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Second Empire (France): Naval flags

Last modified: 2021-07-04 by ivan sache
Keywords: second empire |
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[Flag of France]

Flag of the French Empire - Image by Željko Heimer, 23 September 2001


See also:


General prescriptions

The naval flags used during the Second Empire are shown and commented in Album des pavillons, guidons, flammes de toutes les puissances maritimes (1858), the first of a long series of flag books released by the French Navy.
The book is credited to Commander A. Le Gras, "under the Ministry of His Excellency Admiral Hamelin". Ferdinand Hamelin (1796-1864) commanded the French naval forces during the Crimean War (1854-1856). Promoted to the rank of Admiral of France by Napoléon III in 1854, he was appointed Minister of the Navy in 1855 and resigned in 1860, serving then as Grand Chancellor of the Imperial Order of the Légion d'Honneur until his death.

The "Album" provides a table compiling the sizes of the naval flags, extracted from the Regulation issued on 17 May 1853.

National ensign and jack        Masthead pennants
No.  Width (m)   Length (m)       No.  Width (m)   Length (m)
 1    9.00        13.50            1    0.15        20.00
 2    8.00        12.00            2    0.15        16.00
 3    7.00        10.50            3    0.12        12.00
 4    6.00         9.00            4    0.12        10.00
 5    5.50         8.25            5    0.10         7.00
 6    5.00         7.50            6    0.10         5.00
 7    4.50         6.75            7    0.08         3.00
 8    4.00         6.00            8    0.08         2.00
 9    3.50         5.25            9    0.05         1.50
10    3.00         4.50           10    0.05         1.00
11    2.50         3.75
12    2.00         3.00
13    1.50         2.25
14    1.00         1.50
15    0.75         1.12
16    0.50         0.75

Command marks
Flags                              Swallow-tailed flags             
No.  Width (m)   Length (m)       No.  Width (m)   Length (m)      
 1    3.50         4.10             1    2.50         5.00
 2    3.00         3.50             2    2.00         4.00
 3    2.50         2.93             3    1.50         3.00
 4    2.00         2.34             4    1.00         2.00
 5    1.50         1.75             5    0.75         1.50
 6    1.00         1.17             6    0.50         1.00
                                    7    O.35	      0.70

Pennants
No.  Width (m)   Length (m)
 3    1.50         3.00
 4    1.00         2.00
 5    0.75         1.50
 6    0.50         1.00

Church pennant
No.  Width (m)   Length (m)
 5    2.50	   7.50

Pilot flag
No.  Width (m)   Length (m)
 1    3.00         3.20
 2    2.15         2.30

Quarantine flag
No.  Width (m)   Length (m)
 1    3.00         3.20
 2    2.15         2.30

Night pennant
No.  Width (m)   Length (m)
 1    1.50         2.25
 2    1.00         1.50
The notes provide the proportions for each category of flags:
National ensign and jack
Overall proportions 1:1+1/2 [2:3]; blue:white:red 0.30:0.33:0.37
Command flags
Overall proportions 1:1+1/6; blue:white:red 0.30:0.33:0.37. [1/6 should read 1/7, since overall proportions are 1/1.17. This odd rectangular shape, labelled "square", appears to have been maintained until the Second World War].
Masthead pennants
Blue:white:red 0.20:0.20:0.60
Pennants
Overall proportions 1:2; blue:white:red 0.235:0.265:0.500.

A second table, extracted from the same Regulation, lists the number and sizes of flags to be provided to the different categories of vessels. In general, each vessel shall be equipped with four ensigns (one big, one medium-sized, and one small), four jacks (idem), four masthead pennants (idem), four command marks when the vessel is commanded by a General Officer or a Head of Division (idem, for a Vice Admiral, a Rear Admiral and a Commander), two command marks when the vessel is commanded by a lower rank officer (one medium-sized and one small, for a Commander, a Captain, and a Lieutenant), one church pennant (except for the smaller vessels), two pilot flags, one quarantine flag and two night pennants.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Imperial standard

[Standard]         [Arms]

Imperial standard and detail of the arms - Images by Željko Heimer, 16 June 2014

"Square" (1:1.17) Tricolor flag (0.30:0.33:0.37) with a semy of golden yellow bees and the golden yellow Imperial arms in the center.

The "Album" says:
(Of silk). The vessel boarded by the Emperor shall fly the Imperial standard atop the main-mast. During the hoisting, the standard is saluted by seven cries "Vive l'Empereur !" by all the war vessels stationed on harbor; the crew stands on the yards and sides. Any other distinctive mark flown by the vessel shall be immediately lowered. The boat boarded by the Emperor shall fly the Imperial standard at bow and the national ensign at stern.
As soon as the Imperial standard is spotted on harbor, the stationed war vessels shall be dressed up; their whole artillery shall fire three salutes. The Imperial standard is also hoisted for His Highness the Imperial Prince and Her Majesty the Empress, who shall be paid the same honors.

