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Origins of the Aragonese-Catalan Flag (Spain)


Last modified: 2013-12-02 by peter hans van den muijzenberg
Keywords: catalonia | aragón | senyera | stripes: 9 (yellow-red) | quatre barres |
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[Aragonese-Catalan Flag (Spain)]
image by Jorge Candeias

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There is an ongoing discussion about the origin of the Aragonese-Catalan flag. The facts that:

  • it originated in the early middle ages, at a time from when little written or pictorial evidence remains;
  • shorthly thereafter (1137) the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona merged under a single dynasty;
  • this dynasty was that of the counts of Barcelona, but used as first title that of King of Aragon because it had protocolary pre-eminence;
  • the flag was thereafter very widely used as that of the Kingdom of Aragon, both before and after its personal union with that of Castile and Leon (1492), until the end of the Spanish War of Succession (1714), whereby all particular rights of territories supporting the defeated candidate (Archduke Charles of Hapsburg) were abolished;
  • the flag was used since the early 20th century by Catalan nationalists alone, and during the Spanish Republic (1931-1939) by the autonomous Catalan regional government (Generalitat de Catalunya)
all help to confuse research. This has been furthermore biased since the late 1970's, because of strong Catalan nationalist feelings and the more recent existence of two autonomous communities in Spain (Aragon and Catalonia) using the same Aragonese-Catalan flag (with the only difference of Aragon defacing it with its coat-of-arms).

Santiago Dotor, 20 Oct 2000

Catalan Origin of the Flag

The flag of Catalonia was originally Catalan, but became the common flag in the entire confederation of Aragon, when the counts of Barcelona (whose was the flag) became firstly Kings of Aragon and later of Valencia and Mallorca.

Xavier Naval, 22 May 1997

The Kingdom of Aragon after 1137: The County of Barcelona (Catalonia) had the four stripes on gold as coat-of-arms almost from the beginning of its history. Its flag is an adaptation of the coat-of-arms. Then Catalonia and Aragon merged, or better, shared the same ruler for a long time. That ruler was King of Aragon, Count of Barcelona, then King of Majorca, of Valencia, of Sicily and so on. I guess the flag appeared much later. Today in Spain the four stripes of the Catalan coat-of-arms, arranged horizontally on flags, appear alone on the Catalan Autonomous Community flag, and with additional objects on other three areas: Aragon (centered coat-of-arms), Balearic Islands (castle in the canton), Valencia (blue part on the hoist). The term crown of Aragon just groups the lands under that unique ruler.

Joan-Francés Blanc, 11 Feb 1999

Aragon was only one of the kingdoms of the Catalan crown, the one with the best-known name, but politically and economically insignifiant. The Count of Barcelona acquired the Kingdom of Aragon after he married the Aragonese crown princess in 1137. Thereafter the kings of Aragon never lived in Zaragoza, but in Barcelona. The archives of the crown were in Barcelona, the palace, the army, the treasure, etc. Only after 1516 the kings were out of Barcelona. King Ferdinand the Catholic lived his last years (1512-16) in Barcelona, married with Germana de Foix. The flag of Catalonia was "exported" to Aragon 1111. The original Aragonese flag seems to be the same as England's. The Catalan flag was in use in Aragon until 1709. Later it was readopted 1936 but supressed in few weeks by the Francoists. With the return of democracy (1978) it was readopted with Arms, but all the right-wing parties claimed a flag with Saint George's Cross.

Jaume Ollé, 14 Feb 1999

According to Gabriel Alomar, the pallets seems to be of Carcasonne origin. The house of Barcelona's Counts has origin in Carcasonne through the grandfather of Count Guifré el Bellos [Wilfred the Hairy] (died c. 812) and probably became popular after the wedding of Count Ramón Berenguer I with Carcasonne's princess Ermessenda. I agree with this opinion because most documentation on the subject was written before the Carcasonnese origin of Guifré was known. Several details of the complicated history of the counts in the IX-X century (see Abadal, Els primers comtes [The first Counts]) can help to sustain this opinion.

