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British Colours 1747-1815, History and Appearance

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British Colours prior to 1747

Warrants of 1747, 1749, 1751

Col. Napier's Drawings of 1747-1751

Instructions of 1758

Warrant of 1768


Prior to 1743 British Regiments were generally known by the names of their colonels, and the regimental colours, procured by each individual colonel, were embellished with designs entirely at his whim, often with elements of his personal or family coat of arms. In 1743 the first of a series of Royal warrants and regulations standardized British colours in several important ways that still obtained at the time of the American Wars: 1) the first colour of each battalion was to be the Great Union, 2) no color would display any designs except those approved, and specifically not any part of the arms of their colonels, 3) the second colour was to be the color of the regimental facing and display a small union in the upper canton next the staff, 4) except those specifically authorized royal or "ancient" badges, colours would display in their centers the rank of the regiment in a union wreath of roses and thistles on one stalk.

Warrants and drawings prepared in 1747, 1749, and 1751 reiterated the points made in 1743 and included water-color paintings for those regiments allowed "ancient" badges. (These dates are often cited individually, in fact they refer to a single set of rules prepared by Colonel Robert Napier, Adjutant General of the British Army, in 1747, delivered to the Clothing Board 1749, and published 1751.) Each painting included a label or scroll on the colour for regimental motto, although few regiments had a motto at the time. It is unreasonable to suppose, however, that flags were made, presented, and carried with blank  scrolls, and no original colour so made has yet come to light. 

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The AG’s water-colors were not exact in their proportions, but Napier also included a carefully drafted scale drawing that showed the exact sizes of the component parts of the King’s colour, including the union wreath, sized to fit entirely within the thirteen inch wide cross of St George. The standard drawing did not include label for motto. It is often mistakenly claimed that before the Warrant of 1768 the size of the colours was not officially stated; the scale drawing accompanying the 1751 regulation clearly indicates both length and width. (See illustration) It also gave precise dimensions for the pike, spear-head, and the cord and tassels.

Another document generally overlooked was published in 1758. In that year fifteen new regiments were created from the second battalions of those regiments which had them, and a circular letter was published to fix the facing colors and lace of the uniforms and the colours to be carried. This was the first description of colours for regiments faced in black (not as has been claimed, the warrant of 1768). This document also specified that the rank of the regiment would be "on crimson" in the center of the colours. Prior to this most regimental colours had had their rank embroidered directly on the silk field. The well-known warrant of 1768 basically restated the provisions from the earlier documents and added two regiments to those allowed "ancient" badges and special devices. It also reduced the size of the colours by two inches on the pike, so that properly made colours would thereafter be six feet six inches flying, and six feet deep on the pike.