Napoléon III readopted the arms of Napoléon I, with minor modifications. Soon after his self-proclamation as Emperor of the French (26 Floréal of the Year XII - 18 May 1804), Napoléon I consulted on 23 Prairial (12 June) the State Council about the new arms of the regime. Emmanuel Crétet (1747-1809, Ministry of the Interior, 1807-1809) successively proposed an eagle, a lion, and an elephant. Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès (1753-1824; Archchancellor of the Emperor) proposed a bee, representing France as a republic commanded by a chief, like a bee-hive. Louis-Philippe de Ségur (1753-1830; Grand Master of Ceremonies of France) recommended a lion defeating the English leopard. Jean-Charles-Joseph Laumont (1753-1825) selected an elephant, as "the strongest of the animals". Michel Duroc (1772-1813, Grand Marshal of the Palace) preferred an oak, as a symbol of peace. Charles-François Lebrun (1739-1824; Archtreasurer of the Empire) suggested to keep the fleur-de-lis as the emblem of France. The State Council eventually selected a rooster, but Napoléon preferred a lion. On 21 Messidor of the Year XII (10 July 1804), however, Napoléon corrected the Decree prescribing his personal arms, replacing the rooster by an eagle.

Inspired by antiquities and Charlemagne, the arms, "Azure an eagle ancient or standing on a thunderbolt of the same", were designed by Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825; Director-General of Museums), the architect Joseph Gay and the goldsmith Martin-Guillaume Biennais (1764-1843).
The eagle alludes to the Roman Empire, as Jupiter's bird and a symbol of military victories. The design is of Carolingian inspiration.

On the greater arms, the shield, surrounded by the collar of the Légion d'Honneur, is placed over a hand of justice and a scepter crossed in saltire and placed over an Imperial cloak charged with bees and surmounted by an Imperial crown.
The Légion d'Honneur was established on 29 Floréal of the Year X (19 May 1802) on the model of ancient Rome. The collar of the Légion d'Honneur, to be worn only by the Emperor, the princes of the Imperial family and the highest dignitaries, is made of a golden chain composed of 16 trophies connected by eagles wearing the ribbon and the cross of the order. The chain is bordered on the two sides by a smaller chain made of alternating stars and bees. The central element, composed of Napoléon's monogram ("N") is surrounded by a laurel wreath and supports the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur, a five-branched star with pommeted points, enameled in white, charged in the center with the profile of the Emperor surmounted by a laurel wreath, the while surmounted by an Imperial crown.
The hand of Justice and the scepter are among Charlemagne's honors. Charlemagne's scepter, surmounted by a statue of Charlemagne, is a symbol of sovereign authority. The hand of Justice is made of a staff surmounted by a blessing ivory hand.
The Imperial cloak, derived from the cloak of the Peers of France, is made of purple velvet semy with golden bees, bordered by vine branches, fringed in gold and lined with ermine.
The crown is made of eagles with raised wings alternating with arcs, the whole surmounted by an orb.
Bees were considered as the oldest symbol of the French rulers (see ).
[Fondation Napoléon]

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Standard of the Imperial Prince

[Standard]

Standard of the Imperial Prince - Image by Željko Heimer, 16 June 2014

"Square" (1:1.17) Tricolor flag (0.30:0.33:0.37) with a semy of golden yellow bees.

The protocol described in the "Album" is the same as for the Emperor, but with only five cries "Vice l'Empereur !" and a single artillery fire.
Napoléon III married in 1853 Countess Eugenia Maria de Montijo de Guzmàn (1826-1920). Their only son, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte (1856-1879), aka Louis-Napoléon, was killed during the British military expedition in Zululand.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


National ensign

[Standard]

National ensign - Image by Željko Heimer, 22 September 2001

Rectangular (2:3) Tricolor flag (0.30:0.33:0.37).

The national ensign shall be the distinctive emblem of all military and merchant vessels. It shall be hoisted at the gaff, from sunrise to sundown. The war vessels shall hoist is also as the jack when stationed.
The national ensign shall be flown at the stern of vessels boarded by the Emperor, the Minister of the Navy, the Commander in Chief, a Maritime Préfet, a Commander, a Captain (half-furled) and a Lieutenant (furled), and at the stern of all French boats on foreign harbors. Only boats boarded by the Minister of the Navy shall fly the ensign at bow.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Command flag

[Flag]         [Flag]

Command flags - Images by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

"Square" (1:1.17) Tricolor flag (0.30:0.33:0.37)

A vessel boarded by the Minister of the Navy or any other Minister shall fly the square flag at the main-mast. Any other distinctive mark flown by the vessel shall be lowered. The flag shall be paid 18 salutes.
An Admiral shall fly the square flag at the main-mast. If in command, he shall be paid 17 salutes, 19 out of the French ports; if not in command, he shall be paid 13 salutes, 17 out of the French ports.
A Vice Admiral commissioned as an Admiral shall fly the square flag at the main-mast. If in command, he shall be paid 13 salutes, 17 out of the French ports. A Vice Admiral shall fly the square flag at the foremast. When commander in chief, he shall be paid 11 salutes, 13 out of the French ports. When subordinate commander, he shall be paid 7 salutes, 11 out of the French ports.
A boat boarded by an Admiral shall fly the square national ensign at bow.

