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Burgundy Cross Flag 1506-1785 (Spain)

Ensign 1506-1670s, thereafter Jack until 1785

Last modified: 2013-12-09 by eugene ipavec
Keywords: cross: saltire (red) | saltire (red) | cross: burgundy | alabama | florida |
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[Burgundy Cross Flag (Spain)]
image by Sergio Camero, exported to GIF by Santiago Dotor

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The Burgundy cross, based on the wooden cross on which St. Andrew was crucified, is an old vexillological symbol used by Spain, especially at sea, for many years. In much more recent times, it was used by the Carlists (Requetés) during the Spanish Civil War and afterwards, and by the Traditionalist Party (Partido Tradicionalista) during the post-Franco years.

José Carlos Alegría, 30 Aug 1999

The basic pattern of a saltire raguly couped Gules, or plainly speaking a red saltire resembling two crossed, roughly-pruned branches, on a usually white field (but also blue, purpure etc.), was the Spanish military flag from the 16th century up to 1843, when the colours of the 1785 War Ensign were adopted for use on land too. The saltire was originally a Burgundian emblem, first introduced in Spain as the personal badge of Phillip the Handsome (Felipe el Hermoso), Duke of Burgundy and King Consort of Castile and Aragon, having married Joan of Castile and Aragon (daughter of the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Elizabeth). Joan and Phillip were the parents of Charles I of Spain, Charles V as German Emperor.

As such, the badge has been called in Spain "cross (or, more properly, saltire) of Burgundy" (cruz or aspa de Borgoña), even if the term "cross/saltire of St. Andrew" (cruz or aspa de San Andrés) has also been used – St. Andrew being the patron saint of the Duchy of Burgundy. The Burgundy Cross is nevertheless related to St. Andrew indeed, not through the patronage of a Spanish army branch, but through its Burgundian origin

It has sometimes been mistakenly said that the Burgundy cross is related to St. Andrew through the patronage of a Spanish armed forces' branch – for instance that the flag is that of the Spanish infantry because its patron saint is Saint Andrew – but the facts are that:

  • Spanish infantry did use it, as also did cavalry, artillery, engineers etc. It was first used not by regular infantry but by the equivalent to the present Spanish Foreign Legion, the Tercios, volunteer expeditionary troops including infantry and cavalry. From the 1930s the Burgundy Cross has been also displayed in all Spanish Air Force planes – that is what the stylized saltire fin marking stands for.
  • The patron saint of the Spanish infantry is not St. Andrew but Our Lady's Immaculate Conception. Actually none of the Spanish Armed Forces' branches-of-service have St. Andrew as its patron.

Santiago Dotor, 06 Oct 1999

Flags having this cross with many minor variations were the most common symbol for Burgundy in the late middle ages, sometimes with a white field and sometimes with any of a wide variety of colored and multicolored fields. It also appears, less frequently, with a white cross on a red field. With the union of the Burgundian and Spanish crowns under Philip the Handsome, it became (again with many variations) a flag of the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) and of the Spanish crown and military forces. I have seen flags in old flag charts as Ostend and Biscay and a wide variety of them are illustrated in Calvo and Grávalos 1983 with dates as early as 1520 and as late as 1931, frequently as unit flags (which then usually have a badge or name of the unit as well).

Norman Martin, 27 Jan 2000

Many variants of the Burgundy cross existed, but all consisted in either:

  1. the saltire being throughout or couped i.e. reaching or not the borders;
  2. the total number of 'stumps' on each of the saltire's arms (including no 'stumps' at all);
  3. the number of 'stumps' being identical or not on each side of the saltire's arms;
  4. the 'stumps' ending with a cut parallel to the saltire's arm or with a right-angle cut;
  5. the 'stumps' being of the same width as the saltire's arms or thinner;
  6. the colours of the saltire and the field – mostly red on white, but also red on yellow, white on blue, red on purple etc.; or
  7. the saltire being represented as a heraldical saltire raguly or more realistically like two branches, sometimes even joined with a ribbon.
The "brick arrangement" in the flag spotted in Puerto Rico must certainly be a mistaken representation or an optical effect.

Santiago Dotor, 31 Jan 2000

C. Pama, in "Prisma van Heraldiek en Genealogie," 1990, mentions the Burgundy Cross and the Burgundy flag. The Burgundy Cross consists of two raguly wooden branches in saltire, each end with two horns or curls. Under Charles the Bold it was carried on pennants on blue and under Charles V and Philip II on red. Sometimes a golden fire-steel was put on the intersection. That symbol was representative of the Burgundian "Kreits", and of the Duke himself. The colors varied in the course of time.

