By T.F. Mills. sep. 1998
Jeanne was not canonised until 1920, so there is no question of her flag being associated with sainthood, at least not officially. The white cross and fleurs-de-lis of France are attributed to her and Charles VII. She approached the King with her vision and plan for liberating France from the English, and thereafter led her troops in battle with a personal heraldic standard. She carried it personally and did not actually fight. After relieving the siege of Orléans in May 1429, she carried her standard at the coronation of King Charles at Reims. She was apparently carrying it when she was wounded at the St. Honoré gate of Paris in September 1429.
I am not sure how much of this is legend, or if anybody really knows what the standard looked like. (I have seen representations that were almost all white, and others that contained a lot of colour.) It allegedly contained the words Jesus, Maria and fleurs-de-lis, and perhaps other religious motifs like angels. The white cross (whether or not it was included on her standard) was intended to be a contradiction of the English red cross, meaning that England was subject to France and not vice versa, and the multiple fleurs-de-lis represented the unity of the disparate parts of France.
At her trial in 1431, Jeanne described the banner in her own words:
“I had a banner of which the field was sprinkled with lilies; the world was painted there, with an angel at each side; it was white of the white cloth called boccassin; there was written above it, I believe, JHESUS MARIA; it was fringed with silk.”
I don’t think any other reliable evidence of the banner survives, so it is pretty much up to artistic interpretation. Some of her relics were allegedly preserved, but what purported to be her banner was burned during the French Revolution.
Banner: A knight who led a significant number of troops into battle was entitled to carry a banner. This banner, emblazoned with his device or a badge or a recognizable symbol, was useful for rallying troops inn the confusion of battle. The form of the banner was largely dependent upon the rank of the knight and size of his contingent.
Knights with small household units, called lances or on their own typically bore a small triangular pennant rather than a banner. Knights with larger groups were known as knights banneret, a rank that seems to have been vaguely formalized during the 14th century.
Jeanne’s battle standard was made from a material called Buckram, similar to an artist’s canvas with a silken fringe. It measured 3 feet high by 12 feet long.
The banner was painted at Tours, while Jeanne was staying there, before her march to the relief of Orleans. A Scotch painter named James Power made it. The account for payment, in the “Comptes” of the Treasurer of War, gives: “A Hauvres Poulnoir, paintre, demourant à Tours, pour avoir paint et baillé estoffes pour une grand estandart et ung petit pour la Pucelle . . . 25 livres tournois.”
The description of this banner varies in different authors. The following account is compiled from them. “A white banner, sprinkled with fleur-de-lys; on the one side, the figure of Our Lord in Glory, holding the world, and giving His benediction to a lily, held by one of two Angels who are kneeling on each side: the words ‘Jhesus Maria’ at the side; on the other side the figure of Our Lady and a shield with the arms of France supported by two Angels” (de Cagny).
This banner was blessed at the Church of Saint-Sauveur at Tours (Chronique de la Pucelle and de Cagny). The small banner or pennon had a representation of the Annunciation.
There was also a third banner round which the priests assembled daily for service, and on this was depicted the Crucifixion
(Jean Pasquerel – chaplain and confessor of Jeanne).
Another banner is mentioned by the Greffier de la Rochelle, which Jeanne is said to have adopted as her own private pennon. It was made at Poitiers; and represented on a blue ground a white dove, holding in its beak a scroll, with the words, ” De par le Roy du Ciel.”
Hold down on the mouse and drag
Marina Warner in Joan of Arc (1981) implies that all this is nonsense, writing (p. 194):
In 1612, a certain Jean du Lys petitioned the king, then Louis XIII, that as the principal branch of the family of Joan of Arc had died out, he might take over their coat of arms, the lilies of France. He claimed that he bore the cadet branch’s arms, a shield azure with a golden bow, set with three arrows. This is the first mention anywhere of any such armorial bearings, and when Louis allowed Jean du Lys to quarter them with lilies, he authenticated in retrospect a coat of arms that was entirely spurious. But then the claim itself was hollow, since no descendants of Joan of Arc’s brothers have ever been traced by genealogists.