When several higher officers of the same rank meet, each of them shall add on the command flag a number indicating his seniority among the officers of the same rank, as listed on the Directory.
The general officer commander in chief should not add any number to his flag.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Command swallow-tailed pennant

[Flag]

Command pennant - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

Swallow-tailed, rectangular (1:2) Tricolor flag (0.235:0.265:0.500)

The Head of Division shall hoist this flag either at the main-mast or the foremast.
When commander in chief, he shall be paid 8 salutes, 9 out of the French ports. When subordinate commander, he shall be paid 3 salutes, 7 out of the French ports.
During a meeting, the senior Head of Division shall fly the flag at the main-mast and the other at the foremast.
When the Head of Division meets a commander who is not the head of a division but with seniority, the Head of Division shall fly the flag at the main-mast.
A Commander temporary commanding on harbor or during a meeting shall fly the flag at the main-mast.
A boat boarded by a Head of Division or a Commander shall fly the flag at bow.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Pennant

[Flag]

Pennant - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

Triangular (1:2) Tricolor flag (0.235:0.265:0.500).

A Captain, higher commander on harbor or during a meeting, shall fly the pennant at the main-mast.
A Lieutenant, higher commander in the same circumstances, shall fly the pennant at the foremast.


Masthead pennant

[Flag]

Masthead pennant - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

Flown at the main-mast, the masthead pennant shall be the distinctive emblems of all State vessels that do not fly any distinctive emblem.
The merchant ships chartered for the service of the State and commanded by officers of the Imperial navy shall fly the pennant at the main-mast; on French and foreign harbors, the senior captain of all merchant ships that meet can fly the pennant at main-mast.
The boats of the war vessels that do not fly any distinctive emblems shall fly the pennant.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Boat's flags

[Flag]         [Flag]

Vice Admiral and Rear Admiral's boat flags - Images by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

The boat boarded by a Vice Admiral shall hoist at bow a square national flag charged in canton with three white stars forming a triangle. No flag should be hoisted at stern.
The boat boarded by a Vice Admiral shall hoist at bow a square national flag charged in canton with two white stars. No flag should be hoisted at stern.

[Flag]

Head of Service's boat flags - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

Any boarded Head of Service who is not Officer, shall fly at the stern of his boat a national flag, unfurled, half-furled, or totally furled according to the rank he has been commissioned of. The flag is charged with two white anchors in the blue part.

[Flag]         [Flag]

Maritime Préfet and Major-General's boat flags - Images by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

A Maritime Préfet shall fly at the bow of his boat the square national flag, charged with two blue anchors crossed in saltire in the white part and three white stars placed horizontally in canton. He shall fly the national ensign at stern.
A Major-General shall fly at the bow of his boat the square national flag, charged with two blue anchors crossed in saltire in the white part and two white stars placed horizontally in canton. He should fly any flag at stern.

[Flag]

Port's boat flags - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

The ports' higher officers, when in service, shall fly at the stern of their boat the national flag, unfurled or half-furled, depending on their rank. The flag shall be charged with two blue anchors in the white stripe.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Church pennant

[Flag]

Church pennant - Image by Miles Li, 25 December 2006

The flag shall be flown on a war vessel instead of the national ensign during the celebration of the mass.

Still illustrated in Flaggenbuch, 1905 [ruh05], this pennant probably fell into disuse that year, after the French government passed a law seperating the church and the state.

Ivan Sache & Miles Li, 22 September 2020


Stationary triangle

[Flag]

Stationary triangle - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

Stationary vessels in French harbors shall fly in foremast a white triangle with a blue tail.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Pilot's flag

[Flag]

Pilot's flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

"Square" flag (1:1.17), white with a blue border.

This flag shall be hoisted at the foremast of military and merchant ships to call a pilot at the entrance of French and foreign harbors.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


Rallying and outward bound flag

[Flag]

Rallying and outward bound flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020

"Square" flag (1:1.17), blue with a white cross.

This flag shall be hoisted at the foremast or main-mast of military and merchant ships to rally everyone aboard an outward bound ship; it means that the ship is about to set off and is often accompanied with a salute.

Ivan Sache, 22 September 2020


 
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