The Burgundy flag consisted of the red Burgundy Cross on white. It continued to be in use under the Hapsburgs.

A fire-steel was a piece of steel which was used to flick fire from rocks. It was used on the Burgundy Cross, but was also used on its own. In the Netherlands it is still in use on the cross of the "Militaire Willemsorde" (the highest honor in the Netherlands.)

In Neubecker's "Heraldry", 1976, is a fine specimen of a banner of Charles the Bold (p. 202/203), with explanation: "The badge of the dukes of Burgundy consisted of two branches crossed in saltire and fire-steels with flints showering sparks. To this Charles the Bold added the personal motto "Je l'ay emprins" (I have undertaken it), which appears on all his banners."

Mr. Willem van Ham, in "De Brabantse Vlag," 2003, has this: (summarised) "The St. Andrew's Cross was first adopted in 1408 by duke Philip the Bold in 1408. His grandson, Philip the Good, adopted it too. Until the reign of Charles the Bold (1467-1477) it was a regular saltire; on his banners the cross became raguly, and were later stylized".

It is interesting to see on the banner shown in Neubecker's book, two swallow-tails, each ending with a regular saltire (both with fire-steels).

I don't quite see how the "Burgundy Cross" is connected to the Burgundian Dukes, except to the last one; it looks more like a personal symbol of Charles the Bold (and his rather bold goals). His daughter married a Hapsburg and delivered the Burgundian goodies in that empire. Spain later took the raguly cross and the golden fleece, while we Dutchmen snatched the fire-steel.

The Burgundy Flag on old flagcharts may just indicate "Spanish", without it being the flag of Oostende or Biscaye. It has been the flag of the Kings of Spain.

Jarig Bakker, 30 Oct 2005

Possible origin of the Alabama and Florida flags

The cross of Burgundy was one of the standards used by the Spanish military in the southeast United States. I am not sure, but it just struck me that this may be the inspiration for the Alabama and Florida flags.

Nathan Bliss, 20 Jan 1998

The [Alabama] state flag was patterned after the battle flag of the confederate Army of Northern Virginia (ANV). It was also intended to be a square flag just like the ANV battle flag was. I have a color drawing of it from the Governor William Oates Papers in the Alabama State Archives.

Greg Biggs, 13 Oct 1998

While both the modern Alabama and Florida state flags may have some historical tribute to Spanish rule in their design, both were definitely patterned after the battle flags of the Army of Northern Virginia – under which the bulk of the troops from both states fought. Both of these flags have documentation stating the influence of the ANV battle flag in their design – particularly the flag of Alabama, which was created under the administration of Governor William Oates, a former regimental commander in the ANV.

Greg Biggs, 21 Dec 1999

Well, I see that both the ANV battle flag and the Alabama state flag are square and show a saltire. Other than that I find it difficult to see how the latter was "patterned after" the first. It seems strange to me that among the US states which adopted a flag patterned (supposedly or really) on the ANV battle flag, the only ones which experienced Spanish government, Alabama and Florida, have a flag which clearly recalls the old Spanish Colours (red saltire, no stars, on a white field), whereas the rest – Georgia, Mississippi etc. – have flags which clearly recall the ANV battle flag (blue saltire with stars on a red field).

Santiago Dotor, 21 Dec 1999

The colors of the modern flag of Alabama certainly match those of the Spanish regimental flag – and in that case it was a bit of subterfuge to make it not look exactly like the ANV battle flag. The case is still out on the Florida flag I think – although the Spanish connection may be stronger there.

Greg Biggs, 06 Sep 2000

Variant used on Naval Fortresses 1506-1793

[Burgundy Cross Flag, variant used on Naval Fortresses 1506-1793 (Spain)]
image by Sergio Camero, exported to GIF by Santiago Dotor

This flag was used on naval fortresses during the 16th and 17th centuries. It is kept at the Museum of Chapultepec Castle (Mexico) and apparently it was also used as an infantry coronela Colour [equivalent to King's Colour]. Source: Manzano 1997 [mzn97].

Sergio Camero, 04 May 2002

Yellow variant reported 1547

[Burgundy Cross Flag, yellow variant reported 1547 (Spain)]
image by Sergio Camero, exported to GIF by Santiago Dotor

Flag used by the Spanish Navy ca. 1547. Source: Fernández Gaytan 1985.

Sergio Camero, 04 May 2002