Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fun with flags

If you're a fan of the TV programme The Big Bang Theory you will have seen Sheldon Cooper introducing his series on vexillology, Fun with Flags. Amazingly Sheldon has never explained the Spanish flag so I thought I'd fill the gap.

The current Spanish Flag is a bicolour. It has two colours in three bands; a red band top and bottom and a yellow band in the centre. The yellow band is twice the width of the red bands. There is a variant on the design which incorporates the Spanish national coat of arms but the use of that flag is only obligatory under certain conditions. The current design dates from 1981.

The flags of the Valencian Community, Aragon, Cataluña and the Balearics are based on the flag of the old Kingdom of Aragon. Red and yellow are prominent colours in those flags which often leads to the romantic notion that the modern flag has some link with the small kingdoms that once made up the Iberian Peninsula. In fact the flag, and the rojigualdo/a, the colours of the current version, are a personal choice of King Carlos III of Spain.

Carlos had a bit of a problem. He was a Bourbon, and there were lots of other Bourbon rulers in Europe, most notably in France. The Bourbon Flag was white with the coat of arms of the particular branch of the family in the centre. On more than one occasion this led to a bit of a misunderstanding between ships at sea and canons roared when a gentle wave would have been more in order. So in 1785 Carlos ran a competition for a new flag and he chose the basic design we know today. Just in case you're wondering remember that at sea you don't surrender with a white flag, you surrender by striking your colours. So the new flag didn't slow down the Spanish Navy's ability to surrender.

At first the flag was only used on Spanish naval ships and a few years later, in 1793, its use was extended to naval installations onshore. There was a different design for Spanish merchant ships with two red stripes on a yellow ground. The national flag continued to be the white Borbonic flag until 1843 when Queen Isabel II replaced it with the red and yellow.

Artists aren't, necessarily, historians so, the next time you're in an art gallery and you spot paintings with the Spanish Army, before 1843, or the Spanish Navy, prior to 1785, fighting under the rojigualda flag you can sagely point out the error to whoever you're with or, if you are friendless, with any hapless passer by.

You may have seen a tricolour flag which looks a lot like the Spanish National Flag except that it has a mulberry coloured (purple to you and me) band at the bottom. This is the tricolour that was adopted by the government of the Second Republic in 1931. It was internationally recognised as the Spanish Flag until the defeat of the Republic by Franco's Nationalists in 1939. Franco's side generally used variations on the standard bicolour with differing coats of arms.

Although there is a lot of detailed argument about the correctness of the colours of the Republican Flag the design was a deliberate effort to echo the past of the Iberian Peninsula. The yellow and red for the Crown of Aragon and the purple for the Crown of Castile which, by happy chance, were also linked to a flag used by a peasant uprising. Nowadays the flag is often seen in demonstrations where it represents a republican, leftist or radical stance.

And next time on Fun with Flags?

No comments:

Post a Comment