In other descriptions of the banner, it is said to include Jesus and Mary together, and Jesus alone holding in his hands the world.
In short, there does not seem to be a reliable reconstruction of Joan’s banner even though her judges at her trial were obsessed with its possible heretical nature and alleged powers of witchcraft.
A rendition of the Ingres painting (XIXth century) of Joan at the coronation of Charles VII can be seen here. I don’t know much about the painting, but I would guess that Ingres deliberately showed little detail of the banner rather than make a statement that could be interpreted as the definitive version.
A repetition of this banner, which must have been copied from age to age, is to be seen now at Tours. I have found no more recent corroboration that such a banner existed, nor a description of it as it allegedly existed in 1926.
Mary Milbank Brown in The Secret History of Jeanne d’Arc (1962) depicts the crest from the coat of arms of Charles du Lys (1612), which shows a waist-up figure of Joan on the helm with a sword in one hand, and her banner in the other. The banner is very different from other depictions in that it is a true vexillum – with at the top a seated Virgin Mary flanked by two angels, two fleurs-de-lis above the angels, and three fleurs de lys in the field below this scene.
Brown claims that the King granted arms to Joan’s brothers and ennobled them with the name “du Lys”. She writes about the 1612 crest (p. 441):
This armorial design … is important because on it is preserved what may be regarded as the authentic standard of the Maid, all others having been legendized to misrepresent her true matriarchical convictions. In this vexillum the figure of the Great Matriarch, Isis-Maria, sits supremely alone on the throne, holding in her left hand the vesicular representation of her organ of generation, and in her right hand the symbol of the fleur-de-lis which in ancient times was ever the bird. The two fleurs-de-lis at the top of her standard represent figuratively the two breasts; primitively the ideograph for breast was merely the sign of the Greek cross as tetradic footprint of the dove or pigeon, placed over each mammary protuberance. Immediately below, the two fleurs-de-lis are preserved in their ornithic significance as ‘angels’, that is, birds in human winged form, kneeling in adoration to the Queen of Heaven. The three fleurs-de-lis in the lower half of the standard, omitted in the other du Lysian coats of arms, represent the kingdom of the Ile-de-France. The two sections of the banner symbolize the Church of Gaul of Virgin Mary-worship in superior position to the Kingdom of the Ile-de-France in subservient station, but with both the ecclesial and thronal halves as one kingdom politically. The later legendized standards of her proselytizing show God the Father seated upon the throne supported by two masculine saints replacing Goddess the Mother and her two angels.
There is historical proof that Jeanne d’Arc had three ensigns (an ensign is a national flag displayed with special insignia or a standard of a military unit.) Two were for military use: her Battle Standard, which was large in size and her Pennon which was small. The third was a religious banner made for the priests and men of the army to assemble around for morning and evening prayers.
The treasurer of Charles VII, Hémon Raguier, paid an artist to create Jeanne’s Battle Standard and Pennon. It is noted in his accounts: “Hauves Poulnoir (Hamish Power), banner painter of Tours, is to create for The Maid, on ‘baillé’ (burlap) fabric a large standard and small pennon, at the cost of 25 livre tournois.” For the third, Jeanne’s Chaplain, Father Pasquerel, declares at Jeanne’s trial of Nullification in 1456 that Jeanne asked him “to make a banner for the priests to gather around.”
All three images that Jeanne used to symbolize her mission came directly from the New Testament. According to the interpretation of Jeanne’s Rouen trial testimony, her Battle Standard depicted the final coming of Christ in judgement. The author of the Journal of the Siege of Orleans states that Jeanne’s pennon had the image of the Annunciation painted on it. Father Pasquerel testified that the Crucifixion scene was painted on the banner.
Before continuing, it is very important to explain the different military ‘ensigns’ that were used during the Middle Ages. [The author uses ‘ensign’ instead of “flag” because the word flag was not used in Jeanne’s time as it was not invented yet.]
There were THREE ensigns of knighthood. Going from the least to the most important were:
The PENNON also called the SMALL STANDARD was triangular in shape. The newly dubbed knight used the Pennon. He was called “knight graduate” or “knight with pennon.”