The [stone] coffins of the Counts Berenguer Ramón I (died 1035), Ramón Berenguer I el Vell [the Old] (died 1076) and Berenguer Ramón II Cap d'Estopes (died 1082) are decorated with red and yellow vertical bars [Editor's note: heraldically 'pallets']. Also that of princess Ermessenda of Carcasonne (died 1058). The date of pictures [showing pallets] is contested, but they are at least from 1150.

The first uncontested appearance of the Catalan pallets (in stone) is dated c. 1112. This makes it one of the oldest – if not the oldest – symbols in flags, other old symbols being:

  • Scotland: legendarily dated 736, but uncontested after 1286
  • Occitany: the Toulouse Cross is dated 1088, but uncontested after 1241
  • Portugal: 1133
  • Austria: 1191
  • Denmark: 1219
  • England: 1249
  • Britanny: before 1250
  • Majorca: first written documented adoption of a flag 1312 Armand de Fluvia's Els quatre pals, l'escut dels comtes de Barcelona [The four pallets, arms of the counts of Barcelona] is devoted to demonstrating that the four pallets originated in Catalonia and were exported to Aragon. He quoted all the possible origins of the pallets. In the non-stone seals the pallets are first dated in the one of Ramón Berenguer IV (count from 1131) and also in his seal as Governor of Provence (1155-57). Count Ramón Berenguer IV became king of Aragon 1137. Before 1195 at least 7 banners with yellow and red pallets are confirmed. None of the non-Catalan Aragonese kings before 1137 (when the counts of Barcelona acquired Aragon) had a seal with pallets. Most opinions about an Aragonese origin of the pallets are modern.

    Jaume Ollé, 14 Feb 1999

    Aragonese Origin of the Flag

    The senyera does not have Catalan origins. According to the Spanish historian Alfonso García-Gallo the original Catalan flag was the St. George's (Sant Jordi) Cross, being similar to that of England. The Aragonese flag, on the other hand, was similar to the one of Sardinia (St. George's Cross with a Moor's head in each quarter).

    The red and gold flag was the flag of the Aragonese Crown and each golden stripe represented a kingdom. When James I (Jaume I) conquers Valencia, the flag is composed only of 3 golden stripes (Aragon, Majorca and Valencia). The other 2 stripes were added by king Peter I in 1241 and represented the kingdoms of Sicily and Sardinia. As the years went by, the royal emblem became a part of the kingdoms' coats of arms and, eventually, of their flags. The 5-bars flag appears also in the flags of Aragon, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and even Sicily, not only in the Catalan one.

    Rubén Rodríguez, 27 Feb 2000

    Kingdom of Aragon had white flag with Saint George cross, with four Moors heads. Also white flag with saint George cross was taken by several countries (Genoa, England...) and by the Catalan government of the Generalitat (the secular branch of power in the Catalan counties). Barcelona, Pallars, etc. were counties ruled by counts, but the count had a title [equivalent to that] of king.

    [The theory about a golden bar for each kingdom] seems that is not exact. Sometimes is atested flag with less or more stripes that kingdoms. When James I conquered Valencia he used a "bucelate" flag with four bars (the famous "peno de la conquesta" still preserved), but [the surrendering] Moors used a flag with only two bars for indicate their submission. In times of Peter I the flags were mainly standardized and the use of three, five, six etc. bars, was smaller than previously, and four bars were mainly used. I doubt that Sardinia was ever a single kingdom, the Catalan ruler using the title of Judge of Arborea, Cagliari etc. Sicily did not belong to Catalonia until the 1282 revolt against the French rulers in favour of the Catalan king.

    Jaume Ollé, 04 Mar 2000

    The four red bars on a yellow field have been and are distinctive of the House of Aragon, that is the Kings of Aragon, who were never [kings] of Catalonia, the latter being a principality. I suggest reading this webpage [in Aragonese and Spanish] with the true story about the flag of Aragon or Siñal Reyal [royal flag].

