The Oriflamme
From Mathew Paris
circa 1250

Alexander Nisbet, in the extract quoted in the article on the fleur-de-lis, described the blue banner of France fleuretté Or (semé of fleurs de lis Or) as the Oriflamme. This was an error.

The earliest records show that French armies fought under the plain blue flag of St Martin de Tours, the Chape de St Martin. The original of this flag was in the safe keeping of the Abbey of Marmoutiers where it was believed to be half of the blue cloak the Saint divided with the homeless beggar. The Counts of Anjou claimed the right to take it into battle with them. Clovis is said to have borne it to victory in 507 against Alaric II near Poitiers, and Charlemagne is recorded as flying it in battle also.

When the Kings of France transferred the seat of government to Paris, the prestige of the local Saint, St Denis, was enhanced and the scarlet flag of the Abbey Church of St Denis gradually ousted the blue flag of St Martin, and "St Denis" became the warcry of the French Kings.

The flag of St Denis, the Oriflamme (the Latin aurea, gold, and flamme) may perhaps have had originally gold streaks among its plain red cloth, but early descriptions are contradictory. The Chronique de Flandre has it red and describes it as having three points with tassels of green silk. An English description states: "The celestial auriflamb, so by the French admired, was but of one colour, a square red banner." Mathew Paris (above right) pictured it with eight points (an unusual number with no special significance, religious or otherwise).

The picture above is based on one in a window of Chartres Cathedral. The original is a plain red, but here a green fringe has been added to illustrate yet another description. Of course, in use throughout so many centuries, the material of the physical flag itself must have been replaced many times, and variations in the design and cut could not have been avoided. Philip the Fair lost it to the Flemings at Mons in 1304; St Louis lost it during the seventh crusade; the English won it at Crecy and again at Poitiers. (Its last appearance in battle, at Agincourt, was another defeat.)

As the French royal battle flag the Oriflamme was replaced by the blue Chape de St Martin now covered (powdered or semé) with golden fleurs-de-lis (the arms illustrated on the shield right) instead of the original picture of the Virgin and Child.

France Ancient
"France Ancient"
before 1376

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