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Five-pointed Stars on Flags

Last modified: 2013-12-21 by rob raeside
Keywords: star |
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When was a 5-pointed star first used in a flag?
Rudnei Cunha, 16 July 2010

This very much depends upon what you mean by "a flag"? A five-pointed star is not entirely unknown in heraldry (although six points is far more common), so there could be a heraldic flag (banner, pennon, gonfalon etc) dating from as early as the 13th Century, however, the first national flag in its modern sense is generally considered to have been the Stars and Stripes. And the Stars and Stripes (dating from 1777) is, also as far as I know, the first national flag to show such a star?
Christopher Southworth, 16 July 2010

It is almost certain that some banners used during the Wars of the Roses (mid-15th century) contained 5-pointed stars, especially those used by the troops of the Earl of Oxford, whose arms featured a 5-pointed star (Quarterly gules and or, in the first a 5-pointed star argent). Legend has it that the Battle of Barnet (1471) was lost because allies of Oxford's men turned on them after seeing the starred banner in the mist and mistaking it for the sun-in-splendour banner of enemy forces.
James Dignan, 17 July 2010

I think it is safe to say that the S&S has inspired many others to use five pointed stars. According to a myth I've read about sometimes, it was Betsy Ross who came up with the idea of making the stars five-pointed, while the people deciding on the flag first wanted them to be six- pointed. She demonstrated to them how a five-pointed star was easier to make by folding and cutting fabric.

According to Ottfried Neubecker: Heraldik, Liber Förlag, Stockholm 1982, p. 142 (translated from German to Swedish by Per Nordenvall), five-pointed stars are preferred in heraldry in southern Europe and six-pointed stars are preferred in heraldry in central Europe.

At least in Swedish heraldry, I know for a fact that stars are six-pointed by default if not specified otherwise in a blazon (though I have no source for this information at hand at the moment).
Elias Granqvist, 17 July 2010

Quoting Whitney Smith (1975) ("Flags Through the Ages and Across the World"), pp. 194-195:
"In 1795, however, the star (particularly the five-pointed variety which Americans soon made their standard form) was extremely rare: the city flag of Norden, Germany, the cantonal banner of Valais, Switzerland, and a few military colors were virtually the only examples of its usage in the world."

FOTW  reports different old flags of Norden, but all with six-pointed stars: de-ni_no.html

Regarding Valais, FOTW does not say explicitly that the old flags had five-pointed stars.
Ivan Sache, 17 July 2010

If military colours should be included, one could probably mention the colours of the military regiments in Västergötland in Sweden, of which at least some used colours with the arms of the province on them from the 17th Century onwards (the arms can be seen as a banner of arms here), see Theodor Jakobsson: "Svenska fanor och standar, en orientering genom tiderna" published in Meddelanden från Riksheraldikerämbetet X, 1941-1945, Malmö 1945, p. 36, and "Folke Wernstedt: "Svenska standar och fanor 1654-1686, en typologisk undersökning jämte historiker regementsvis samt register", published in the same book, pp. 244ff. Even if the arms of this province has changed slightly over the centuries, it has usually has had the two stars accompanying the lion, even if the stars sometimes has been depicted with holes in them as if they were mullets, see Ivar Snell: "De svenska landskapens vapen under 1500-talet", published in Meddelanden från Riksheraldikerämbetet IX, 1940, Malmö 1945, p. 19. This is certainly not the earliest use of stars in flags, but it is still pretty old.
Elias Granqvist, 17 July 2010

When did the Ottomans start using a five pointed star? Our site doesn't seem to have any absolute date; it seems that 7 and 5 points were both used. If five points were used as far back as 1453, that might be the oldest.
Dean McGee, 20 July 2010