    Chuse Fernández, translated by Santiago Dotor, 03 May 2001

    Javier Mendivil, the webmaster of a website about the autonomous community of Aragon, wrote me:

    La bandera de Aragón (o "señal" de la casa de Aragon) era la enseña de la casa o linaje de los reyes de Aragón que aparecia en su escudo.

    El fondo amarillo es la sumisión al Papa (poder celestial) y no a los otros reyes cristianos de la peninsula que se llamaban a si mismo "emperadores de España" cada barra o "palo" significa una posesión del rey o su familia. Existen iglesias romanicas como en Sos donde aparece 3, 4 o 5 barras según el momento histórico cuando se pintaron.

    Cuando el reino de Aragón se convirtió en la Corona de Aragón esta bandera fue comun para todos sus integrantes y se estabilizo en 4 (cuatro) palos, por lo tanto fue Cataluña quien adopto la "señal" de Aragón al casarse el conde de Barcelona con la heredera de Aragón y comprometerse a hacerse cargo de su reino.

    My translation:
    The flag of Aragon (or signal of the house of Aragon) was the insignia of the house or lineage of the kings of Aragon which appeared on its coat-of-arms.

    The yellow field represented submission to the Pope (heavenly power) rather than to the other peninsular Christian kings who called themselves "emperors of Spain," each bar or "pallet" standing for a possesion of the king or his family. There are romanesque churches like that of Sos where 3, 4 or 5 bars appear depending on what historical moment they were painted.

    When the kingdom of Aragon became the Crown of Aragon this flag was common to all its components and established as one with 4 (four) pallets, and thus it was Catalonia who adopted the signal of Aragon when the count of Barcelona married the heiress of Aragon, committing himself to take charge of her kingdom.