The BANNER was square or rectangular in shape, with the height larger than its width. In modern terms it was used to ‘advertise’ who the knight was. These knights were called “Bannerets” and they commanded the forces assigned to them.
The STANDARD was very long, usually 3 feet in height and 12 feet in length, ending with two tails. The knight who commanded or directed the battle used the Standard. These three ‘ensigns’ were carried as heraldic (coat of arms) symbols of the knight.
Towards the end of 14th century, the organization of the army changed. The knightly classifications of “bannerets” and “with pennon” disappear at the beginning of the 15th century and were replaced by ‘Head of War’ and ‘Captain of the Company.’ Yet both of these two heraldic classifications continued to be carried in each company:
A knight who commanded a company of mounted men-at-arms carried the large Standard.
The Pennon, also called the Little Standard, was much smaller in size and had only one tail. The Squire who commanded the company’s foot soldiers carried it. When the knight fought on foot he also used the Pennon because it was easier for him to handle during the battle.
Both the Standard and the Pennon used the colors of the ‘Captain of Company.’ At this time the heraldic emblem or device was replaced with a more complex heraldic design (coat of arms) or the symbol of the ‘party’ for which the knight fought. These ‘ensigns’ were often designated as ‘large’ or ‘small’ standards. Some times the Captain would also use his own heraldic banner.
Various testimonies have come down to us by people who saw the standard and by others who only heard something about it. Generally these descriptions are short. Because of this there is some confusion between the large and small standard.
Dunois says that it “was white, with the image of Our Lord holding a lily.”
Father Pasquerel adds, “the image of Our Savior, sitting as a judge on the clouds of the sky, was painted on it. In addition there was also a painted angel, holding in its hands a lily, that the image of the Savior blessed.”
In May 1429, the Clerk of Albi spoke about the standard: “her standard on which was painted Our Lady.”
In a letter of July 9, 1429, the Italian merchant Antonio Morosini wrote “she carries also a white standard on which Our Triune Lord holds in one hand the world and the other is raised in blessing. On each side (of Christ) is an angel who presents Him a fleurs de lys, as the symbol of the kings of France.”
In 1431 the Clerk of La Rochelle writes: “And made in Poitiers [in fact it was Tours – author’s note] her standard had one shield of royal blue in which there was painted a white dove. The dove carried in its beak a small streamer on which was written: “De par le Roy du Ciel” “The King of Heaven commands it.”
In the famous Journal of the Siege of Orleans, compiled around 1467, there is the following sentence: “And carried in front of her standard was the pennon, which was made from a similar white material. Painted on the pennon was an image of the Annunciation, the image of Our Lady with the angel before her presenting her a lily.”
Later in 1438, Perceval de Cagny, the duke of Alençon chronicler wrote: “She had made a standard on which was painted the image of Our Lady. At Jargeau, the Maid took her standard on which was painted God in His Majesty and on the other side… (gap in text – author’s note)… was painted the shield of France held by two angels”
In 1440, Eberhard Windecke a businessman from Mayençais wrote: “And the girl left with her banner which was made of white silk. Painted there was the image Our Lord God with His wounds, Who was seated on the rainbow. On each side (of Christ) was an angel who held a lily.”
In 1445 the Dean of the Saint-Thiébaud church in Metz said: “noble banner painted about the Blessed Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The Burgundian chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet wrote in about 1453, “her standard was painted with the representation of Our Creator.”
The English chronicler Jean de Wavrin, Lord of Forestel, in about 1460 also made the same description of Jeanne’s standard.
The city of Tournai, Flanders, (modern day Belgium) was in Jeanne’s time loyal to the King of France. This city’s 1455 chronicle states: “Standard of white satin, in which Jhesus Christ sitting on a rainbow, showing His wounds, and on each side (of Christ), an angel hold up to Him a fleurs de lys.”
Lastly, the anonymous Latin poem which agrees with parts of the Trial of Nullification (1456) has Jeanne saying:
“I will carry a standard decorated with the image of the King of Heaven.”
