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British Colours 1747-1815 (3)  Fimbriations/Rococo Pattern

Correct Appearance of British Colours

Fimbriations and St Andrew's Cross

Rococo Pattern

Late-Revolutionary War Pattern

1801 and Union with Ireland

 

Apart from the oversized central design, most reconstructions of period British colours under-size the width of the white fimbriations and over-size the width of the St Andrew’s cross. According to Napier’s standard drawing, the fimbriations—the white strips that separate the red cross of St George from the blue field of the flag—were to be five inches in width. The white corner-to-corner St Andrew’s cross was to be nine inches wide.  The unions of the regimental colours were simply small editions of the King's colour with all parts roughly in the same proportions.  From 1747 to 1772 or so, these proportions seem to have been fairly carefully followed.

During most of the period 1760-1786, however, many colours were made with the fimbriation wider than called for, and the St Andrew’s cross much narrower. This was probably due to some supposed economy in using the standard widths of silk, but this is merely speculation. About 1790 the St Andrew’s cross again began to be made as per Napier’s warrant, only to be superceded in 1801 by the need to include the red cross of St Patrick counter-charged with it. The white fimbriation on either side of the St George’s cross on King's colours continued to be made about six inches wide well into 19th century, though there are examples of colours with the correct five inches.

 

From fairly early on most British colours seem to have been made by a relatively small number of reputable firms in England and Ireland. Patterns of design and workmanship are clearly evident—in fact the quality control among colors made to the same pattern is quite remarkable. And while Colonel Napier’s drawings would seem to impose a specific interpretation of the Union wreath, it is clear that different firms vied for dramatic effect while staying within the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. The earliest authenticated colors comport reasonably well to Napier’s drawings, but by the time of the American War for Independence the central wreaths had expanded in richness, complexity, and overall size.

Top left: King's colour, 9th Foot, 1772.  Although the photo is not very good, it can be seen that no part of wreath intrudes onto white fimbriation.  The St Andrew's cross is still somewhat wider than the fimbriations.  (Regimental History, the Norfolk Regt, date unk, c. 1930)

Middle left: King's colour, 7th Foot, the Royal Fusiliers, 1775.  Captured 1775; original colour at West Point.  Note St Andrew's cross is virtually same width as fimbriations, which are almost exactly i/2 the width of the central cross.  Note relative size of regimental badge--hardly larger than the width of St George's cross. (Ralph Henry Gabriel (ed) The Pageant of America. A Pictorial History of the United States, 15 Vols., 1925-6)

Lower left: King's colour, 2nd Battalion, 40th Foot, 1798.  Note fimbriations still wider than Napier's standard drawing, St Andrew's cross about correct.  Wreath spills over into white fimbriations, but does not reach near St Andrew's cross or blue field of colour.  (Regt History, date unk)

 


What is claimed to be the oldest surviving colour in the British Army belongs to the 9th Foot. The flag itself was presented to the regiment in 1772, but the central wreath was taken from an earlier colour presented in 1757 or 1759.  The wreath is almost circular and measures only eleven inches across at the widest point, even smaller than the pattern wreath shown on Napier's original scale drawing.

The most common of the standardized patterns used during the period of the American War for Independence has been called the "rococo" pattern for its asymmetric, rambling, "natural" appearance. The roses are realistic or natural in appearance rather than stylized heraldic roses. This pattern is found on colours about 1760-1786. The earliest known flag with this pattern was presented to the 96th Regt raised for service in India 1761-1765, and the latest to the 73d Foot (formerly 2/42) in India in 1786.    

Left:  Center of 9th Regt Foot, 1757/1772.  The center of the old colours of 1757 were sewn into the center of new colours in 1772. This is colour shown on previous page in both original and G. Davis's drawing.  This photo is roughly in proportion to photo at right, as the entire wreath is only eleven inches across and would fit completely into red St George's cross without overlapping the white fimbriations.

Middle: Center of 9th Regt Foot, 1772, showing rococo pattern wreath with cartouche frame terminating in tendrils that twine around the wreath.  This is same colour shown above at beginning of this section.  Both of these colours were carried in North America and secreted away by Lieutenant-Colonel Hill when the Regiment was surrendered at Saratoga.

Right:  King's Colour of 96th Regiment, raised for service in India, 1761-1765.  This colour was recently purchased by Colonial Williamsburg from the family of the regiment's original colonel, Hon. George Monson (1730-1776).  Note that central cartouche is virtually identical to that of 33d Regt 1771, shown directly below, and that St Andrew's cross is virtually same width as the white fimbriations.


With only one known exception, all of the rococo colours were embroidered. Although there are small discrepancies in detail, the wreaths are perfectly regular, and must have been laid out with a stencil or tracing. Sometimes the pattern is reversed, or mirror image. The wreaths are carefully designed to stay within the red cross of St George on the King’s colour, and are of identical size and shape on the regimentals. Wreaths on the regimentals especially, are routinely drawn oversized and completely out of proportion in secondary works.

The central cartouche seems to occur in two very different styles.  Some have two trailing tendrils that come down and twine around the stems of the wreath, but some do not—this is probably different manufacturers following same "standard" pattern for the wreath and putting their own esthetic touches to the cartouches.  Since the central cartouche is of red silk appliquéd on both sides of flag, the regimental designation reads correctly on both sides.  

The single known exception to the above is a painted regimental colour belonging to a temporary regiment raised in 1763 and numbered the Fiftieth.  The regimental facings were white, so this colour had a white field with the red cross of St. George. Although the designs of both wreath and cartouche are similar to and about the same size as the embroidered rococco pattern, they differ significantly in detail--neither seems to have been a model for the other.   Unlike later painted colours, the designs on this flag are painted in gold rather than natural colors,  on a solid red "cloud" background within the red cross of Saint George.

Top right:  Center of regimental colour, 33d Foot, 1771.  The central wreath on all regimental colours is identical in size to the wreath on the King's colour made and issued at same time.  In this case the center of the regimental is eactly like that of the King's colour because 33d Regiment had white uniform facings and therefore a white colour with red St George's cross.

Lower right:  Regimental colour 103d Foot, 1780.  Milne's drawing of a regimental colour with the rococo wreath drawn about twice its correct height and width.  This colour was originally deep blue, a fact noted in Milne's footnote to original Plate.  Milne chose to depict the colour in its then-current very faded state to better show off the design of the wreath.  Not surprisingly, this plate has been re-drawn in secondary works as a white flag.