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Historical portuguese sea merchant flags

Last modified: 2015-09-01 by klaus-michael schneider
Keywords: sea merchant flags | merchant flags | cross: christ knights | quina: bordered | quina(white) | quina(yellow) | escutcheon: portugal ancient |
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The sea merchant flags

The actual use of flags depicted in old maps and charts is not always confirmed; these flags were used by cartogrphers to mark portuguese-held territories in navigation maps. Obviously, the fact that this or that flag was registered in a map from a particular year does not mean that its use was restricted to that time nor that it was the only one then used by portuguese commercial vessels. Also, the phantasy and uninformedness of most cartographers, many of them not navigators nor living in Portugal and modern misinterpretations make some details doubtful…
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

After the 1640 restauration many ensigns were used by merchant ships. The white flag with the armillary sphere was used by ships sailing to Brazil and Indies. It is reported that the colour of the armillary sphere was different for the ships directed to the Indies (red) from that on the flags of those directed to Brazil (gold). All these ensigns, which appear on documents of the 17th c., disappeared at the beginning of the 19th century.
Mario Fabretto, 01 Aug 1998

Unfortunately we deal on descriptions. So many and differents are the images, that it is hard to say how the design actually appeared. What appears clear is that Portugueses were used to differentiate with colours or symbols different scope of sailing ships. have the following descriptions:

Indies:
Armillary sphere purple flanked by two smal red crosses and topped by another red cross on a blue globe with a gold horizon. In the middle of the armilla a blue sphere.
Brazil:
Armillary sphere gold topped by a red cross on a blue globe with a gold horizon. In the middle of the armilla a sphere.
Mario Fabretto, 03 Aug 1998


Blue quina on white

Blue quina on white
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

This design, without border and with reversed colours, began to appear on portolanoes in the 15th century and is still attested in the 17th century: Jorge Reinel between 1518 and 1520 [jre1X]; Herrera 1601/1615 in [xviXXa]. The reversed colours (blue quinas on white) were on the flame used by ships sailing with the financial support of the Senatus and the city of Lisboa.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997


Quina flag

Quina flag
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

Shown in [p9t94], quoting the map of Mateu Prunes, 1563 [mpr63]: A plain blue field charged with five white circles in saltire. This of course is a banner of the basic modern quina: azure five plates (bezants) per saltire.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997 and 26 Jan 2004


Red bordered quina

flag from João Freire
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

Shown in [p9t94], quoting the map of João Freire, mid 16th ct. [jfrXX],and also depicted in a Portuguese postage stamp of the early 90ies, hoisted on a rowboat, showing the 1494 arrival of Corte-Real to Labrador: As the previous one, but bordered red.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997 and 26 Jan 2004

This precise design (with the red border, but a little narrower) is to be found on the Sanches 1623 Planisphere [scs23].
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997


Flag from Dijon Portolano

flag from Dijon Portolan
image by Tomislav Todorović, 28 Feb 2008

The Portolano of Dijon, created in Portugal ca. 1510, and kept nowadays in the City Archives of Dijon in France (hence its name), shows in a red bordure a white field with five hurts in quincunx, like a quina with inverted colours. On the map, the flag is hoisted over mainland Portugal, Madeira and Ceuta.
Source: Wigal, Donald: "Historic maritime maps used for historic exploration 1290-1699"; Parkstone Press, New York, USA, 2000; ISBN 1-85995-750-1
Tomislav Todorović, 28 Feb 2008


Red castle-bordered quina

flag from João Freire
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

In the Atlante Miller [rlh19] the [red bordered quina] flag has also eight golden castles on the red border.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997


Red castle-bordered inverted quina

flag from Homem Reineis, 1519
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

Shown in [p9t94], quoting «the so called Miller atlas of Lopo Homem Reineis, 1519» [rlh19]. Silver charged with five blue circles saltire and border red charged with eight castles. The original depiction shows azure field, but this is most certainly a tint alteration.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997


