Any flag based directly on a coat of arms is a heraldic banner, or banner of arms. Hundreds of regional, provincial, cantonal and municipal flags, mostly in Europe, are heraldic banners. National flags that are also banners of the national arms are more rare. Celebrating International Heraldry Day, here are a few of the flags bridging the worlds of heraldry and vexillology.
In the first row you can se a number of national flags which are all heraldic banners. The flags of Austria (1), Switzerland (2) and Kiribati (5) are among the few national flags in the world based directly on a country’s national coat of arms. The banner of arms of Luxembourg (3) is widely used as civil flag and ensign in the Grand-Duchy. In Lithuania the banner of the Vytis (the traditional Lithuanian coat of arms) is used as state flag and naval jack (4).
In the second row is the Royal Banner of Scotland. Historically and legally, this is the personal standard of the Scottish sovereign. Today, it is in widespread use by Scots as an alternative to the blue and white Scottish flag, also known as the Saint Andrew’s Saltire.
Regional and provincial flags:
The flag of the Belgian region of Flanders, Vlaamse Leeuw (the Flemish lion, in Dutch), is a heraldic banner of the coat of arms of the medieval Counts of Flanders, important rulers in the medieval Low Countries. In heraldic terms these arms are: Or, a lion rampant armed and langued Gules.
The four provinces of Ireland all have flags which are banners of the provincial arms. The flag of Leinster is green with an Irish harp (properly blazoned: Vert, a harp Or stringed Argent). The flag of Connaught is rather more complicated (per pale Argent and Azure, in the first an eagle dimidiated and displayed Sable, in the second issuant from the partition an arm embowed and vested, the hand holding a sword erect, all Argent).
Swiss cantonal flags:
In 23 of the 26 cantons of Switzerland the cantonal flags are heraldic banners in the strictest sense in that the flags depict the cantonal arms without modification. Beginning in the second row with the green flag with white fasces of St. Gallen and the white-blue-white stripes of Zug, flags of seven cantons are in the third row: Zürich, Thurgau, Aargau, Bern, Geneva, Schaffhausen and Fribourg.
Municipal and city flags:
A horizontal bicolour of black and white (per fess Sable and Argent) is also the flag of the city of Ferrera in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. In the fourth row are the flags of another Emilian city, Parma, the Tuscan cities of Pisa and Florence as well as the city of Verona in the Veneto region. All these flags are heraldic banners of the cities’ municipal coats of arms.
In Italy it is quite normal for cities to have municipal flags which are also banners of arms. In Germany it is not. In Hamburg, however, the city and state flag (as the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is one of Germany’s 16 federal states) is the same as the city’s coat of arms.
Read more about why June 10 is the International Heraldry Day here.