Sunday, 7 February 2016

Burgundian Standards & Liveries 1477 - 82

The arms of Duchess Marie were almost
certainly as well used as her father's 
were by the army. Until her marriage
her arms would be identical to those of 
her father.
Charles the Bold's three disastrous encounters with the Swiss resulted in there being a vast amount of flags, banners and other paraphernalia of war being preserved for future generations. Time and decay mean that some have been lost to us, but thanks to a number of interested parties many of these were drawn and hand-painted on paper in the 17th Century and so at least a rendition of them survived.

There seems to have been some confusion however and items from the Battle of Dornach in 1499 have also become mixed with the Burgundian items, making it hard to separate them in some cases; especially as Maximilian had adopted the 'Burgundian Cross' after he married Charles's heiress, the Duchess Marie. So while there are items which a definitely 'Burgundian', there are others which may not. For my interest in the period after Charles's death, there is no certainty either that the 'Ordonnance' items are actually representative of the style used by 'The Burgundians' (which includes the city states of Flanders too).

So in all truth this post is a mixture of truth, supposition and backwards-engineering of what information was available. What is certain is that by the last quarter of the 15th Century, there was a system regarding the use of standards, banners, pennons, ensigns, guidons and indeed field signs, symbols, and other items; we just cannot be 100% of what it was. This post therefore is merely my opinion in a lot of cases, although I will try and be clear where actual evidence is present to support my opinion.

The arms of Maximilian after his marriage 
to Duchess Marie. It would be his wife's 
arms that were flown by the army 
The fact that the 'Cross of Burgundy' was in use as a symbol for some centuries after Charles's death, does imply that there is some value in looking past the time in question. All traditions begin somewhere and in the case of the Imperial forces of Charles V, this beginning is actually the 15th Century and Charles the Bold.

There is an actual rule of thumb that does seem very self-evident across the Late Medieval Period, regardless of what country is being considered. Quite simply the bigger the 'flag', the more important the person or unit that bears it is. The individual banners of nobles got larger the higher up the social scale they rose, despite being the same shape and there is no reason to suppose that 'unit' standards did not follow the same convention. So the standard of a 'grande compagnie' will be larger (and possibly also a different shape) than that of a 'compagnie' or 'escadron'.


The purpose of coats of arms is to identify an individual and the purpose of the banner is to extend that identification over a wider area. While earlier armies were no doubt a seething mass of banners (amongst the men at arms at least), this was not the case by the Late 15th Century. Instead of relying on the feudal elite to provide men, the dukes of Burgundy employed mercenaries, many of whom were of less than noble birth, although typically of 'gentle birth' at least. The commanders of these forces were usually still nobles and knights and still identified by their personal banners.

Arms of Jaques de Luxembourg, Seigneur
de Fiennes, a senior Burgundian leader. 
The increasing influx of men who had no right to bear arms into the Burgundian hierarchy as commanders, meant that there was no way of identifying their actual location or presence if they were not located with the headquarters of a formation. In like manner the presence of a banner bearer signified a person of importance, which was now lacking in many cases.

The Swiss captured a large number of banners of varying sizes, all bearing the arms of Charles the Bold. I believe that these were issued to commanders of varying ranks, to signify both their presence and that they were commissioned by the duke and had the authority to act on his behalf. I can perceive of no other reason why there should be a lot of ducal banners floating around otherwise. By altering the size of the banners, it could be determined what the rank of the individual bearer was by those who needed to know such things. 

So in short banners are for commanders and officials and bear their own arms if they have them, or the 'ducal arms' in this case, to signify their relative authority and place in the hierarchy.

The Croix de Bourgogne

The red saltire of St. Andrew (patron saint of Burgundy), or the Croix de Bourgogne (Bourgondisch kruis) had been the symbol or 'field sign' of the forces of the Burgundian dukes since the time of the 'French Civil War' between the 'Armagnacs' and 'Burgundians', when the Burgundians adopted the cross of St. Andrew instead of the Croix de France they had previously worn. The symbology apparently dating back to a duke of Burgundy in the Crusades, who brought back a piece of the cross on which St. Andrew was crucified.  

