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Dictionary of Vexillology: B (Blazon - Buss)

Last modified: 2008-01-05 by phil nelson
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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The description, either oral or written, of an armorial banner, set of armorial bearings or a shield from those arms, given according to heraldic conventions.

Please note however, that the term and its use should apply only to heraldic symbolism, and be employed in vexillology solely in that context.

1) See ‘flag of defiance’.
2) See ‘red flag’.
1) In British usage, the ensign worn (undefaced) by those merchant vessels commanded by an officer of the Royal Naval Reserve – but see note below and ‘archivexillum’ (also ‘armorial ensign’, ‘government ensign’ ‘red ensign 1)’, ‘undefaced’. ‘white ensign’ and ‘yacht ensign’ under ‘ensign’).
2) Generically, any canton flag (either plain or defaced) with a blue field – particularly (but not exclusively) if flown at sea – a British-style ensign (see also ‘canton flag 1)’, ‘deface’ and ‘red ensign 2)’).

British reserve ensign Sri Lanka reserve ensign Mauritium government ensign
From left: Reserve Ensign, UK (fotw); Reserve Ensign. Sri Lanka (fotw); Government Ensign, Mauritius (fotw)

Please note that the blue ensign is also used either plain or defaced as the ensign of many British yacht clubs, as an archivexillum (or template) for the flags of Government departments and – with two exceptions - of British Overseas Territories (see also ‘armorial ensign’, ‘colonial flags’ and ‘deface’).

Royal Corinthian YC blue ensign
Ensign of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, UK (Graham Bartram)

A blue flag with a white panel in the centre, flown alone whilst in harbour to signify that all persons should report on board as the vessel is ready to proceed to sea - now also Papa in the International Code of Signals, but in use (with the same or similar meaning) since the 1750’s (see also ‘International Code of Signal Flags’ and ‘signal flag’).

[Blue Peter - ICS Papa]
Signal Flag Papa (CS)

See ‘service flag 3)’.

1) A small ensign (usually storm ensign size) used on ship's boats for identification when more than one nation's naval vessels are present in an anchorage (see also 'storm flag 2)').
2) See ‘boat flag 1)’ below.

Please note with regards to 1) that the ship's boats of naval vessels would not normally wear ensigns when operating in an anchorage if no foreign ships are present.

1) In US naval usage, a small national ensign of modified design (with 13 stars rather than the number on the normal U.S. ensign) formerly flown on small boats and submarines.
2) In US army usage, that version of a positional or rank flag intended to be flown on boats, or sometimes in front of that officer's headquarters (see also 'positional flag' and 'rank flag').
3) In British RN usage, that version of a flag of command or broad pennant which was originally for use only in boats, but from which the current versions of those flags are derived (see also ‘barge flag’, 'flag of command', 'broad pennant' and vessel flag).

[US Admiral, early 20th century] [UK Rear Admiral]
Late 19th – Early 20th Century, US; Rear Admiral from 1864, UK (fotw)

In UK usage, the term for a small flag or pennant flown from the topmast truck of a sailing barge, bearing the owner’s logo and/or colours, and used to indicate wind direction – a bob-fly or Kent vane-fly (see also ‘colours 6)’, ‘house flag 1)’, ‘logo’, ‘main’, ‘truck 1)’, ‘vane 1)’ and ‘vane 2)’).

Thames barge sailing trust bob
Bob of the Thames Barge Sailing Trust, UK (CS)

(v) A practice, now largely obsolete, of edging a flag in a different colour than the field, either for decorative purposes or to prevent fraying.

A (comparatively) wide band surrounding a field of a different colour, which may consist of one colour - either plain or have charges placed upon it - or may be made up of two or more colours in a variety of designs (see also ‘plain 2)’

[flags with borders]
From left: National Flag of Maldives (fotw); National Flag of Grenada (fotw); Royal Standard of Bulgaria 1908–44 (fotw)

Please note - not to be confused with a fimbriation which is invariably plain and whose sole purpose is to divide one colour from another (see also ‘charge’, ‘fimbriation’, ‘panel’ and ‘rule of tincture’).

The heraldic term for a border (see also ‘cadency, mark of’).

A small triangular flag flown at the bow of pleasure craft, often facetious, but sometimes a personal flag (see also ‘personal flag 3)’).
In largely US usage, the colloquial term for a collection of local flags, often (but not invariably) unofficial flags, that has been amassed by the owners of pleasure vessels to indicate the number of ports visited – a type of souvenir flag.

One of those flags pertaining to a particular branch within the armed services - an air force flag, army flag, navy flag, flag of the marine corps or similar (see also ‘armed services flag’).

[branch of service flags]
From left: Air Force Flag, RSA (fotw); Army Flag, UK (Graham Bartram); Navy Flag, US (fotw)

1) Generically see ‘width’.
2) Specificall in now largely obsolete British Royal Navy usage, a term for indicating the width of flags. The term is derived from the width of bunting formerly employed in manufacture, with the width of flags being expressed as a multiple of the number of breadths used (see also ‘bunting 2’).

Please note that the width of a breadth was recorded as being 11” (27.94cm) in 1687, but had shrunk to its present size of 9” (22.84 cm) by the end of the 18th. Century.

(v) To unfurl a flag that has been hoisted folded and rolled up in such a manner that a sharp tug at the halyard will cause it to fly free (see also ‘furl’ and ‘halyard’).

See ‘blue ensign 2)’ and ‘red ensign 2)’.

