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Crusader Cross Flags 1188

Last modified: 2015-07-04 by rob raeside
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Various sources (books) talk about a 1188 agreement (or was it a Pope decision) on the colour of the crosses in use by different countries for the Crusades. Known are the Green cross for Flanders, the Red for France, the White [on red] for England, and a saltire for Gascony. It is said (in François Velde's heraldry site) that France and England exchanged their colours ca. 1400. Has anyone ever had access to the full source of this agreement, and/or to additional details (we have some of the colours but nothing about the backgrounds).
Joan-Francés Blanc
, 1 March 1999

...and a white cross on black for Brittany and yellow cross on white for Italy.
Pier Paolo Lugli
, 1 March 1999

According to Prof. J. Prawer, A history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Hebrew, 3rd edition, vol. II, pp. 17-18):

On January 1188 there was a meeting between Henry II and Phillip II under an old tree at Gisors on the border between France and Normandy. The meeting was attended also by Phillip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders. The two rivals agreed to stop the wars between them and swear to "take the cross" (i.e. to go in a crusade). They also agreed to establish symbols to the different corps: white cross for the Plantagenet corps of Henry II, a red cross for the Capetian corps of Phillip II, and a green cross for the Flemish.

Dov Gutterman, 1 March 1999

The Kingdom of Jerusalem had a variant of the yellow cross on a white background. Nonetheless it is yet to clear what relationship existed between these cross flags. I am not an expert of ancient standards and banners, still at the time of crusades the current idea of national identity was just at the very beginning. The different armies were such because [they were] ruled by diverse lords, not because they belonged to different peoples (which they were not as a matter of fact). The decision to put a cross over the garments as a token to freely move in the countries under Byzantium control was imposed by the Emperor, and this is clear. If they determined to distinguish the armies by means of colours to highlight nations or Lords it is to clear, yet. I also understand that Brittany and Italy received their colours later. The cross over the garments did not protect the Emperor though as he was invaded anyway...
Pier Paolo Lugli
, 2 March 1999

Wheeler-Holohan 1939 discusses the flags of the three principal crusading orders:

That of the Knights Hospitaliers was a silver cross on a black field. The Templars carried before them into battle a banner black over white horizontally which they called Beauséant, "because they were fair and favorable to the friends of Christ but black and terrible to His enemies". The Teutonic Knights bore the black cross pattée on a white field which survives in the Iron Cross.

John S. Ayer, 2 March 1999

Actually, the crosses described above would only have been used in the 3rd Crusade (1189-1192 AD) also known as the Crusade of Kings. The black cross on a white field would have also been used by the Germans, and eventually would become the main charge of the Order of Teutonic Knights. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the royal banner would be the heraldically improper cant of Argent, a cross potent, four crosslets simple quarterly Or.

The flag of the Knights Templar was known as Le Bauceant, and was a black over white [flag]. It was not always evenly divided (sometimes the black was only the upper third instead of the upper half) and was not always square, but sometimes rectangular with the long side on the hoist.

The flag of the Knights Hospitallers was a red field with a white cross formee, and invariably had five red tails with rounded points.
Fitzhugh MacCrae
, 9 August 2000

I have found no source of those flags or banners. I found that on the third crusade Frederic II bore a yellow cross on white, but he wasn't Italian or is he described as such because he was the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire?

Dov Gutterman mentions correctly, what Prof. J. Prawer wrote about the meeting of 1188. I found the original text or something which I believe is a translation of the original. They decided to have different crosses "to keep each bunch together", but they did not tell about flags and what colour cloth of the flags have. So possibly the rumour that France and England changed the colours in around 1400 is maybe only a guess - that's my opinion of the situation, as England never had a red cloth in the 12th and 13th century.

Further I could not find any proof that the five yellow crosses of Geoffrey of Bouillon were really his coat of arms. Pictures showing him with coat of arms date 15th century, not earlier.

Ralf Stelter, 2 September 2005

While of German and Norman ancestry, Frederick was born in Sicily, and crowned king there when 3 years old. He was also King of Italy, Germany, Burgundy, and Jerusalem. His tomb is in Palermo, Sicily.

Regarding the question of 5 yellow crosses being the coat of arms of Geoffrey of Bouillon, the arms of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem were 5 yellow crosses on a white background, which he would have been entitled to. This coat of arms is unique in that yellow and white (gold and silver) were used adjacent to each other, which was generally not allowed.
Hal Nelson, 19 February 2010


[Crusader Cross Flag (Flanders)] image by Ivan Sache

Green cross on white field, used by the Flemish, without any known lineage. Following Smith 1975, a square banner with cross width being 1/5th of the banner height.
Ivan Sache
, 9 August 2000

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[Crusader Cross Flag (France)] image by Ivan Sache

Red cross on white field, used by the French, later reversed, and later replaced by a white cross on blue field. Following Smith 1975, a square banner with cross width being 1/5th of the banner height.
Ivan Sache
, 9 August 2000


[Crusader Cross Flag (England)] image by Ivan Sache

White cross on red field, used by the English, later reversed to form the current St. George's cross. Following Smith 1975, a square banner with cross width being 1/5th of the banner height.
Ivan Sache
, 9 August 2000


[Crusader Cross Flag (Brittany)] image by Ivan Sache

Black cross on white field (Kroazh Du), used by the Bretons. Following Smith 1975, a square banner with cross width being 1/5th of the banner height.
Ivan Sache
, 9 August 2000


[Crusader Cross Flag (Italy)] image by Ivan Sache

Yellow cross on white field. Following Smith 1975, a square banner with cross width being 1/5th of the banner height.
Ivan Sache
, 9 August 2000