a person’s arms as their livery colors, but this is not necessarily the medieval custom. The livery colors need not be heraldic tinctures or metals, and need not have any relation to the colors used in the arms.
The vertical span of a flag.

Middle Kingdom Law and Custom for Heraldic Flags

Present Middle Kingdom law says nothing about heraldic flags. The Middle Kingdom College of Heralds encourage all members to make properly constructed heraldic flags. There are three rules of etiquette that should be kept in mind: (1) no flag should be displayed above the royal banner if it is present at an event; (2) no banner or gonfanon should be larger than three feet on a side unless it belongs to a territorial branch (standards are an obvious exception; most are longer than three feet); and (3) it is customary for a territorial branch’s banner or flag to be flown only when the branch generally agrees it is appropriate, or by permission of the baron and/or baroness, if any.

It may be interesting to know that Middle Kingdom law of the early 1980s and before limited the use of armorial banners to dukes, duchesses, Great Lords and Ladies of State, members of the Board of Directors, ambassadors, Ladies of the Rose, territorial branches and others authorized by the crown. Standards were restricted by custom to peers of the realm and anyone entitled to fly a banner, and were to be no more than four feet in length. The law was dropped long ago, and the custom is not expressly mentioned in the current sumptuary customs. However, older members and those tutored by them may still feel that standards in particular should be restricted to peers and above. If someone of lesser rank wishes to construct a standard, he or she might wish to consider this, or perhaps to ask around to see whether local peers would feel it to be an infringement.

The Middle Kingdom badge (the arms without the laurel wreath or crown) is meant for the use of the populace. In flag form, it is called the Middle Kingdom ensign. It is always appropriate to use such flags or badges in a dignified manner, but one should be aware that there might be circumstances when such use might be confusing or inappropriate, such as carrying a plain kingdom ensign in a large battle without express permission from army commanders. The kingdom badge may always be used in the hoist of a standard.

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