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War of the Roses Flags

The number of flags used in this period is confusing, especially for people new to the period.

To help, Freezywater put together this basic guide for wargamers.


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Last updated

29 August 2019

Flags types during the War of the Roses

Know your standards from your liveries

There were three main types of flags during the Wars of the Roses: the personal flags of important individuals; large banners for their retinues and livery flags for the units forming the retinues.
The personal heraldic achievement of someone who has the right to bear arms. This flag is approximately square and was carried by a loyal retainer close by to mark his position.

Various notables may have fielded more than one to cause confusion: hopefully only to the enemy.

To aid the person carrying it, and for ease of identification, the banner was stiffened along the top by a baton so it could be kept on the 'fly'. Of course it also gave its carrier a free hand to defend himself.

These are listed as "Heraldic flags" in the Freezywater catalogue.
The long, sometimes tapering, flag used to display the livery colour(s) usually horizontally, badge(s) and motto of a person of rank.

Where there is more than one livery colour the top colour is the right hand side of the livery jacket worn by retainers.

The standard was probably also stiffened by a baton along part of its length for the same reason as the banner. Due to their size, up to 18 feet long, they were usually carried by the cavalry as it would have been very difficult, but not impossible, for the infantry.
These flags display the livery colour(s) from the Lord's standard vertically together with one or the Lord's badges. Sadly, it is not at all easy to find the livery colour(s) for all those entitled to use one.

Where the livery is unknown, but their heraldic banner is, a very inaccurate rule of thumb is that the first two colours of banner's description (the blazon) form the livery colours with the first colour mentioned as the top colour. Go down this road at your peril!

It is possible that various contingents that make up a Lord's retinue may have had, and been distinguished by, a particular badge: one badge for the bowmen another for billmen and so on. Although this is supposition many Lords had a principle badge and several other smaller badges on their standard.
The same principles were followed in a similar fashion across western Europe. Many cities, guilds and towns had their own banners and standards for their contingents and militias.

Examples include the workers guilds of Ghent, rural areas around a town such as the Swiss cantons and large family groups clans like the Polish clans.


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