Sunday, 26 October 2014

Development & History of Irish Flags Pt6 Williamites & Jacobites

What is known as the Glorious Revolution in the British Isles, led to the confrontation between King William III the Prince of Orange, (whose supporters were called Williamites) and the deposed King James II, (whose supporters were called Jacobites) on Irish battlefields. I am not going to add to the volumes that already exist about this conflict but I am going to look at the flags.

The Royal Coat of arms of the two Kings

first of all is the coat of arms used by James II/VII, like his grandfather James I/VI he used a shield quartered with the arms of his three kingdoms, typical of the Stewarts:
 William III and Mary II were joint sovereigns,(William refused to accept a position below his wife, who was James's daughter and therefore heir) and this is reflected in the Royal coat of arms. Mary uses the arms of her father, William uses the Stewart arms as King but with an inescutcheon of his own personal Dutch arms. These are impaled:

While James would have used a banner of his arms as his Royal standard, in Ireland, William probably did not use a banner of the impaled arms, his Royal Standard was probably just his proportions of the arms, he only used his arms after Mary's death:

This conflict was more than an Irish or British one, but was just one part of a wider European struggle mainly between the French and an alliance of smaller nations initially led by the Dutch. As such both side were relatively diverse, I will mention some non Irish flags as some of these groups settled on the island, but my main focus is on the Irish ones. 

Williamite flags

The Crimson flag of Derry & Boyne Standard

One of first important battles of the war in Ireland was the siege of Londonderry in north west Ulster. It began when the city's gates were shut by a small group of Apprentices and the townsfolk refused admittance of a new Jacobite garrison, fearing they would be massacred. It was the longest siege in the British Isles. Out of the siege came what is probably the most celebrated flag of the conflict. The bloody flag of Derry more commonly known as the Crimson Banner was a flag that was initially flown from the city walls, but was later moved to the tower of the city's St Columb's Cathedral, the highest point within the walls. There are some differences in accounts of flag, some say it was used as a symbol of defiance. Others that it was used to signal distress, to relief ships on the other side of a boom blocking their approach to the city. One sources says it was a rag dipped in blood, another it was an old ensign that was stained with blood. Either way all accounts say it was the governor Col Mitchelburne who was responsible for it and that the crimson colour came from it being stained with blood. 
The Relief of Derry by G Follingsby depicting amongst other things the crimson flag. 
It was Mitchelburne who left money in his will, for the hoisting of the crimson flag from the city's St Columb's cathedral on the anniversaries of the shutting of the city's gates and its relief each December and August. A tradition that is still practised. The Apprentice Boy's Clubs also carry crimson flags around the city's walls and through its streets whenever they parade, the crimson colour is also reflected on their regalia . 
crimson flag flying from Londonderry's Cathedral
Apprentice Boys parading on Londonderry's walls, with crimson flags and regalia 
Another flag that was supposedly used by Williamite forces, that is more widely used today, but perhaps not as celebrated as the Crimson flag, is the flag known as the Orange Standard or the Boyne Standard.  This is an orange flag, with St George's Cross in the canton, and a purple "star of fellowship" in the fly, which was supposedly the symbol of Williamites. It's said to be the flag carried before William III at the battle of the Boyne. Today it is popular with Orange Lodges and Protestant marching bands. 
re-enactment of a 1912 Unionist Honour Guard, with orange standard
It was also carried before Sir Edward Carson as he made his way to Belfast City Hall to sign the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant in 1912. That being said this flag doesn't seem to be in any of the painting or depictions (and there are many) that I have seen, of King Billy (to use the his colloquial title) at the Boyne. In fact the most common flag seen accompanying the king are plain orange, red or blue flags (they vary from painting) with the royal coat of arms. Some have the Dutch inescutcheon, others the plain Stewart arms, also used by the Jacobites, possibly the Sovereign Standard of the King's Life Guards;
William III crossing the Boyne, note the flag with the royal arms.