Banner of arms

flag from Corte-Real, 1574
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

Shown in [p9t94], from the Account on the successful second siege to Diu of Jerónimo Corte-Real, 1574 [jcr74]. A banner of the Portuguese coat of arms: silver charged with five blue inescutcheons pointing downwards and arranged in cross, each bearing five plates saltire, all bordered with red charged with eigth castles gold. Very similar to the “national” flag of 1485-1495, this having only seven castles;
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997


Rectangular banner of arms

rectangular flag 16th century
image by Tomislav Todorović, 21 May 2009

The banner of arms with ten castles on the bordure is shown on a painting depicting the ships from early 16th century, which is kept in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK. The aspect ratio is very close to 4:3 - the height is greater than the width. Numerous copies of the flag are shown on the enlarged detail of the painting as flying from the ship's cordage. They are all charged with the same number of castles, so it was obviously intended by the painter. Unfortunately, the source does not give any information about the painting, so it is yet to discover, if the painter did see such flags or he was not well informed about the blazon and painted as many castles as he supposed that there should be. For the part of the unusual aspect ratio, all the flags on this painting share it, so it must have been used for some flags contemporary with the painting.
Source: "Istorija otkrića i istraživanja, vol. I: Početak istraživanja"; Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana, 1979; original title: "A History of Discovery and Exploration, vol. I: The Search Begins"; Aldus Books Limited, London; 1973
Tomislav Todorović, 21 May 2009


Red-white bicolour

r-w bicolour 16th century
image by Tomislav Todorović, 21 May 2009

Numerous copies of the vertical red-white bicolour, with the aspect ratio close to 4:3, are shown on the same painting from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich as the banner of arms with twelve castles on the border, and together with it.
Source: "Istorija otkrića i istraživanja, vol. I: Početak istraživanja"; Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana, 1979; original title: "A History of Discovery and Exploration, vol. I: The Search Begins"; Aldus Books Limited, London; 1973
Tomislav Todorović, 20 May 2009


Indented edge with shield shape

flag from Fernão Vaz Dourado, 1570
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

Shown in [p9t94], from [fvd70]: Blue over red per band (from top hoist to lower fly) charged with a golden shield bearing five hurts in saltire. Edge serrated postage stamp-like.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

The circular indentations of the border are to be found on many 16th and 17th century portuguese flags. The gold of old portolanoes can represent white: several examples exist of that. A similar flag is to be found in the Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado (1571) [fvd71] flying over Japan.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997

Sometimes, the gold of old portolanoes can represent white due to pigment chemichal alteration, but I can’t imagine the “original” flag as white (instead of gold) shield with white bezants…)
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997


Indented edge with square

flag from Fernão Vaz Dourado, 1570
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

Shown in [p9t94], from [fvd70]: Very similar to the previous: Gold field charged with five silver circles saltire and bordered blue over red per band with the same edge serration.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

This particular colour arrangement seems to be the result of a colour degradation of the previous design.
Mario Fabretto, 22 May 1997

Dunno: they both appear on the same map [fvd70] so one would expect that pigments would alterate at the same rate (but could be due to unequal exposition to sunlight on second thought…). Anyway, change from shield to square would be quite a chemical alteration!
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997


War ensign as of 1756

[bel56], as shown in the cover of [sie63], calls it «Pavillon de Guerre / de Portugal» (2nd of the flags partly visible on the 6th row from the bottom): A white flag with on a shield a red field with a white border, the red field quartered by a narrow white cross. Red with white cross: Has there ever been an appropriate connection between Portugal and what is now the Order of Malta?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 05 Jan 2001 and 27 Jan 2001


Merchant ensign as of 1756

13 red-white stripe flag
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 24 Jan 2001

[bel56], as shown in the cover of [sie63], calls it «Pavillon des / Marchands Portugais» (3rd of the flags partly visible on the 6th row from the bottom): A flag of equal stripes in red and white.[Might be seven in red and white, or six in white and red.]
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 5 Jan 2001

