My Interpretation of Jeanne’s standard
By Jean-Claude COLRAT “Les Compagnons d’ Arms de Jeanne d’ Arc”
The Great Standard
I think the fabric of Jeanne’s standard was entirely white. All the witnesses and Jeanne herself spoke only about the white color. There is nothing exceptional about the fact that the gold fleurs de lys were placed on a white area rather than blue. Why? Because all the regimental flags of the Kingdom of France in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, excluding the time in and around the French Revolution, as well as the period of the Restoration (1815-1830) had gold lilies on a white field. Moreover, in heraldic art (art of the blazon or Coat of Arms) and in vexillology (the science of the flags), gold and silver or white and yellow are, associated with the divine, for example the coat of arms of Jerusalem and the Papal States and now the Vatican’s the flag.
The standard’s silk fringe had an alternating pattern of yellow and white. It was almost one inch wide (2.5 cm). In French this type of fringe is called, “componée.”
Because the fabric was only a single thickness, the decoration painted on the front showed through to the back. The standard makers overcame this problem by first applying the gold leaf for the lettering and the fleurs de lys to both sides after which then they painted the images only on one side. Actual sheets of thin gold were attached to the fabric by first applying a thin layer of a fatty substance onto the cloth after which the gold leaf was beaten into the fabric. In French this technique is called “appliquées et battues.”
Painted on the broadest part of the standard, the part closest to the pole, was the Apocalyptic image of Christ Who was seated on a rainbow, with the wounds in His side, hands and feet exposed. He was shown wearing a light red tunic and a bright red cloak. His right hand held the world (a blue sphere) and His left hand was raised in blessing. Christ was surrounded in an iridescent golden ‘mandorle.’ [English ‘the Aureole’]
According to Jeanne’s own testimony, “such as is painted in the churches,” the usual representation of the Apocalyptic Christ, for her time, showed Him flanked by two angels. One is, the angel of justice, Saint Michael, who is armed with a sword, and the other is the angel of mercy, Saint Gabriel, who held a natural lily. Next to these figures and towards the tail of the standard, were written the names, “Jhésus Maria” in large gold letters. The white field of the standard’s tail was covered with fleurs de lys. These fleurs de lys were painted parallel to the edge of the standard that was attached to the pole. The gold lettering and the fleurs de lys were painted thusly for aesthetic reasons because this part of the standard usually hung in a vertical position.
The standard was intended to be carried on horse-back, and was used as a rallying point for the troops. The pole was extremely long, the length of a war lance, or approximately 18 feet (5.50 m) in length.
The fabric was 11. 5 feet long (3.56 m) and approximately 2.6 feet (80 cm) width at the point where it was attached to the pole. This formed a triangular shape.
Depending on the importance of the owner, such as the King, the length of the tail could extend sometimes more than an additional 19.2 feet (6 m). Thus creating a standard that was 28.8 feet long!
Even on horse back, the man who held the Large Standard needed a great amount of strength and skill to be able to hold the deployed ensign. The rider who carried the standard was equipped with a special saddle called in French, “selle de bannière” or the “banner saddle.” Often the larger standards were simply planted at the highest part of the ground where it was used as a rallying point.
We know from various testimonies that Jeanne often held her own standard while in combat. At her trial she stated the reason why, “to avoid killing anybody,” adding that she “liked forty times more her standard than her sword”.
But the question remains did she mean her large or small standard?
The Pennon also called the Small Standard.
According to the Orleans’ Siege Journal, the heroine entered the city, on the evening of April 29, 1429. The crowd pressed itself against Jeanne and her horse so much that one of those who carried a torch approached so near her small standard (Pennon) that the fire caught on to it. Jeanne turned her horse and came to her pennon where she extinguished the flames. “The men-at-arms held the sight with great wonder!” According to the majority of historians, this short history explains how the pennon was destroyed.
For my part, I do not think so. Why? Because the pennon was an essential piece of equipment for any company commander as it was used to indicate the position of the captain (like the “Commanding Officer’s Flag” is used in modern armies.) Either, only a small part was burned and repaired or it was entirely remade. On foot and in the middle of a battle, Jeanne could not have handled the large standard. This leaves only the possibility that she used the Pennon, which she could carry.
The “small standard,” (Pennon) was triangular in shape with only one point, and as its name indicates, was more modest in size than the large one, thus making it easier to handle by a combatant on foot, as Jeanne did most of the time. The length of the Pennon’s fabric ranged between 4 to almost 5 feet long (1.30 to 1.50 m). The part of the fabric that was attached to the pole was approximately 2. 6 feet wide (80 cm). The Pennon’s pole was undoubtedly shorter than the Standard’s lance, and did not exceed 10 feet (3 m).
The author of the Journal of the Siege, who was an eyewitness, wrote: “was painted like an Annunciation, that is the image of Our Lady having in front of her an angel presenting her with a lily.” It also was a small standard, about which Perceval de Cagny speaks of when he says The Maid, “made a standard on which was the image of Our Lady” and the Dean of Saint-Thibaud church in Metz mentioned: “the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The principal and constant rule reasons that if large and small standards were different, then the backgrounds and the gold lettering were identical. The angel painted on the pennon’s white fabric represents the archangel Gabriel presenting a natural lily to the Virgin Mary. This scene was accompanied by the words written in gold letters “Jhesus Maria” finally gold fleurs de lys were placed on the remainder of the white fabric surface as it was with the standard. Like the standard, the pennon was bordered with a yellow and white componée silk fringe. Because the fabric was only a single thickness, the decoration was the same on the front and back. To overcome this problem the gold lettering was placed on both sides and in the same area of the pennon.
Because of several witnesses’ testimony it is virtually certain that the same image on the pennon was seen on the front and the back. These witnesses said they saw a dove painted over an azure area holding in its beak a streamer with the inscription “De par le Roy du Ciel” (The King of Heaven commands it.) Because a dove is shown as part of the Annunciation image it is apparent that the dove represented God, The Holy Spirit. Thus it was the Holy Spirit Who is testifying that Jeanne’s message came from God.
Thus the pennon with the image of the Annunciation and the standard with the image of the last Judgement formed a whole, which symbolized Jeanne’s mission from the beginning to the end, the alpha and the omega.