Williamite Colours

The method of using and carrying colours differed then from what they are today. In the seventeenth century infantry and cavalry companies were organised into regiments, initially each company carried its own flag or colour, however by the Glorious Revolution, most regiments had reduced the flags they carried to four, one for the company commanded by the colonel, one for the Lieutenant Colonels company, one for the Major's and one for the first captain's. The standard Irish colour was like the English a St George's Cross, with a coloured field, depending on the unit. Some  examples of non Irish colours of the Williamite Army at the Battle of the Boyne 1690 were:

There may be some slight differences in some accounts for example, the Order of the Garter badge on the Blue Guards colours (William III's personal troops which may be why they have English symbolism despite being Dutch!) might have been topped with a crown. The Colonels Colour of Bambington's Regiment may have had a sun on it rather than a plain field. There is limited information about Danish and Huguenot colours and I used more modern sources to recreate them, they might have been completely different. The Huguenots, may have had stripes on their flags. The Huguenot regiments did appear to have at least one flag each with a white cross on it, possibly a reference to their French homeland. Less is known about the flags of the Irish regiments (which includes Anglo-Irish and Ulster-Scots) in the Williamite army, but they appear to follow the standard pattern of the Irish army which mirrors the English practice of the time. Here are only some examples:
Colour party of an Enniskillen company
these are again from more modern sources and some contradict each other, Mitchelburn's Regiment may have had blue fields rather than crimson, with the colonel's colour having a white field, although other sources give them as crimson. This seems a little more likely as it was Mitchelburn who used a crimson flag during the Siege of Derry, Likewise the other Londonderry regiment, St Johns may have had pink colours! They both seem to have used the Londonderry coat of arms. Likewise all the sources give the colours of Tiffen's Regiment as blue, except one painting of an Inniskilling colour party with pink/red colours. There were more than one regiment of Enniskilleners, so this may be one of the others. The Meath regiment may have had a harp on their colours rather than the arms of the region's Earl. For most the colour of the 1st Captain's Company are unclear but, they probably follow the same pattern as the English colours.

Jacobite Flags

Royal Coat of Arms and French flags

Very little is known of the flags used by the Jacobite Army, a Dutch print of the Siege of Athlone in 1691 shows a Jacobite unit fighting under a flag depicting James II's coat of arms. Another print of James landing at Kinsale in 1689 shows the king's boats flying similar flags:
The best part of the Jacobite army were French troops provided by Louis XIV.  During the Siege of Derry the Williamites captured French Colours, They were later presented to the city and still hang in St Columb's Cathedral, although they have been refurbished two or three times, so how much of the flags are authentic is questionable, they probably did attempt to recreate the original design. 
They appear to be completely yellow with the fleur de lee of Kingdom of France in the canton:

Jacobite Colours

If little is known about the flags of Irish Williamite units, even less is known about the flags used and carried by the Irish Jacobite Army. As stated above various prints show Jacobites using flag with the Stewart arms. This may be to identify those on the print (most of which were made by the victors) as Jacobites rather than suggesting what flags they used, however it cannot be ruled out. There is a more modern painting of King James being fired upon when he presented himself before Derry's walls in 1688, (and thus begging the siege proper). This artistic interpretation of events is interesting as it depicts various Jacobite units and their colours (or at least one of them):

From left to right the regiments (and their flags) appear to be; James II's (English) Foot Guards, The Earl of Antrim's Regiment (the Red Shanks), The Royal Regiment of Foot Guards of Ireland(the first Irish Guards) and an unidentified regiment possibly French. Although another version of this painting shows the colour of Lord Bellew's Regiment of foot.
The best description of Jacobite colours was written by the English Jacobite soldier John Stevens who served as a junior officer in the Lord Grand Prior's regiment. In his journal of the war he describes flags carried at a munster of Jacobite forces on the eve of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. He describes the flags carried by six Jacobite units. The flags he describes are:

