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United Kingdom: Cinque Ports

Last modified: 2021-11-05 by rob raeside
Keywords: cinque ports | dimidiated |
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[Cinque Ports] by Martin Grieve, 8 July 2006

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About the flag

The sailors of the Cinque Ports were granted "special privelages" by the Crown in return for their steadfast duty to England, and their banner was "dimidiated" - A heraldic term for a charge that is divided along its vertical meridian. These "special privelages" entitled the men who fought to basically do what they wanted - they did not pay tax, and were (legally) entitled to take possession of any flotsam or plunder any captured enemy vessel.
Martin Grieve, 8 July 2006

Community flag of the Cinque Ports

[Cinque Ports] image by Jason Saber, 31 May 2017


The flag of the Cinque Ports Authority is one of the most ancient in England. It comprising the forequarters of three golden lions on red joined by the early heraldic process of dimidiation to the stern sections of three gold ships on blue. Thus combining the 13th century arms of the English Kings with an image of ships, designed to symbolize the Ports’ Royal patronage and “ship service”.

The arms can only lawfully be displayed by the duly constituted local authorities for the Cinque Port towns and the Confederation, as their representative body. However the Confederation wished to offer an option to demonstrate such affinity or interest which anyone would be free to display.

The community flag design maintains the traditional banner as a basis, thus keeping a direct and clear link between the community and authority. However the design removed the dimidiated lions to just use the full golden ships on blue to symbolize the Ports’ maritime traditions and “ship service”, without trespassing upon their Royal associations by including the “lions of England”.

The application to the Flag Institute was authorised by the Standing Joint Committee, the governing body of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports, which is the officially recognised organisation representing all 14 surviving member towns/ports.
Jason Saber, 31 May 2017

Warden of the Cinque Ports

[Warden of the Cinque Ports] by Steve Stringfellow, 20 April 1998
Image based on Flaggenbuch

Here is some information on this flag from Geoffrey Williams, The Heraldry of the Cinque Ports, Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1971.

The Lord Warden has the right to fly his own personal standard, but when such a flag originated is not known. Lord Curzon records that Prime Minister William Pitt reviewed a fleet of vessels from the Cinque Ports in 1803 and that the warden's flag was saluted by the boats anchored in line opposite Walmer Castle. No earlier reference to the flag occurs than this.

Two examples of the flag exist, one of them in the council chamber of New Romney town hall. The banner in present use (plate, p135) is in the care of the registrar and solicitor to the Ports, at Dover. It measures 14ft 4in by 7ft 8in and is best described as:
(i) Azure; three castles, 2 and 1, or;
(ii) Gules; to the dexter a rectangle Or containing an anchor upon its side, flukes to the sinister surmounted by a peer's coronet; to the sinister three demi-lions passant guardant conjoined to as many ships' hulls, or;
(iii) Per pale Or and gules; to the dexter a three-masted vessel, square rigged, sailing to the dexter, gules; to the sinister three lions passant guardant conjoined to as many ships' hulls, or;
(iv) Azure; a castle or.
When Mr. W. H. Smith was Warden in 1891, he chose to exercise his right to fly the flags when sailing his yacht Pandora. Unfamiliarity with such an ensign led to confusion among local boatmen; so much so that quite a altercation occurred on one occasion when the vessel nearly ran down a small craft which was attempting to come alongside while Pandora was under way, thinking that the strange flag was a request for a pilot.

Because of the reduced frequency with which recent wardens have needed to visit the Ports, the flag is seldom seen nowadays. During the term of office of Sir Winston Churchill, the flag was displayed only on the occasions of his installation and of his visit to Dover to receive the freedom of the town. During Sir Winston's funeral procession in January 1965, a replica of the Cinque Ports' banner preceded the coffin, and when the Port of London Authority launch Havengore bore his body from Tower Pier to Waterloo, the flag of the lord warden was flown from the vessel's jackstaff.

