Like Luzern, blue was said to denote the lake, and white the snow
capped mountains around it. Somewhat ironically, white used to
signify water, while blue represented the sky. The diagonal division
("per bend") is supposed to represent justice.
Zurich attained the rank of "Reichs-immediacy" in 1218, which makes
it along with Schaffhausen the oldest sovereign state in the Holy
Roman Empire which later became part of Switzerland. Its flag is
also one of the oldest, its first documented use being 1220. The
seal of the Zurich Council, with the same design, dates from 1225.
Independence implied troops to defend it, and troops were never
without their war banner. Zurich joined the Swiss Confederation in
1351, and soon dominated it militarily with its flag flying on the
highest flagstaff. Zurich was one of the recipients of the Pope
Julius banners in 1512, but they discarded it during the Protestant
reformation and started carrying in to battle a hundred-year old
flag which had been retired after the Burgundian wars.
In 1273 Zurich's banner was adorned with a red "Schwenkel" ("chef" in
French for lack of a better word), which is a very long pennon (see image).
Conficting reports put it at 1278 or 1348.) This was regarded as a
high honour and/or a mark of sovereignty, but there are conflicting
reports from the Middle Ages that it was also a mark of shame (e.g. a
sign that the previous banner had been lost in battle). After the
battle of Nancy in 1477, the Duke of Lorraine removed the Schwenkels
from Swiss banners saying they had erased their shame, but when the
troops got home they restored the Schwenkels since they considered
them marks of honour and not shame. A little white cross on the
Schwenkel probably came with the original pennon. The Schwenkel
very strongly resembles the flag of Schwyz or modern Switzerland,
and other confederate states adopted it in the 15th century, but
there is no documentation explaining its meaning for other states
and no proof that it was a mark of the Confederacy.
Simple rectangular cantonal flag, as shown in Kannik (1956). Ole Andersen, 4 August 2002
Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours
by Pascal Gross
Flaggen are vertically hoisted from a crossbar in the manner of gonfanon, in ratio of about 2:9, with a swallowtail that indents about 2 units. The chief, or hoist (square part) usually incorporates the design from the coat of arms - not from the flag. The fly part is always divided lengthwise, usually in a bicolour, triband or tricolour pattern (except Schwyz which is monocolour, and Glarus which has four stripes of unequal width). The colours chosen for the fly end are usually the main colours of the coat of arms, but the choice is not always straight forward.
Knatterfahnen are similar to Flaggen, but hoisted from the long side and have no swallow tail. They normally show the national, cantonal or communal flag in their chiefs.