“The kingdom’s fleurs de lys will flower around “
The poem Siege of Orleans (compiled around 1470) gives this description of The Maid’s standard:
“A standard I want to have —- Un étendard je veux avoir
“White without any another color —- tout blanc sans nulle autre couleur
“Where inside will be a sun —- Où dedans sera un soleil
“Glittering with zeal —- Reluisant ainsi qu’en chaleur
“And in the middle, a great honor —- Et ou milieu en grand honneur
“Written in gold letters will be —- En lettres d’or écrit sera
“These two words of worthy value —- Ces deux mots de digne valeur
“Which is to be Ave Maria. —- Qui sont c’est Ave Maria.
“And above more notably —- Et au dessus notablement
“Will a beautiful and comely —- Portraitée bien et joliment
“Portrait of Majesty —- Sera une majesté,
“Made great by His Authority —- Faite de grande autorité
“At His two sides will sit —- Aux deux côtés seront assis
“Two angels, each one holding —- Deux anges, que chacun tiendra
“In one hand a fleur de lys —- En leur main une fleur de lys
“The other the sun will support.” —- L’autre le soleil soutiendra.”
At her trial the Rouen judges asked Jeanne about her large standard.
Question: When you were at Orleans, you had an ‘ensign’ (this word is normally translated in English as standard). What color was it?
Answer: I had a standard whose field was sown with lilies. There was a figure of Christ holding the world and on each side of Him was an angel. It was made of a white fabric called “boucassin”. Written above: Jhesus Maria, as it seems to me, and it was fringed in silk.
Question: Who prompted you to have painted on your standard angels with arms, feet, legs, and clothing?
Answer: I have already answered you.
Question: Did you have them painted as they came to see you?
Answer: No, I had them painted in the way they are painted in the churches.
Question: Did you ever see them in the manner they are painted?
Answer: I will tell you nothing more.
Question: Why did you not have painted the brightness that comes to you with the Angels and the Voices?
Answer: It was not commanded me.
Question: Were these names, Jhesus and Maria, written in top, below or on the side?
Answer: On the side, as it seems to me.
Question: Who had you make the painting on the standard?
Answer: I have told you enough that I did not do anything but by the command of God.
Question: Who carried your standard?
Answer: It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.
Question: What significance was there in the two angels and God’s holding the world.
Answer: Saint Catherine and Saint Marguerite said to me that I should take and carry the Standard boldly on the part of the King of Heaven.
Question: Did the two angels that were painted on your standard represent Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel?
Answer: They were there only for the honor of Our Lord, Who was painted on the standard. I only had these two Angels represented to honor Our Lord, Who was there represented holding the world.
Question: Were the two Angels represented on your standard those who guard the world? Why were there not more of them, seeing that you had been commanded by God to take this standard?
Answer: The standard was commanded by Our Lord, by the Voices of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, which said to me: ‘Take the standard in the name of the King of Heaven’; and because they had said to me ‘Take the standard in the name of the King of Heaven,’ I had this figure of God and of two Angels done. I did all by their command.
Question: Did you have them painted as they had appeared to you?
Answer: I had them painted after the manner they are painted in the churches.
Question: Did you ask them if, by virtue of this standard, you would gain battles wherever you might find yourself, and always be victorious?
Answer: They told me to take it boldly, and that God would help me.
Question: Which gave most help, you to your standard, or your standard to you?
Answer: The victory either to my standard or myself. It was all from Our Lord.
Question: The hope of being victorious was it founded in your standard or in yourself?
Answer: It was founded in Our Lord and nowhere else.
Question: If any one but you had borne this standard, would he have been as fortunate as you in bearing it?
Answer: I know nothing about it. I wait on Our Lord.
Question: If one of the people of your party had sent you his standard to carry, would you have had as much confidence in it as in that which had been sent to you by God? Even the standard of your King, if it had been sent to you, would you have had as much confidence in it as in your own?
Answer: I bore most willingly that which had been ordained for me by Our Lord; and, meanwhile, in all I waited upon Our Lord.
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.