    He also mentioned the existence of a quite complete book on the coat-of-arms and flag of Aragon, Blasón de Aragón, by Guillermo Fatas and Guillermo Redondo, published by the Diputación General de Aragón, April 1995, of which he sent me the first two pages as a sample:
    1. La tendencia a lograr orígenes más antiguos que los demás – y, por tanto, mayor prosapia y mejor derecho – es nota común a muchos pueblos. Ello llevó en el Medievo (y no tan Medievo) aragonés a inventar tardiamente la Cruz de Iñigo Arista, la Cruz de San Jorge con sus "moros" y el Árbol de Sobrarbe y, por similares causas, en Cataluña, a inventar la leyenda serográfica de Wifredo, o Guifré, o Guifredo, o Jofre "el Velloso."
    2. Los aragoneses fueron asumiendo paulatinamente, al igual que sucedió por lo común en Europa, los emblemas y mitos de sus soberanos como algo propio de la comunidad.
    3. Que todos los reyes llamasen a las barras o palos nuestro Señal Real siempre unido a su primer título (el de Rey de Aragón) llevó a identificar a Aragón con las barras. Las barras serán no sólo "signum Regni," sino "signum Regni Aragonum." En la monumental pieza de oro acuñada en 1528 aún se lee, bajo las solas barras, un gran letrero que dice "ARAGONVM."
      Y de similar modo en los siglos siguientes. Las barras rojas o palos de gules sobre fondo de oro son el Señal Real de Aragón, que no sólo es un título real, sino el nombre de la familia propietaria del emblema. Su apellido, como proclama Pedro IV en la frase que abre este libro.
    4. La creencia, fundamentada por Pedro IV en el siglo XIV, de que la Cruz de San Jorge era la propia del reino se mantuvo: pero sumándole la Cruz de Aínsa (por creerse de los primitivos reyes) y las barras, que eran de su familia, linaje y apellido (Aragón). además del Árbol de Sobrarbe, éste ya a fines del siglo XV. Es posible que los aragoneses crearan esa multitud de emblemas por la ausencia física de sus reyes, frente a quienes a menudo hubieron de esgrimir razones de pretendida y rancia antigüedad. Eso mismo, pero al revés, explicaria su carencia en Cataluña... hasta que los soberanos se afincaron en Castilla.
    5. El origen remoto del escudo palado o de las barras es oscuro. El origen mediato puede ser pontificio: los papas, a los que se infeudó Aragón en una política característica e inusual, usaban lemniscos (cintillas para acreditar sus documentos sellados) de hilos rojos y amarillos al menos desde Gregorio VII (1073-1085), que fueron pronto familiares, como signo del señor romano, en la corte de su único vasallo en España, el rey de Aragón
    6. Si las Barras fueron emblema de Ramón Berenguer IV, lo fueron cuando ya era Príncipe y regente de Aragón y, por eso, plenamente soberano, condición que no poseía antes como mero conde de Barcelona. Para lograrlo, hubo de renunciar a su casa y apellido y reconocerse hijo de Ramiro II de Aragón. Fueran en origen suyas o de su hijo, el rey Alfonso II, lo fueron de un linaje, no de un territorio. Y ese linaje, según contrato oficial que se conserva, fue el de la Casa de Aragón, transmitido por línea de mujer y no de varón, contra lo usual en ese tiempo, pero de acuerdo con una práctica específica del Derecho aragonés: el "matrimonio en casa."
    7. Alfonso II, rey de Aragón, dio pleno fundamento soberano al emblema. Es el primero que lo cita en documentos escritos y lo llama, precisamente, vexillum nostrum: nuestro estandarte o emblema. Que se sepa, igualmente, Alfonso II de Aragón fue el primer soberano del conjunto de territorios que ya empezaba a conocerse como "Cathalonia."
    8. Las Barras – en escudo o bandera – fueron luego emblema no ya sólo de un linaje, sino de la dignidad real de Aragón y de la Corona (conjunto de soberanías) aneja en exclusiva a la dignidad de rey de Aragón (u ocasionalmente, de Mallorca, también de la Casa de Aragón).
      Únicamente quien la ostentase estaba legitimado para usarlas.
    9. La Bandera y el Escudo de la Comunidad Autónoma de Aragón asumen la tradición histórica en la forma prevista por las leyes, sm que se hayan producido soluciones de continuidad, incluso cuando Aragón dejó en el siglo XIX, al igual que otros antiguos países españoles, de tener entidad política.
    10. Los territorios que formaron la Corona de Aragón tienen pleno derecho histórico al uso de las Barras, distintivo inicial de sus comunes soberanos.
    In any event, the text does not supply any evidence to demonstrate that the bars were used by the Aragonese kings before the merger of Aragon with the County of Barcelona (i.e. Catalonia) in 1137. But perhaps a more in-depth analysis of the subject is still necessary.

    Santiago Dotor, 26 Jul 2000

    The four red stripes flag has represented neither Catalonia nor the Count of Barcelona before the end of the 19th century when the Catalan nationalist movement started. The statement of [Ramon] Berenguer IV – after the union with Doña Petronila – being the originator of this flag in the Kingdom of Aragon is a totally intentional lie that has no historical basis. (...) There is one thing that cannot be manipulated (...) by politicians and that is cartography. I encourage anybody to bring out a map from the early 18th century where Catalonia and the Count of Barcelona are represented by the four stripes flag. Instead you will find the original Catalan flag, which is composed by a red cross on a white background.

    The four stripes flag was and has been the symbol of the Kingdom of Aragon and only after the union between Ramon Berenguer and Petronila was the Count of Barcelona allowed to use the four stripes as the background of [rather "in combination with"?] the red cross – which nowadays [actually 1984-1996] represents the flag of the city of Barcelona.

    Luis Ferrer, translation by Enrique Lizondo, 04 Sep 2000

    I believe that the Aragonese origin of the bars is true. The real origin of the bars was not the red fingers over the shield, it is just a legend. I think that Aragon adopted the red bars with yellow background as their proper flag in order to remark the condition of vassal of the Pope, because official documents sent by the Pope used these colours. This explicit way of direct subjection to the Pope, intended to avoid any subjection to Navarre.

