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War Ensign 1785-1931 (Spain)

Also State and War Flag 1843-1931, also used as Jack

Last modified: 2015-07-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: ensign: war | stripes: 3 (red-yellow) | coat of arms: oval | coat of arms: per pale (castle: yellow) | coat of arms: per pale (lion: red) |
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[War Ensign 1785-1931, also State and War Flag 1843-1931, also used as Jack (Spain)]

2:3 up to 1:3
stripes 1+2+1
image by Luis Miguel Arias

See also:


This flag was red-yellow-red [stripes 1:2:1] with arms in the first third of the yellow stripe. The arms are crowned, and vertically divided, left red with a tower, right white with a lion.

Željko Heimer and Nick Artimovich, 10 Apr 1996

The flag had three horizontal stripes: the yellow centre stripe was twice the width of each of the red stripes along the top and bottom of the flag, similar to the modern Spanish flag. A circle with the arms of Castile (a yellow castle) and Leon (a red lion) was set in the yellow stripe towards the hoist.

Peter Cawley, 13 Sep 1995

This flag (with varying arms) became:

  • War Ensign by Royal Decree of May 25th 1785;
  • Flag for Navy buildings (harbours, maritime outposts...) by the General Navy Regulations 1793;
  • State and War Flag and Ensign by Royal Decree of October 13th 1843.
  • State and War Flag and Ensign by Decree July 27th 1938;
  • State and War Flag and Ensign by Regulation October 11th 1945;
  • National flag 1977;
  • National flag (with the current arms) 1981.

Santiago Dotor, 26 May 1999

In 1785 King Charles III decided it was time to replace the current war ensign, white with the Spanish coat-of-arms, for a new, distinct ensign which could not easily be mistaken with those of other countries (mainly Bourbon-ruled ones as France, Parma, Tuscany or Two Sicilies but also the British white ensign). As a result there was a contest (...) Red, yellow, white and blue were preferred to other colours. (...) It is probable that cost of the material, ease of production and long distance reconnaisance capability played a role as important, if not much more, than tradition. The King chose one of them as the new war ensign, but modified its proportions slightly. (...) This basic scheme still lasts today in the Spanish national flag. Another proposal (...) was selected (...) to become the new (...) civil ensign.


  • Calvo and Grávalos 1983 [cag83]
  • Fernández Gaytán 1985 [fgy85]

Santiago Dotor, 08 Jul 1999

A Circular Order of 4th June 1920, published in the Colección Legislativa del Ejército (Army Legislative Collection) no. 241/1920, fixed the dimensions of the flags to be flown on coastal fortresses and other military and official buildings as 3.6 m × 5 m which implies 18:25. The 1920 order seems to have followed actual practice as respects to dimensions.

Luis Miguel Arias, translated by Santiago Dotor, 17 Apr 2002

Alternate Depiction

[Civil Ensign 1785-1927 variant depiction (Spain)]
image by Santiago Dotor and Klaus-Michael Schneider, 16 Mar 2010

At the Military Museum of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (which I visited on 18 February 2010), images of the 1785 flag contest are given in two plates, the first showing the final flags chosen by Carlos III, the second one the twelve proposals.

According to a source which unfortunately is not given within the explanations, the flags are shown with ratio 4:9 (the ratio of the war pennant is estimated at 1:18) and having minimal differences (e.g. crowns, width of crossbars, shades) from our versions already depicted. The war ensign is a red over yellow over red horizontal triband with stripes of equal height. The coat of arms is clearly shifted to the hoist and completely within the yellow stripe. It is an oval shield, topped by a crown and with the arms of Castile and Leon per pale.

The primary source is probably from 19th century or even earlier. The flags are depicted as flying colours. [cpe83b] obviously has another primary source, because it shows different ratios. Furthermore only the results are displayed there, without any proposal.

Klaus-Michael Schneider, 16 Mar 2010

Flag with Coat-of-Arms as reported 1899

[War Ensign 1785-1931 as reported 1899 (Spain)]
image by Eric Agoncillo

Manuel L. Quezon said the source for Eric Agoncillo's image was Znamierowski 1999 which probably means the artwork from US Department of the Navy 1899 used in the latter.

Santiago Dotor, 22 Apr 2002

Mistaken Variant with Vertical Stripes

The 1998 motion picture Zorro shows the Spanish 1785 red-yellow-red flag with vertical stripes and the arms centred on the middle stripe. This flag has never existed.

Juan Morales, 23 Jan 1999

Such a flag did not exist in that period (around 1841, according to the movie). The first Spanish vertical red-yellow-red flag was the square one established in 1878 for Ministers. It carried the arms of Castile and Leon in an oval escutcheon, royally crowned. Source: Calvo and Grávalos 1983.

Santiago Dotor, 26 Jan 1999

Spanish Flag in Canada 1789-1795

A contemporary print in Jose Cadero's Atlas para el riaje de las goletas "Sutil" y "Mexicana" ... en 1792 (in the British Columbia Provincial Archives), shows the flag flying over the Spanish Fort at Friendly Cove (Canada) as the national flag adopted by Spain in 1785. The length of the flag is about three times the width.

The 1785 flag of Spain flew on the west coast of Canada between 1789 and 1795. Spain claimed the west coast of North America by virtue of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Spanish explorations and landings on the west coast of Canada in 1592 and 1774, however, were not consolidated by any settlement. In 1789, fearful of Russian intentions to move down the coast from Alaska, and concerned by British trading activity that followed Cook's visit in 1778, Spain asserted its sovereignty in the region by establishing a fort at Friendly Cove at the entrance to Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Spain withdrew from Nootka in 1795.

Peter Cawley, 13 Sep 1995