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Royal Standards

Last modified: 2013-11-25 by rob raeside
Keywords: royal standard | royal flag | imperial standard |
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Even though there is a "typical" heraldic objection (first formulated by Fox-Davies, I seem to recall) that the British royal standard is a royal banner, since it consists of a banner-of-arms, I believe that "royal standard" is the correct vexillological term indeed for the distinguishing flag of a king.

Heraldically, "standard" is a flag (usually long and tapered) which bears heraldic elements (charges, badges etc.) without being an armorial banner. This is an example in FOTW: the Royal Standard of Henry VII of England.

However, vexillologically a "standard" can be either an armorial standard or the distinguishing flag of a head of state (and other high dignitaries). Thus imperial standard, royal standard, presidential standard, crown prince's standard etc. Occasionally they are both, as is the case with the US presidential, the (former) German imperial and the Spanish royal standards.

Of course, the British royal standard is also a (royal) banner-of-arms, but in my humble opinion that is not the correct designation of the flag but a description of its design. The same way as (exaggerating) some US states have a "state flag" and not a "seal-on-bedsheet"...
Santiago Dotor, 13 March 2002

While I agree with everything Santiago says regarding the terminology, officially, at least, the US President's flag is not called a standard. It is, by the terms of the executive order establishing it (E.O. 10860), a "color" or a "flag:"

"Sec. 3. The Color and Flag of the President of the United States shall consist of a dark line blue rectangular background of sizes and proportions to conform to military and naval custom, on which shall appear the Coat of Arms of the President in proper colors. The proportions of the elements of the Coat of Arms shall be in direct relation to the hoist, and the fly shall vary according to the customs of the military and naval services."

Technically, the "color" of the president is the 52 x 66 inch embroidered silk (actually rayon) version with silver and gold fringe, mounted on a portable staff with eagle finial and red, white, and blue cord and tassels.

Other versions are technically "flags," including those made of bunting for hoisting on halyards from fixed flagpoles or aboard ships as well as automobile flags.

In practice, only a pedant would observe this distinction. It's always referred to as the presidential flag. But, as I said, I believe Santiago's correct that for vexillological purposes it should be categorized as a head of state standard.

it may be worth saying that, unlike the British royal standard and those of many other heads of state, the US presidential flag is rarely seen hoisted from a fixed pole. It does not fly over the White House--the Stars & Stripes does.
Joe McMillan, 13 March 2002

I ran across something interesting, quite by chance, at the site of the Netherlands royal house, namely that the Netherlands royal standard is flown above the royal palaces whenever the Queen is in the country, not only when she is physically in the palace concerned. I don't believe we have this in FOTW, which is one reason for mentioning it, but it also provoked the thought that it might be useful to compile differences in practices on this point generally.

For instance, I've seen several sources that assert--erroneously--that the Stars & Stripes are flown over the White House only when the President is in the building. In fact, by executive order dating back to the Eisenhower administration, the Stars & Stripes is flown over the White House at all times, day and night. Furthermore, the President's flag, is not flown over the White House at all. I have been able to find considerable evidence that it has been flown over other buildings when the President was in residence--dating back at least to its display over the Willard Hotel in Washington in 1923 when President Coolidge was waiting to move into the White House following the death of President Harding, up to its use over various Presidents' vacation homes while they are there, including at Kennebunkport, Maine, during G. W. Bush's vacation there in 2001. I wonder whether anyone has any information as to whether the President's flag has ever been flown over the White House, whether routinely or only on special occasions. I did find a 1935 article from the Atlanta Journal (at ) saying that it was flown over the White House on "state occasions," but I'm not sure I find that article alone entirely conclusive.
Joe McMillan, 20 May 2002