    Santiago Tazón, 04 Sep 2000

    [According to Luis Ferrer's comment, Catalonia] adopted the four bars when the Queen of Aragon – [at that time] a poor mountainous region with no economical or political valour – married the powerful Count of Barcelona (...). But then why are the red bars pictured in several burials of Catalan counts, before that? [As refers to cartography] in 18th century Catalonia was under occupation of French-Castilian forces. Its symbols were forbidden. But you can find dozens before 18th century. (...)

    Jaume Ollé, 04 Sep 2000

    I suggest reading this webpage [in Aragonese and Spanish] with the true story about the flag of Aragon or Siñal Reyal [royal flag].

    Chuse Fernández, translated by Santiago Dotor, 03 May 2001

    Legendary Origin

    An illuminated manuscript is said to repose in the Biblioteca Nacional at Madrid. It is reputed to have been writen by an unmamed Franciscian friar (born in 1305) around 1350. It was edited by the Spanish scholar Marcos Jiménez de la España around 1877 with the aid of Francisco Coello, the eminent geographer. It was published in English, along with the flags by the Hakluyt Society before World War I. National Geographic 1917 quotes it thus:

    There is a picturesque legend concerning the adoption of this device. Far back in history, a heiress of Aragón married the Count of Barcelona, and the gold shield of the latter was adopted by the kingdom. After a battle, however, Ramón Berenguer, Count of Barcelona, wiped his bloody fingers down the shield and thereafter it became "or with five pales gules" – gold with five red stripes.
    The Flag Bulletin XVIII:5, September-October 1979, shows 16th century flags of Aragón with the number of stripes varying from 3 to 8.

    William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 15 Dec 1995

    The stripes of gules (red) on gold are not five, as National Geographic 1917 said, but four.

    Jordi Pastalle, Dec 1995

    I believe National Geographic 1917 was in error. The gentleman who proudly wiped his blood across the yellow board was Guifré el Pilos, or in English, Wilfred the Hairy. He is considered in many ways the founder of Catalonia (or at least uniter of the provinces under one name) and also happens to be an ancestor of mine.

    Chad Nielsen, 20 Jul 1998

    According to legend, the vertical red pallets on the Catalan-Aragonese coat-of-arms are the marks left by Charles the Bald's fingers on his ally Wilfred (first Count of Barcelona)'s gold coloured shield, after the first dipped them in a lethal wound in Wilfred's chest.

    Santiago Dotor, 18 Nov 1998

    Aragon (Aragón), Late 14th Century

    As Shown In 2005 Illustrated Transcription [f0f05]
    [Aragón in the Book of All Kingdoms (Spain, Late 14th Century)]
    image by Eugene Ipavec, 08 Apr 2009
    As Shown In Siegels Flag Chart [sig12]
    [Aragón in the Book of All Kingdoms (Spain, Late 14th Century)]
    image by Eugene Ipavec, 08 Apr 2009

    The 24th flag mentioned and illustrated in the illustrated transcription of the Book of All Kingdoms [f0fXX] is attributed to Aragón (usual Spanish form of Aragon). This is depicted in the 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription [f0f05] as a vertically striped yellow and red flag, with five red stripes alternating with five yellow stripes, the latter slightly narrower, the flag shown in the ogival default shape of this source.

    The anonymous author of [f0fXX] describes the flag thusly:

    «E el rey dende á por señales nueve bastones amarillos e bermejos atales.»
    "And its king has for sign nine bars, yellow and red, like these."

    Considering the history of the Aragonese-Catalan flag, this depiction is unexpected on two acounts: the stripes orientation being parallel to the pole, and the even number of stripes. Furthermore, the text mentions nine stripes, surely the usual "quatre barres" (four bars) on yellow (legendary four blood-soaked fingers on gold).

    António Martins-Tuválkin, 15 Nov 2007

    A yellow ogival pennant with four red bars.

    Source: Siegels Flag Chart [sig12], flagchart 17, row 2, column 3; based on "Conocimiento de todos los reinos" [f0fXX]

    Klaus-Michael Schneider, 07 Nov 2008