While typically the cross was red, such as on the standards and liveries of ducal troops in the service of Charles the Bold, on occasion other colours were used. A contingent from Bruge had red livery jackets in 1478 for example and wore the cross in white. Other examples show a red cross on a blue field and a blue cross on a red field (on the same standard no less). Apparently it would seem that it was the cross itself that was important and not the colour; although red was by far the most common colour.

There is some debate over whether the cross should be plain, or whether it should be 'ragully' (ragged, like a coppiced branch). There have been some suggestions that the ragged cross was a later variation from the time of Maximilian and given that it would appear that standards in Swiss museums derive from both their conflict with Charles the Bold and the encounter with Maximilian at Dornach in 1499, that this may well be the case. 

Personally I think earlier it was plain and got increasingly ragged until we get the 'Spanish Style' version which was certainly much more ragged. Certainly some obviously 'Charles' era designs do feature small 'stumps'. That an exact depiction of one of the 'Burgundian ragged cross' banners, complete with 'steel and sparks', appears in a representation of the Battle of Dornach, does tend to support this.  

Despite ordering the cross to be painted on the army of the men at arms and embroidered on livery jackets, the men at arms do appear to have ignored this order and like their French counterparts, left their armour unsullied. A pair of cloth 'bends' (a primitive sash) would have the same effect, but I imagine would have got in the way in practice.

Maximilian's 'Burgundian Men at Arms' at Dornach in 1499 displaying a standard normally attributed to Charles the Bold's earlier army.

Marks of Rank

Aside from the use of banners to show the location of commanders, there does appear to have been a system of displaying rank by the individuals concerned. Bearing in mind that the bulk of common soldiers were both illiterate and non-conversant with the Roman Numeral system, such a system needs to be both visual and simple. When ready for battle one commander looks very much like the next, but the use of a bannerole (a small pennant attached to the helmet) is a suitable method of signifying your presence.

While the system is typically mentioned in terms of the Ordonnance Companies, it would appear that it was a common enough practice across other forces, as they are also described in Flemish communal forces (as 'wimpels') as borne by the junior leaders, the 'coningstavels' of Bruge's contingent in 1477.

A representation of a bannerole based on a surviving example. A number of suggestions have been made of what is signified, including '3rd Company'. The 1473 Ordonnance is quite clear however, the 'C' represents 'cornette' or squadron and the 'I' the 'chambre' within the squadron, so this is the Chef d'Chambre of the 2nd Chambre of the 3rd Cornette. The colour of the bannerole and the saint's image identify the company it is part of. 

Obviously helmets were not worn at all times and it is likely that officers also wore a cloth 'bend', which eventually evolved into the flamboyant sashes of later times. It could be imagined that red is the obvious colour for a Burgundian bend, unless the 'company colour(s)' were used instead.


Liveries were worn all over Europe to identify those employed by an individual, or belonging to a distinct body. The Flemish forces which fought at Courtrai in 1302 were dressed in liveries provided by their municipality and a description of the colours used has survived (although it has no application to the 15th Century). Charles the Bold specified in an ordinance that the mounted archers of his companies (but mentioned no other troops) should wear blue and white liveries with the cross of burgundy superimposed upon them. 

There also seems to be evidence that there were also individual liveries in use, even if only for the actual households of prominent individuals. Charles's own livery when he was the Comte de Charolais in 1465 was purple and black, as shown in an illustration of the Battle of Montlhéry. While this may have changed when he became Duke of Burgundy (as was sometimes the case elsewhere), he did keep his badge of steel and sparks howevery and sother may have retained the livery too. 

Louis de Bruge, Seigneur de la Gruuthuuse used violet and white, with a gold bombard as his badge. Duke Charles's illegitimate half-brother Antoine apparently used a livery of yellow and a burning mantle as a badge, but in 1460 is recorded as using red (with a white Cross of Burgundy. He also apparently issued his troops with green and white hose at the same time. Jean Seigneur de Hames used red and blue, with the Cross of Burgundy in white and before his defection in 1477, Philip of Crevecoeur, Seigneur Desquerdes used green and white.

