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The 1785 War Ensign Contest (Spain)

Last modified: 2005-11-19 by santiago dotor
Keywords: spain | coat of arms | war ensign | contest | proposal | castle | crown |
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Selected Proposals for a New War Ensign 1785

In 1785 King Charles III decided it was time to replace the current war ensign, white with the Spanish coat-of-arms, for a new, distinct ensign which could not easily be mistaken with those of other countries (mainly Bourbon-ruled ones as France, Parma, Tuscany or Two Sicilies but also the British white ensign). As a result there was a contest where many proposals were put forward. From these, Minister of the Navy Antonio Valdés selected twelve to present to the King.

From these twelve it becomes apparent that red, yellow, white and blue were preferred to other colours. It is not clear, however, that the reason to choose them was to keep the traditional, heraldical hues present in the Spanish arms — particularly with blue, which at the time only appeared in the Anjou inescutcheon and other small charges of minor territories (and certainly not ones within Spanish mainland). [See the arms of Two Sicilies for a detailed account of all the escutcheons.] It is probable that cost of the material, ease of production and long distance reconnaisance capability played a role as important, if not much more, than tradition.

The King chose one of them (the first image below) as the new war ensign, but modified its proportions slightly. The proposal had a regular triband red-yellow-red, with the coat-of-arms offset towards the hoist, and the King decreed the central (yellow) stripe to be twice as wide as each of the other two (red ones). This basic scheme still lasts today in the Spanish national flag.

Another proposal (the third below) was selected —though without the coat-of-arms— to become the new merchant flag or, more properly, civil ensign.


  • Calvo and Grávalos 1983 [cag83]
  • Fernández Gaytán 1985 [fgy85]

Santiago Dotor, 8 July 1999

[Spanish War Ensign proposal no.1 (1785)] 1      [Spanish War Ensign proposal no.2 (1785)] 2
[Spanish War Ensign proposal no.3 (1785)] 3      [Spanish War Ensign proposal no.4 (1785)] 4
[Spanish War Ensign proposal no.5 (1785)] 5      [Spanish War Ensign proposal no.6 (1785)] 6
[Spanish War Ensign proposal no.7 (1785)] 7      [Spanish War Ensign proposal no.8 (1785)] 8
[Spanish War Ensign proposal no.9 (1785)] 9      [Spanish War Ensign proposal no.10 (1785)] 10
[Spanish War Ensign proposal no.11 (1785)] 11    [Spanish War Ensign proposal no.12 (1785)] 12
all twelve by Santiago Dotor