The number of stripes probably varied, they were just “many” (more than five and less than fifteen, I’d guess, from an optical reasoning) — I just dont know…
António Martins-Tuválkin, 29 Jan 2001

green version

There’s also a green version. This flag, by the way, was possibly influenced by the Catalonian quatre barres and in turn influenced some british flags, which generated the Continental Colours and hence the Old Glory as we know it, with all its descendants, from Chile to Malaysia.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 24 Jan 2001

«Sir William Foster has suggested to me that the flag of [British] Eastern India Company may possibly have been derived from that used by Portuguese merchant-vessels.» According to Alexander Justice, Dominions and Laws of the Sea (London 1705), this was one bearing alternate green and white stripes, with the Portuguese royal arms superimposed.
David Prothero, 1 Sep 1999

The Portuguese in India established a system of granting passes to native vessels sailing under their protection, which was copied by the English. The former may have permitted country junks to use their commercial flag minus the royal arms, and the English may have adopted the practice, merely substituting red for green.
David Prothero, 1 Sep 1999

9=5+4 stripes, green and white

9 green-white stripe flag
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 May 2007

In [noh90] (facsimile of a 1848 flag chart), a flag numbered and labelled «217 Portuguese Merchant» consists of nine stripes green over white.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 Nov 2001

11=6+5 stripes, green and white (Oporto)

13 green-white stripe flag
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 24 Jan 2001

In [noh90] (facsimile of a 1848 flag chart), a flag numbered and labelled «218 Portuguese Coaster» consists of eleven stripes green over white.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 Nov 2001

Oporto historical flag:
The ratio is 2:3. It is an 11-stripes flag with alternating, horizontal green and white stripes, starting with a green one.
Source: Siegel 1912 flagchart 32; row 1 column 3
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 11 Sep 2008

I have seen this (or at least very similar flags) depicted in early flag charts as "Portuguese Merchant" or "Portuguese Coaster" which does not, of course, preclude it from also being the flag of Oporto?
Chris Southworth, 11 Sep 2008

13=7+6 stripes, green and white (Oporto)

13 green-white stripe flag
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 24 Jan 2001

In [noh90] (facsimile of a 1848 flag chart), a flag numbered and labelled «219 Oporto» consists of thirteen stripes green over white.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 Nov 2001

I read somewhere this version was used to identify ships chartered by the Oporto municipal government (Senate).
António Martins-Tuválkin, 7 Sep 1999

green version with coat of arms

Coaster w/ CoA
image by Santiago Dotor and António Martins-Tuválkin, 3 Mar 2005

I have three illustrations of a Portuguese merchant flag - that in the Neptune Francais ca. 1700 which shows a flag of six green and five white horizontal stripes (based supposedly on Allard), the chart of B Lens also ca. 1700 which illustrates a flag of four green and three white stripes and the royal arms overall, and Laurie 1842, which shows the same number of stripes but without the arms and titles it "Portuguese Coaster".
Christopher Southworth, 3 Mar 2005

blue version

Coaster w/ CoA
image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 21 Dec 2014

A "Portuguese Coaster":
A flag with nine horizontal blue and white stripes , not unlike similar flags, but with yet another colour adding to green and red. And what is a coaster, in this context?
Source: Bill, Sinclair 1858; row 5, column 10
António Martins-Tuválkin, 25 Aug 2008


Pavillon blanc?

In chart [bel56], as shown in the cover of [sie63], this is called «Pav. Blanc de Portugal» (yes, that's the same text as the previous one) (5th of the flags partly visible on the 6th row from the bottom): White, in the canton an unidentifyable object, in the center the same object as in the previous flag, in the fly a person with a black mantel or robe.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 5 Jan 2001

If I recall correctly, this one was used in the East Indian routes. The person is a saint and the object is the contemporary national arms.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 24 Jan 2001

The blue is close to that used on the Azores flag, which may or may not be a coincidence.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 28 Jan 2001


from anonymous atlas, c.a 1930

flag from c.a 1930
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997

Shown in [p9t94]: Extended Christ Order cross on white over blue gironny charged with silver escutcheon bordered blue and charged with five blue circles saltire.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 May 1997


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