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Flanders (Belgium)


Last modified: 2008-06-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: flanders | vlaanderen | lion (black) | seal | belgium | law | pilot |
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[Flag of Flanders]

Official flag of Flanders - Image by Mark Sensen, 18 May 1996

See also:

Status of Flanders

The Flemish Community (and Flanders Region, both institutions having merged into a single one) has competencies on the Flemish provinces and Brussels.
The Flemish Council and the Government of the Flemish Community exercize the legislative power of the Flemish Community. The Flemish Council is made of all the 118 Councillors directly elected in the Flemish Region and six Dutch-speaking, directly elected members of the Council of the Region of Brussels-Capital. The six Councellors from the Region of Brussels-Capital cannot vote the Decrees of the Flemish Region.
Ten members of the Flemish Council are delegated to the Senate.
The Flemish Council votes Decrees: the Flemish communautary and regional Laws.

The Governement of the Flemish Community exercizes the executive power and is made of no more than ten ministers and a Minister-President. At least one of the Ministers shall live in the Region of Brussels-Capital. The Minister(s) from Brussels, member(s) of the Government of the Flemish Community, cannot state on decisions attributed to the Flemish Region.

Ivan Sache, 13 July 2001

Official flag of Flanders

The official flag of Flanders is yellow with a black lion outlined in white and with red claws and tongue. The flag with a completely black lion is unofficial, although very popular in Flanders.
Real flags, even official ones, do not always match the official design, as for instance the flag hoisted in front of the town hall of Neerpelt, shown on a photography available on the Neerpelt Internet Gazette blog.

The flag of Flanders is shown erroneously, with the lion outlined in yellow and having a black tongue and red claws, in the Flags of Aspirant Peoples chart [eba94], #72, with the following caption:

Dutch-speaking Comunity (Flemings)
North Belgium

Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 17 June 2007

Flag laws

The Law from 6 July 1973 prescribes the flag, the anthem and the day of the Dutch Cultural Community.
The Law from 11 July 1985 gives an official picture of the flag of the Flemish Community (replacing the Dutch Cultural Community) in colour (not shown in the Belgian official gazette) and in black and white (shown in the Belgian official gazette). The proportions of the flag are prescribed as 2:3.
The law from 13 April 1988 prescribes the flag, the arms (as seen on the seal of the Dutch Cultural Community), the anthem and the day of the Flemish Community. The arms are:
Or a lion sable crowned armed and langued gules surrounded by five stars sable.
The Law from 7 November 1990 prescribes the same symbols but the arms, which are:
Or a lion sable armed and langued gules.

There is no law on the use of the flag, therefore everybody (Flemish authorities and people) can use it. The Community day is 11 July and on this day the flag surely flies, but I saw this flag flying on many buildings in Flanders and Brussels, and not only on 11 July.

Pascal Vagnat, 17 May 1996

According to Album des Pavillons [pay00], the Flemish flag is also used as marking on pilot ships, lights and tugs owned by the Flemish region.

Željko Heimer, 2 March 2001

Unofficial flag of Flanders with a completely black lion

[Flemish black lion flag]

Unofficial Flemish flag, as sold by VVB - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 March 2004

Basically, the flag of Flanders with a completely black lion is clearly perceived as anti-Belgian. It states that the flag user is in favour of a free Flanders, independent or autonomous. The use of this flag does not amount to being a right extremist, although right-wingers consistently use it.
Ivan Mertens, coordinator of Vlaanderen Vlagt (VV), the volunteer body known as the frenetic flag wavers at cycling events, used the following arguments (reported in the Flemish quality newspaper De Standaard of Saturday 12/Sunday 13 April 2003):
- we want to put Flanders on the map in a positive way;
- the [completely black] Flemish lion does not belong to the Vlaams Blok, just as the French tricolour does not belong to Le Pen's Front National;
- although most VV people are right of centre, a few come from the left.
Last year more than 10,000 flags were sold representing 100,000 Euros, half of which was raised by the VV volunteers and half by sponsors.

The completely black Flemish lion was used long before the Vlaams Blok existed. The influential Vlaamse Tooeristenbond / Vlaamse Automobilistenbond (Flemish Tourist Association / Flemish Automobile Association) for instance expressly chose this flag version instead of the traditional one.
There are different artistic renditions of the lion, as for years Davidsfonds, a Flemish Catholic cultural organization, offered both a traditional (by Joe English) and a very modern (by Arno Brys) designs.

Jan Mertens, 30 March 2004

Origin of the Flemish lion

The motto Vlaenderen die Leu (Flanders the lion) was according to Eug. Sanders present on the arms of Pieter de Coninck at the Battle of the Golden Spurs on July 11, 1302 near the Groeningekouter. Some three hundred noblemen shouted it too when they saw, having fought in the French rows, that chances were turning in favour of the Flemish. In Spiegel Historiael, Louis van Velthem also refers to the lion in a song describing the battle of Blangys-Guinegatte (which took place in August 1472). Later, Hendrik Conscience used the motto in his Lion of Flanders.