Ducal or Forces Raised by the States-Generaal

The arms of Flanders was traditionally
carried alongside individual city or
town standards.
The towns and cities of the Low Countries seem to have used a number of conventions. Firstly there was a municipal livery issued to civic employees, like the Kaproenen of Ghent, Bruge and Ypres. Secondly the 'shooting guilds' also had their own liveries, which varied from town to town, although red appears popular for the crossbowmen of the various Sint-jorisgilde (Guilds of St. George). Finally there are the liveries issued to contingents of citizens raised for short periods of service, of which mostly seem issued with liveries that vary from one to the next; probably this was determined by what cloth was available for sale in sufficient quantity to clothe several thousand men at a time.

Badge of Sint-antoniusgilde. Variations
in colour aside, this was universal. 
In 1478 Ghent produced 15,000 livery jackets in 'paarse' (literally purple, but more likely to have been 'heraldic purple' which in the Low Countries, France and Germany was closer to 'murray') and white, all overlaid with the Cross of Burgundy in red. The numbers were far in excess of what was needed for Ghent's own contingent, but as Jan van Dadizele was captain-general of Flanders and was responsible for the order to produce them, presumably they were to equip the entire army. Whether this extended to clothing the archers of the ordonnance companies, or just the infantry, is not known. In 1480 a similar order is given to clothe a contingent of 1,000 men to be sent to Hainault, but this time the coats are to be white and red (no colour for the cross is provided, but logically blue or possibly black are the best contrasting colours).  


The Banner of Bruge.
Municipal: Red and blue. Gothic-style 'b' in white. Kaproenen have red hoods or chaperon, gunners have blue chaperons and waggoners have white. White Cross of Burgundy

Sint-jorisgilde - red with a badge of a red Cross of St. George on a white field. White Cross of Burgundy.

Sint-sebastiaansgilde - red and blue with a badge of a gold cross with smaller crosses in the quarters.

Sint-antoniusgilde - possibly red and yellow, possibly white St. Anthony's cross and/or crossed guns. Red with a black Burgundian Cross in 1478.

Brugse Vrije ('Free Bruge' or 'County of Bruge') - blue and white.

Red and blue with a white Burgundian Cross (1467)
Blue and white ducal colours with red Burgundian Cross (1474 and 1488)
Red with a white Burgundian Cross (1478) - this may have just been the livery of the Sint-jorisgilde however.


Arms of Ghent.
Municipal: Black with gothic-style 'g' in gold. Kaproenen had white hoods or chaperons and possibly red hose.

Sint-jorisgilde - red (or possibly red and black, or just black), red cross on a white field.

Sint-sebastiaansgilde - black with green hoods, white crossed arrows instead of Cross of Burgundy.

Sint-antonsgilde - light blue, yellow crossed guns with white St. Anthony's crosses in the quarters.

Black with gold lower case 'g' (1453, 1461 and 1465).
Tawny with a white Burgundian Cross (1467).
Black with a lower case 'g' and a gold Cross of Burgundy (1477).
White and purple (1478) - see note regarding Flemish forces above.
Blue and white (1480)
Green (1488)


Sint-jorisgilde Oudenaarde - green and white (1440).
Oudenaarde - traditionally red and yellow with a black lion as its badge.
Other schuttersgilde - red or green with either white, yellow or black, or red and green were common.
The Hague and Delft - black and white (1426)
Dordrecht - red and white (1426)
Liege - red (1444 & 1467), "Vive Liegeois" across tunic in 1467.
Maastricht (held by Liege) - archers in green with red hoods or chaperons.
Ypres - possibly white and red, with a badge of a red 'double cross' on a white field. Probably a blue Burgundian Cross.

Standards, Ensigns and Guidons

One of the surviving Burgundian standards from Morat or Nancy. It is hand-painted and the bottom panel is believed to have been blue originally and has faded to green. There appears to be no numeric symbols so its function is not known. 

