Colours of the English Civil War

As you’ve probably worked out, we don’t do a great deal of fighting over the winter. To keep our blog ticking over, we’re going to write about a range of topics including wider 17th Century history, more information about the members of our regiment and other interesting things we think you might like.

To kick this off, Simon Wright from our Regiment has written all about the colours of the English Civil War. The colours were one of the most prized possession of a regiment and were carried onto the field by the Ensign, a junior officer of the regiment.

Unlike modern regiments, or even Napoleonic ones, each company in a regiment had a colour. As a standard, regiments comprised a Colonelle’s, a Lieutenant-Colonelle’s, a Major’s, and First through to Sixth Captaine’s companies colours, a total of nine colours.

As you will guess from the image above, there are several major systems that were used to indicate companies, along with a small number of
uniquely individual ones.

To deal with the last point first, we see examples of unique systems on our battlefields in the colours carried by King’s Guard, Rupert’s Foote andTower Hamlet’s Auxilliaries regiments. Even with these, the principle that you can tell the specific company by the colour carried remains.

Kings Guard (left) and Rupert’s (right) colours.

The main system used, and the one on which Newcastle’s is based, is called
the Venn system. In a feature common to all systems, the plainer the colour the more senior the company to which it belongs. So the Colonelle’s company carries a plain colour with no decoration at all.

As our Commanding Officer Dave holds the rank of Colonelle, the colours we carry at the moment are those of a Colonelle’s company.

At this point it is worth pointing out that the size of all colours was the same, namely six foot six inches square. As the seniority of the company declined the busier the colour became. So the Lieutenant-Colonelle’s colour had a simple St. George’s cross in the top corner against the pole.

This cross was then replicated on all the remaining colours. The Major’s had a
pile wavy coming from the bottom corner of the St. George’s Cross towards the centre of the colour.

Major’s Colour

Instead of the pile wavy, the First Captaine’s colour would have a single device as its distinguishing feature, the Second Captaine’s two and so on.

The distinguishing feature could be something as simple as a ball or as we have used a cross. It might also be based on something from the Colonelle’s coat of arms, or have some other reference, such as the dog recorded by Symonds on Colonelle Talbot’s regimente’s colours at the Aldbourne Chase muster in April 1644. Whatever the device used it is replicated across all the Captaine’s colours. One thing that was frowned upon was the use of full coat of arms on colours, although there are a very few instances of this happening.

There were some variations on this theme. Instead of the Major using the pile wavy, they sometimes used the first device, which meant the First Captaine then had 2 through to the Sixth Captaine’s having seven. Another alternative was to simply add to the pile wavys, the First Captaine having two and so on.

The other main system used was called Gyronny.

Gerard’s Colour

We see examples of these on the field in Gerrard’s and Owen’s colours. The Colonelle’s, Lieutenant-Colonelle’s and Major’s colours are
same as the Venn system, but the Captaine’s are quartered diago-
nally using two different colours as per the photo above. Other Captaine’s colours further subdivide the field, but still use the same colours.

Finally, there may be a stripe based system (Houghton’s have, in the past, carried colours of this type) which was based on pre Civil War Trayned Bandes colours, but the evidence for these is less clear. As we have no specific evidence for the colours carried by Newcastle’s we base our colours on the circumstantial evidence from Marston Moor of the numbers of red colours captured (eleven with white crosses) and the Battle of Tadcaster in 1642. By using the standard Venn design we effectively have a generic set of colours which will suffice for most circumstances. The only point to consider thereafter is the number of colours captured at Marston Moor. This might imply that Newcastle’s had more than the standard nine companies, which is not impossible: Rupert’s Foote was a double regiment…

A range of Parliamentary colours showing various designs of the Venn system.

We hope you enjoyed this crash course in Civil War colours and hope to provide more interesting articles such as this over the winter.

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