The Myth
The first known attempt to establish the origins of the Flemish lion comes from John the Long, better known as Iperius, abbot and historian at the St. Bertrijns' abbey. According to his story, from the first Count on, the Counts of Flanders used arms called Oude Vlaenderen (Old Flanders). However, during the Crusade of 1177, Count of Flanders Philip of Alsace, bravely won a black lion on a golden field from a Mohammedan monarch in a fight against the Sarracens. At his return, Philip renounced the Oude Vlaenderen and adopted "or a lion rampant sable" as his arms. Since then, all Counts of Flanders have used those arms.
Dr. E. Warlop noticed that the lion appears for the first time on a seal of Philip of Alsace in 1162, that is fifteen years before the 'acquisition' of the lion in the Holy Land. Iperius' story dates from the second half of the XIVth century - two centuries after the facts - and may therefore not be accurate. Moreover, there is no scientific proof that the Oude Vlaenderen was ever used by one of the early Counts of Flanders. All known descriptions and depictions of it date from after Iperius' story. Warlop concluded that the descriptions found their origin in the story, which admittedly was made up for some convenient reasons. The origin of the lion should therefore not be sought in the Holy Land, but in the environs of Philip of Alsace.

Lions in Philip of Alsace's surroundings
Four years before Philip's seal, in 1158, a counterseal of William of Ieper shows a lion passant, walking to the right. William may have inherited these arms from previous Counts, or maybe he brought it home from England, where he had stayed for twenty years as the leader of mercenary troops in the King's services. Maybe Philip chose these arms because he was the son of Sybilla d'Anjou, sister of Godfrey Plantagenet, who used arms showing two lion rampants (walking to the left). He could also have chosen these arms because of his stay in England, where he had been under the protection of the King of England, Henry II Plantagenet while his parents were on a Crusade. Henry used arms with lions passants.

Symbolism of the Lion
In the XIIth century, the lion passant, actually a descendant of the dragon, became the symbol of paganism and rebellion against the Church. The lion rampant on his turn became the symbol of the Christian knights. That makes it plausible that Philip of Alsace, who went to the Holy Land twice, used this symbol.
A second reason could be that both Diederik and Philip of Alsace wanted to take over the inheritance of William of Ypres against his illegal but legitimized son. As to prevent the danger of usurpation, William's arms weren't taken over litterally: the lion passant became a lion rampant.
Finally, the arms could also be taken after Godfrey Plantagenet, as the symbol of the Christian knight. A lion rampant fitted better to a triangular shield, however.

Therefore, one may conclude that the story of the acquisition of the lion during a fight against the Sarracens might have been made up, to cover up the not so fine truth.

Filip van Laenen, 29 October 1997

Seal of the Cultural Council of the Dutch Cultural Commnity


Seal of the Cultural Council of the Dutch Cultural Community - Image by Mark Sensen, 18 March 1996 - (Click on the seal for larger version)

The former arms of Flanders can be seen on the seal of the Culture Council of the Dutch Cultural Community. The stars in the seal were black. These five stars represented the five Dutch speaking provinces. These arms were (unofficially?) in use since 1972, according to H. de Vries [vri95]

Mark Sensen, 18 May 1996

The Flemish Heraldic Council

The Flemish Heraldic Council has the jurisdiction to approve the municipal and provincial flags and coat of arms in Flanders.
In the following text, MB stands for the Belgian Monitor, the official national gazette.

By a Decree from 28 January 1977 (MB, 7 April 1977), the government of Flanders states that every Flemish municipality should have a flag and coat of arms approved by the government.
On 21 December 1978, an Heraldic Subcommittee was appointed to enforce the Decree. On 11 April 1984 (MB, 18 September 1984), the Subcommittee was replaced by the Flemish Heraldic Council, whose composition was prescribed by a Ministerial Decree on 21 May 1984 (MB, 27 November 1984).
The latter Decree was confirmed by theDdecree from 21 December 1994 (MB, 4 April 1995), which increased the jurisdiction of the Council to the provincial heraldry.
The 20-year work of the Flemish Heraldic Council is shown in the armorial Gemeentewapens in België. Vlaanderen en Brussel (Municipal coats of arms in Belgium. Flanders and Brussels).

A Decree from 3 February 1998 allows the private persons and the institutions to bear a coat of arms. The mode of enforcement of the Law is prescribed by the Decree from 17 July 2000 (MB, 1 September 2000). Here again, the coat of arms must be approved by the Flemish Heraldic Council.

The Flemish Heraldic Council is made of seven members and a secretary, who are:
Mr Jozef Dauwe, lawyer
Mr Luc Duerloo, professor of history
Mr Eric Houtman, archivist at the Kingdom's Archives in Antwerp
Mr Daniël Ostyn, honorary inspector of secondary and higher education
Mr André Vandewalle, chief-archivist of the city of Bruges
Mr Jean-Jacques van Ormelingen, president of the Genealogical and Heraldic Federation of Belgium
Mrs Lieve Viaene-Awouters, president
Mr Basiel Eeckhout, secretary.

Source: Website of the Flemish Heraldic Council

Ivan Sache, 21 July 2004