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Austro-Hungarian Empire: F III Austrian flag (and similar) in 1863 flag chart

Last modified: 2014-04-11 by rob raeside
Keywords: f iii | civil ensign | austro-hungarian empire | tricolour:horizontal (red-white-red) | f ii |
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[Austria-Hungary F III flag] by Devereaux Cannon, 2 June 2001

Source: Johnson's New Chart Of National Emblems (1863)

See also:

Discussion on the Flag

The flag, shown above, is the Austrian triband, with the initials F III in yellow on the white bar. These initials also appear in the centre of the shield on the Austrian naval ensign, which is otherwise similar to the 'War Ensign of 1897'.

One of the things I do not understand is how the initials "F III' related to Emperor Franz Joseph, whose reign ran from 1848 to 1918, if my history is correct.
Devereaux Cannon, 2 June 2001

This is a semi-educated guess, but "F III" may stand for "Francis (or Franz or Franciscus) III." The Holy Roman Emperor, Franz Joseph's great-uncle (I believe), during the Napoleonic era was Francis II.

Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire, I think, was also Francis I of Austria. If Franz Joseph was Francis II of Austria, "F III" might stand for "Francis II Imperator."
Phil Cleary, 3 June 2001

I have my reservations. At least my encyclopedias do not name the Francis I (of Austria) as Francis II of HRE, though that does not mean that he was not so. However, why he would use his HRE title on the Austrian flag is not quite straightforward.

On the other hand, your guess gave me an idea for an other guess - the ruler of Austria at the time of the chart was Francis Joseph and he was of course Francis Joseph I therefore F III might actually stand for "Franz Josef I Imperator". But as I have discussed with Devereaux, it may well be that this was more or less the generic look of the merchant flag and that each of the particular flags at the time was unique and with slightly (or not so slightly) different motive set in the middle of the Austrian triband. 

Certainly there's lot of mystery here yet to untangle.
Željko Heimer, 3 June 2001

Except for a two year transitional period (1804-1806), he was not both [Francis I (of Austria) and Francis II of HRE]. That is, he was Franz II of the old empire until it was abolished in 1806. In the meantime, correctly predicting (probably with French help) the forthcoming abolition of the empire, he promoted Austria from Archduchy to Empire and became Franz I of Austria.
Norman Martin, 3 June 2001

I'm not sure that Željko's will guess will work. As I understand it (unless the Austrian convention is different), a monarch doesn't become the first until there's a second of the same name. E.g., Elizabeth I was simply Elizabeth until Elizabeth II ascended the throne.
Phil Cleary, 3 June 2001

Apparently Austrian (and not only Austrian as it seems) convention is different. It can be seen on coins (quoting from memory: Franc Ios(eph) I D(ei) G(ratia) Avstriae Imperator) as well as on the official style ("title"). See our friends at for a list of all (for this period) relevant Austrian rulers. I can't see any better candidate for FIII, though I am not at all convinced that Francis Joseph is really what the author of the chart indeed meant.
Željko Heimer, 4 June 2001

There was of course the Emperor nobody noticed, Franz I, consort of Empress Maria Theresa. Franz II was the first emperor of Austria (that is: Franz I), but Franz II of the Hapsburg emperors. In Wilson's "Flags at Sea"(1985) there is a flag like Devereaux sent, inscribed FII "Austrian merchant", on the flag chart of Laurie (dated 1842, during the reign of Ferdinand (the Idiot) - 1835-1848. The same flag is in Norie/Hobbs (1848). Franz Joseph insisted on restoring all monarchic values, and though he lived very long, he failed utterly. He had to use Devereaux's flag, or had to make something like FJ, which doesn't look very imperial. To me it seems logical that Devereaux's image is the Austrian merchant flag during Franz (III) Joseph's reign (1848-1916).
Jarig Bakker, 3 June 2001

The F III in a version of the Austrian merchant flag  probably is to be deciphered Franciscus Iosephus I Imperator (F I I I) (Austrian Emperor). 
However, this is still one flag (together with similar merchant flags with royal/imperial ciphers), that is problematic, as the normal merchant flag would be the merchant ensign with the arms, and not the cipher. This is still one of the unsolved problems of Austrian flags in the 19th (perhaps also 18th) century.
Marcus Schmöger, 6 January 2004

Discussion on a flag with "F II"

Some European flag chart made in 19th century shows Austrian civil ensign which is r/w/r tri bands
with "F II " in the center. What does F II stand for ?
I found the flag in 1805 Swedish flag chart, 1842 British flag chart and 1873 US flag chart.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 30 May 2004 / 31 May 2004

There is a number of flag charts showing such or similar flags, also with FIII or FI. For what I have found there was no regulation regarding the use of such flags, i.e. the were not prescribed. What I have found as possibilities why such "fancy" flags are shown in the flagcharts:
1. the "vexillologists" of the time found the simple tribands too boring and "enchanced" their flagcharts to something more interesting
2. the flag (i.e. ship) owners found the simple tribans equally boring and would adorn them with the royal cyphers, for one of the two reasons:
a) as a hommage to the emperor who granted them certain privileges or helped in their endeavour in some (even symbolic) case
b) as a way of showing more prominently to the potential enemy (corsairs!) that the ship is under the royal protection and that it is better not to mess with her.

I know of no preserved real flags of this design, though there may be some. However, I believe some of such flags may be seen on the paintings of ships, which would then mean that the possibility 1 above is not true. Therefore we may say that it would be a combination of 2a and 2b that would be reasons for this flags.

On another thread on this issue - I have been trying to figure out Austrian flags (for the FAME) and I believe that I have found a regularity regarding this F-flags. They are shown only in foreign sources and never in the Austrian contemporary sources, nor does serious works on Austrian flags mention them (or if they do, it is 
far from prominently). This is a working theory as yet and it may be that it is going to be disproved - and if you know of such examples, let me know.

Željko Heimer, 31 May 2004