A now largely obsolete standard numeral colour code for cloth and flags adopted in Britain c1950 (see also ‘Pantone Matching System’).

The original name for the 1606 pattern British union flag (see also ‘conjoined’, ‘James Union’ and ‘union jack’).

Please note, evidence suggests that these terms ceased in official use after 1639.

See ‘burgee command pennant’.

1) A shorter and broader form than the commissioning pennant, whose fly is cut into a swallowtail and which in the British Royal Navy (and in some others) is flown at the main masthead in place of the commissioning (or masthead) pennant to indicate the presence on board of an officer with the rank of Commodore (see also ‘burgee command pennant’, ‘flag of command’ and ‘masthead pennant 1)’).
2) Defaced with a club badge it may also be flown by the commodore of a yacht or boating club (see also ‘burgee’, ‘deface’ and ‘officer’s flags’).
3) Sometimes with rounded points (or a lanceolate fly) a form of broad pennant may also be flown from the main masthead to mark the presence aboard ship of a head of state (see also ‘lanceolate’).

[commodore broad pennant]
Commodore’s Broad Pennant, UK (fotw)

Please note, that in the US Navy the rank of commodore - to which the broad pennant belongs - has been superseded by that of rear admiral (lower half) and the pennant accordingly replaced by an appropriate flag of command (see also ‘flag of command 1)’).

A Scottish term, now obsolete, for a flag hanging from a crossbar – a gonfalon (see ‘gonfalon’).

See ‘swastika’

A heraldic term for the colour brown (see also ‘Appendix III’ and ‘rule of tincture’).

See ‘privateer jack’, and for background on the term see also ‘budgee flag’ and ‘budgee pendant’ below.

A late 17th, early 18th Century English/UK naval term, now obsolete, for an ensign that bore a union flag canton rather than a canton with the cross of St George, and before 1707 for use only outside home waters (see also ‘budgee pendant’ below, ‘privateer jack’ and ‘ensign 1)’).

[budgee flag]
English Red Ensign c1625 – 1707 Budgee Flag for use outside home waters until 1707, then British Red Ensign 1707 – 1801 (CS)

A late 17th, early 18th Century English/UK naval term, now obsolete, for a red swallow-tailed pennant which bore a union flag rather than the cross of St George at its hoist for use as a pennant of distinction by senior captains in command of a formation of ships outside home waters – a union pendant (see also ‘broad pennant’, ‘budgee flag’, ‘pendant’, ‘pendant of distinction’, ‘privateer jack’, ‘union jack’ and ‘union mark’).

[budgee pendant]
The Budgee Pendant c1700, UK (CS)

Please note that as far as is known the budgee pendant had disappeared by 1710, and that the Editors – whilst no firm evidence could be found - have taken the colour of the pendant’s fly from that of the standard distinction pennant as introduced in 1674.

See ‘logo on a bed sheet’.

In 18th Century French naval usage the term, how obsolete, for a red pennant hoisted from the flagship to signal that a ration bullock had just been slaughtered (see also ‘flagship’ and ‘pennant 2)’).

Please note, information suggests that this term - a direct translation of the French "flamme de boeuf" - may have ceased after 1792, however, this is not certain and no equivalent signal can be found in contemporary British naval sources. Nonetheless supply vessels carrying beef to the Royal Navy are known to have flown a blue flag bearing a white bullock in the late 19th Century.

1) Strong, loosely woven cloth used for making flags, originally of cotton and/or wool but sometimes of other fibres, and now largely replaced by synthetic materials.
2) A series of small, simple flags connected by a line, or a length of gathered decorative fabric, generally in the national colours and usually hung or draped between two anchor points. Often employed when flag usage would be inappropriate or unsuitable (see also ‘fan’, ‘national colours’ and ‘rules of respect’).



In British Royal Navy usage and some others, a traditional nickname for those sailors in the signals branch whose duties include the care and hoisting of signal flags, flags of command and ensigns etc (see also ‘command pennant’, ‘flag of command’, ‘flag’, ‘naval ensign’ under ‘ensign’, ‘signal flag’and ‘yeoman of signals’).
1) The small distinguishing flag of a yacht or boating club, usually (but not exclusively) either triangular or in the shape of a tapered swallowtail (see also ‘swallow-tail(ed)’ and ‘souvenir flags’).
2) In obsolete naval usage, a term sometimes applied to the swallow-tailed pennants used in flag signalling (see also ‘international code of signals’, ‘pennant 2)’, ‘signal flag’ and ‘swallow-tail(ed)’).

From lef: Encinal Yacht Club USA (fotw); Parkstone Yacht Club UK (Bartram); Knysna Yacht Club RSA (fotw)

Please note, it is suggested by some sources that the term derives from ‘budgee’ which it is proposed was an alternative 17th Century name for bunting (see also ‘budgee flag’ and ‘budgee pendant’).

In US naval usage, a pennant that is flown at the main masthead in place of the commission (or masthead) pennant to indicate the presence on board of an officer in command of a formation of vessels (or an aircraft wing), but who holds the rank of captain or lower (see also ‘broad pennant’, ‘command pennant’, 'flag of command' and ‘private ship’).

[burgee command pennant]
Burgee Command Pennant, US (CS)

Please note however, that the US practice of displacing the commission (or masthead) pennant by the burgee or the broad command pennants differs from general naval practice where the various command pennants (excepting the broad pennant) are usually (but not invariably) flown in addition and subordinate to the masthead pennant.

(v) In Scottish usage a term to describe the decoration of a finial with coloured ribbons.

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