While the exact order of precedence of the various standards in use at the time is not known, it might be assumed that they followed those outlined in the 1473 Ordonnance of Treves. Each company was to have a uniquely coloured 'enseigne' and each squadron a 'cornette' that matched that in all but shape, but which also features the squadron number represented by one to four 'C' symbols. There is no mention of standards for individual chambres, other than the banneroles to be worn on the helmets of the chefs de chambre, yet pennons with 'I' style chambre numbers exist. It is by no means certain but as Maximilian's own ordonnance of 1477 was based on and inspired by Charles the Bold's, the same system was used.

Part of what could be another single-tailed standard. This one seems to work 'CC' into the crossed staffs panel.

The largest standards are invariably the swallow tailed ones, which would seemingly be the company standards. Slightly smaller single-tailed ones (guidons?) with no numeric indicators may indeed be the standards of individual squadrons and at least one example seems to feature 'CC' in its design. The slim rectangular standards that were also captured in quantity are a bit of an enigma. They feature no numeric indicators, but some feature crossed arrows instead of the more usual Cross of Burgundy, which itself is often represented by 'wooden' crossed staves. By coincidence or design, the panel featuring the saint also never represents them mounted.

Detail from another single-tailed standard featuring crossed arrows instead of the more usual Burgundian cross. 

It might be a sure bet that these were infantry (or mounted archer) standards, except that some of the single-tailed pennons also feature crossed arrows too. The 1473 Ordonnance does not mention the archers, just the overall breakdown of entire lances into squadrons and chambres in camp. Yet there is other evidence to support that the archers had their own structure when arrayed for battle, which both mirrored and complemented that of the men at arms. I am of the belief that the archers of the company had a similar standard to that of the squadrons for each 'centaine' (hundred) and that each 'quarter' of fifty (the number of archers a squadron of men at arms would have), its own rectangular 'cornette'. The same is probably true of the pikemen (crossed staves) and the other 'infantry' of the company.

The Flemish

The Maid of Ghent Banner. Surprisingly the entire design is painted onto damask, rather than embroidered, as is the case with other designs. The gold parts also appear to have originally applied with gold leaf, which has been painted gold in intervening centuries. Although age has faded the colours somewhat, it is not hard to see how splendid it must have looked in its day.  

The contingents supplied by individual cities and towns and subsequently the Great Council when it began acting on behalf of all of Flanders, seem somewhat less complicated. Each contingent seemingly had an ensign of its own; Ghent's was captured at Tournai in 1477 and is described as being of black damask and bearing a gold Cross of Burgundy. Bruge's own was 'saved' but is not described; presumably it bore the city's arms of a blue lion on a red and white striped field. Ghent famously had the 'Maid of Ghent' standard, although no mention is made of it in accounts of the Franco-Burgundian War.

A contingent setting out from Bruge in March 1477 is described as having three great standards, for which their Kaproenen were to given the role of guards for. Firstly there was the city's own banner, one bearing the arms of Duchess Marie (the same as her father's) and finally one bearing the black Lion of Flanders on a yellow field. It can be presumed that other cities did the same.

Smaller standards are also mentioned as being captured at Tournai, although they are not described. While Ghent was still administered through its guilds, there seems to have been no indication that the sub-units of its contingents were divided along guild lines, as had been the case during its earlier revolt. Bruge used a system of 'constabularies' based on districts, but they too do not appear to have based the sub-units of their contingents on them. The implication therefore is that the individual companies within the various contingents were simply marked by a smaller version of the contingent's ensign.

The exception to this would appear to have been the 'shooters guilds' and the kaproenen, who are identified as distinct units as opposed to the mass of 'pikeniers'. It is entirely possible that these groups not only had their guild standards, but also wore their guild liveries. In the case of the kaproenen, it was also traditional for them to provide guards for the contingent commanders and so if the 'Maid of Ghent' was with anyone, it would be them and at the camp at Kortrijk, rather than being borne in the attack on Tournai. 


  1. Excellent post, with some great images.

    1. Thank you. I was quite blown away by the detail on the standards, I had originally imagined them to be quite crude, but they are far from it.

  2. Another interesting post with some lovely images
    Best Iain