  • The Irish Army's Foot Guards 
The Guards colour is described as St George's Cross, and the arms of the four kingdoms. This has been interpreted as the arms in the quarters. This flag is interesting as the French arms are a separate entity from the English Leopards. Normally in this period the arms of England were quartered, alternating between French and English symbolism. Although Stevens did not mention it, the Col Colour was probably a St George cross with the Royal Cypher.
  • Earl of Antrim's Regiment (also known as the Red Shanks) 
The regiment which found the Gates of Derry closed against them, and begun the conflict. The Red Shanks colour is described as being a red cross (presumably a St George Cross) on a green field. Each quarter containing a Cross of Jerusalem being clutched by a hand, coming out of a cloud. Clearly adapted from the Earl's Arms, he belonged to the MacDonnells of Antrim an Irish sept of the Scottish clan of the same name. In the centre of the cross was a crowned harp, and the motto "In hoc signo vinces" (In this sign thou shalt conquer). Again not mentioned but the colonel's colour is believed to be a green flag with a cross patee in the middle.
  • Lord Bellew's Regiment
Bellew's Regiment's colours are described as "bendy black and tawny" black and gold-brown diagonal stripes. A harp and crown in the centre. In the canton is a crown with the motto "Toutb d'en Haut" (All from above) around it. Stevens also mentions that the colonel's colour had a small cross patee for distinction.
  • Gordon O'Neils Regiment
O'Neill's Regiment's colour was white with a "bloody hand" or red hand of Ulster. This was used as the arms of the O'Neills of Tyrone since the dawn of heraldry, and has a always been considered a symbol of the province of Ulster. It is perhaps one of the great ironies of history, that the red hand is the favourite symbol of those in Ulster who associate with the Williamites, when it appeared on a Jacobite flag and not on any Williamite flags (as far as we know), perhaps a testament to how symbols and their meanings can change throughout history.  Around the red hand was the motto "Pro Rege et Patria pugno" (I fight for King and Fatherland). We are also told that the colonel's colour had a cross pattee for distinctiveness.
  • Lord Louths Regiment 
The colours of this regiment was a blue cross, with an imperial crown and motto "Festina Lente" (Hasten Slowly) on a filamot (the colour of a dead leaf as described by Pro Hayes-McCoy) field. The Colonel's Colour was the same but without the blue cross. The use of a blue cross rather than red is interesting and unusual, it is not clear why a blue cross was used.
  • Lord Grand Priors Regiment (formally known as Ramsay's Regiment). 

Steven describes the colours of his own regiment, as a plain white flag for the colonel's company. "the other two the same device and motto as the grenadier's caps" The Grenadiers wore special caps similar to mirtes, those of his regiment had a picture of a burning town, and the motto "The fruits of Rebellion" on their caps.

 According to the description of Stevens most regiments had at least two colours (a colonel's and regiment) possibly three, and that the organisation and method of carrying and using colours were slightly different to that of the Williamites

The Wild Geese

In 1690 an exchange took place between James and his ally Louis XIV. James sent some of his Irish troops to serve alongside the French army, in exchange Louis sent some of his more experienced French soldiers to fight for James in Ireland. After the Jacobite cause was lost these units stayed in France to serve their exiled king, becoming the Brigade Irlandaise (Irish Brigade), also nicknamed 'the Wild Geese' eventually becoming absorbed into the regular French Army. As a result of its expatriate status the regiments of the brigade kept their Irish Army style of flags, for most of their existence as a distinct unit. This gives us another excellent example of the style of Irish Jacobite flags. The colours follow the old pattern of a St George's Cross on a coloured field, although some of the colours are alternating. Most of the colours depict a crowned harp, symbolising their Irish identity. The exception being Rooth's Regiment and Berwick's Regiment. The possible reasons for this could be because Rooth's Regiment's official title was "The Royal Regiment of Foot Guards" and hence was the same Irish regiment of foot guards already mentioned and never had a harp on their colours! Berwick's regiment was a new unit created from the merger in 1698 of the Earl of Clancarty's Regiment and other units in French service.
The regimental colour of Berwick's Regiment is particularly interesting due to the use of the red saltire, rather than crowns representing the four Kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland, England and France.Possibly a connection with St Patrick's Saltire, although the official symbolism of the flag is debatable. The motto "In hoc signo vinces" seems to have been used on all the colours of the brigade despite its actual motto being"Semper et ubique Fidelis"(Always and Everywhere Faithful). Towards the end of its existence most of the Irish soldiers were French born citizens of Franco-Irish families, and by 1791 the Irish Brigade was absorbed into the regular French Army losing its distinct Irish symbols and Identity. 

For more in this series see the links below or click the label History of Irish flags:

Also in the Series


  1. Great page although it's well known Tiffins foot flag wasn't blue but white with Saint George cross and Enniskillen castle in centre