When Sir Robert Menzies is in residence at Walmer Castle the warden's flag is flown at the masthead. On his visits to members of the Confederation a pennon in the form of a miniature warden's banner is borne by his car.
There is also, as you'll note if you read the above part about the funeral, a banner for the ports themselves. It is essentially an armorial banner with the three demi-lions co-joined to as many ships' hulls.
Steve Stringfellow, 20 April 1998

Norie and Hobbs (1848) show this flag with the lower hoist quarter structured like the upper fly quarter: Red with a yellow field with, in this case, a ship. 
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 November 2001

The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is an honorary office. The position is held by the Queen Mother who was appointed in 1978; previous recent Wardens were Sir Winston Churchill, 1941 to 1965, and former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies 1965 to 1978. The original Cinque Ports were Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Hastings. Rye and Winchelsea were added later. They were granted certain privileges in exchange for naval assistance to the King. Origins were pre-Norman possibly Roman, in what was known as the Defence of the Saxon Shore.
David Prothero, 16 November 2001

[Warden of the Cinque Ports] by Martin Grieve, 4 March 2008

Based on Admiralty flag book of 1889.

The coronet in the flag of the Warden of the Cinque Ports is (?) changed, if necessary, to reflect the rank of the incumbent Lord Warden; still vacant I believe. In 1908 the Warden's flag in the Admiralty Flag Book was amended, a Baron's coronet replacing the Prince of Wales' coronet, when Lord Brassey replaced the Prince of Wales as Lord Warden.
National Archives (PRO) ADM 116/1072.
David Prothero, 20 July 2004

Sir Winston Churchill held the post at one time. Sir Winston's ducal connections were, of course, impeccable, but as a knight did the flag under his Wardenship carry the appropriate heraldic helmet instead of a coronet or crown?
Christopher Southworth, 20 July 2004

It seems that even before 1941 when Churchill became Lord Warden, the coronet had been made non-specific. In the 1939 edition of FOTW Wheeler-Holohan, describing the flag wrote, "... ensigned with a peer's coronet, complete with its scarlet cap and tassel but the exact rank of the Peer, whether Baron, Marquess, Viscount, Earl or Duke is not clearly indicated!"
David Prothero, 21 July 2004

The web site of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports confirms the position is still vacant: "From 1979 until her death in 2002, the office was held by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
A successor will be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, and is expected to be installed, with full pageantry, at a special meeting of the Grand Court of Shepway, to be held in Dover. Further information will be posted on this website as soon as it is available."

It also contains some useful information in the heraldry section, concerning the flying of the Lord Warden's flag when this position was held by Sir Winston Churchill and the flying of the flag at the Coronation of the present Queen of England.
Colin Dobson, 23 July 2004

Admiral the Lord Boyce, former Chief of the Defence Staff, was appointed 29 July 2004, after, according to a newspaper report, the 14 mayors of the Channel port towns threatened to march in full regalia on the office of John Prescott (Deputy Prime Minister). Details of appointment at

Confirmation that at one time the coronet in the flag of the Warden of the Cinque Ports was changed to reflect the rank of the incumbent Lord Warden can be found in correspondence between the Registrar of the Cinque Ports, the Home Office and the Admiralty in the early 1900s.

23 November 1905. Wollaston Knocker, Registrar of the Cinque Ports and Town Clerk of Dover to Home Office. Prince of Wales' coronet should be substituted for the earl's coronet. This was repeated in a letter of 30 June 1906, "Yellow badge on the 2nd quarter should bear, above the anchor, the Prince of Wales' coronet." In August 1908 the Home Office wrote to the Admiralty that a baron's coronet should be substituted for Prince of Wales' coronet. It was also pointed out that in the flag "the sinister half of 2nd and 3rd quarters has a field of plain gules (red). In the arms it is patty per pale, gules and azure" (divided vertically red/blue).
National Archives (PRO) HO 45/10461/B24724.
David Prothero, 5 August 2004

Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (Admiral Boyce)

[Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (Admiral Boyce)] by Martin Grieve, 8 July 2006

Admiral Michael Boyce, the Baron Boyce, is the current incumbent. (
James Dignan, 4 March 2008

When Mike Boyce was appointed Lord Warden I asked him if he wanted to revert to the old version or retain the Queen Mother's version with appropriate changes. He decided to keep the Queen Mother's and so I designed a new badge to replace the Royal Cypher. The badge is based on Admiral Lord Boyce's coat-of-arms of three dolphins joined by nose rings, ensigned by a naval crown. This is what was adopted and flew over Dover Castle at his investiture, and on the warship that he was aboard at the Trafalgar 200 fleet review.
Graham Bartram, 6 March 2008