Flags of the First Carlist War

Here is my best guess at the Flags of the first Carlist War. I have lots of descriptions of flags but relatively few pictures to work from, so unless otherwise stated all illustrations are my guess at such a flag. I also have a page specifically for wargaming flags.

I illustrations are built up from five main sources:

  • The articles of Conrad Cairns on the First Carlist War (Cairns, 1994).
  • An article, in Spanish, by Luis Sorando on the Carlist Flags during the First Carlist War (Sorando, n.d.).
  • Two Osprey books in Spanish and British flags during the Napoleonic Wars (Wise 1978, 1984).
  • A web site by “Juanvi”, La Infantería española y sus Regimientos, on the Spanish Army which includes the Coat of Arms of most Spanish regiments (Juanvi, website)
  • The Heraldry in Spain website for Coats of Arms in general.

I’m very grateful to Luis Sorando who kindly sent me his article on the Carlist Flags during the First Carlist War. Luis’s article is very comprehensive and much of this page is based on it.

Cristino flags

Colonel’s Colours (Coronela) for Line and Light Infantry

The first battalion of each regiment bore the Colonel’s colour (Coronela). This was the same as used in its center – often surrounded by orders on chains – and the Regimental arms in the corners (Sorando, n.d.; Cairns, 1994, WI85, states the Spanish arms were superimposed on the Battalion Flag but I’ve chosen to follow Sorando).

Battalion Flags (Ordenanza) for Line and Light infantry

The Battalion Flag – also called Simple or Ordinance (Ordenanza) Flag – of both line and light infantry was the old national flag, a ragged cross of Burgundy (Cairns, 1994, WI85); as with the Colonels colours this was the same as used in the Peninsular War (Wise, 1984) . It had a red cross on a white field. The Crowns in the corners where gold and red, with multi-coloured jewels. The corner ovals were surrounded by draped flags or laurel wreaths, and contained the arms of the regiment.

The illustration is based on a sketch in Cairns (1994, WI85, p29)

4th (Infante) and 20th (Borbón) Line Regiments

The 20th Line Regiment (Borbón) used the standard type of flags (Cairns, 1994, WI85). The arms of the unit were those of Bourbon, i.e. 3 yellow fleur-de-lys on blue. The illustration is the Battalion Flag of this unit.

It would appear that the 4th Line Regiment (Infante) used a very similar motif – once again 3 yellow fleur-de-lys on blue (Juanvi, website)

1st Line Regiment (El Rey)

The 1st Line Regiment (El Rey) had a special distinction; the field was purple not white (Cairns, 1994, WI85). I don’t know what the arms of the regiment were, but I assume they were based on the national arms.

National Militia – 2nd Battalion Zaragoza Regiment

Cairns (1994, WI85, p31) gives a sketch of the flag of a National Militia unit, the 2nd
Battalion Zaragoza Regiment. It follows the regulations of 1820 (Artículo 72 del Real decreto de
31 de Agosto de 1820) being red, gold, red like the modern national flag. It has a green palm and
laurel wreath, the arms of Castile and Aragon with a red escutcheon bearing a yellow lion rampant
and with a Royal crown above, and yellow letters/numbers in each corner: M (Milicia) N (Nacional)
II (Second), B (Batallón). Miguel de Barco emailed me to say the arms of Castile and Aragon are
those of the “garrison city of the militia battalion” and the escutcheon with the rampant lion is
that of the “HQ city”, meaning Zaragoza itself.

The illustration is my rendition of the sketch given in Cairns (1994, WI85, p31).

I don’t know how much of the description for the 2nd Battalion Zaragoza Regiment (Cairns, 994, WI85, p31) is specific to that particular unit and how much can be generalised to the National Militia. .

Guards Infantry

Although the flags of the Guards Infantry often differed from the flags of the Line, I don’t know how they differed. I assume they were similar to the flags used in the Peninsular War. Wise (1984) says the Coronela of the Royal Spanish Guards of that time had a purple field with embroidered golden fleurs-de-lis.

Wise (1984) describes the Ordenanza of the Royal Spanish Guards during the Peninsular War as white with a red cross of burgundy – as normal – but bearing golden crowns at the end of each arm and with the royal arms in the centre supported by two golden lions.

Provincial Infantry

Similarly the flags of the Provincial regiments also differed from those of the Line regiments. I assume that because the Provincial units were one battalion regiments, they would not use the Colonel’s colours of the regulars, but instead would use the simpler Ordenanza flag.

It is possible that these units did not follow the format of the regulars, but instead had individual and unique flags as they did during the Peninsular War. If this is the case then the “majority of them bore some form of religious emblem, such as a crucifix, the Virgin Mary, saints, etc, while many others bore just a patriotic slogan” (Wise, 1984, p. 32) such as “Para Ganar o Morir” (“To Win or Die”) or the name of the sovereign e.g. “Isabella II”.


Volunteers (eg Chapelgorris). It is likely they used the informal flags described under the Provincial Infantry.


Each Cavalry Squadron had only one standard (Sorando, n.d.). They were red with the Royal Arms on one face and those of the unit on the other. Usually it was a square, however, some light units used gonfanons, that is, standards with two ends or tails.

British Auxiliary Legion

Miguel del Barco sent some details on the flags of the British Auxiliary Legion from this book:

Canales Torres, C. (2000). La Primera Guerra Carlista 1833-1840. Spain: Medusa

Apparently the Legion fought under Spanish flags. They were very similar to the national militia being red, yellow, red with arms of Castile and Leon surrounded by a green wreath, the word “BATALLON” and its regimental number at the bottom and the text “LEGION BRITANICA” to the side.

The illustration is based on an illustration from the Medusa Ediciones book of the flag of the British Legion’s 12th battalion by Juan Carlos Carrasco Torrecilla. I’m puzzled by a couple of things in the illustration from the book: 1. the word “BATALLON” is omitted, 2. I don’t know of any 12th battalion. None-the-less I assume this design is correct for the other battalions.

British Rifles units did not have flags. Although issued with flags, British cavalry did not carry them in the field. I assume this is also true for those in the British Auxiliary Legion.

I assume the regular British forces, i.e. Royal Marines, carried the same flags as used in the Peninsular War. Wise (1978) explains that each regular British battalion carried both a Kings Colour and a Regimental Colour in the field. Both were 6 foot 6 inches flying and 6 foot on the staff (2 m x 1.85 m), making them considerably larger than the Spanish flags). The Kings colour was the Union flag with the regimental number (in Roman numerals) or badge in the centre. I have no idea what the Regimental Colours may have looked like.

Carlist Flags

Most Carlist flags were similar to the regulation flags of the army (Sorando, n.d.). There were three sources for these flags, but all looked much the same:

  • Ex-army flags. Before being issued with their own flags some Carlist units adopted ex-army flags that had been deposited in local churches.
  • Flags of the Royalist Volunteers. Many Carlist units originated from Royalist Volunteer units and just kept their flags.
  • Official Carlist flags.

Non-regulation flags could be black, white or crimson/red (Cairns, 1994-95, Sorando, n.d.); Cairns says they were normally black (in fact he says all Carlist flags were normally black, but I follow Sorando in preference). The obverse and reverse could be different colours and have different symbols. Religious symbols were common, particularly the Madonna. Motivational sayings were also common.

When Carlist garrisons wished to suggest they would fight to the death rather than surrender they flew flags adorned with a skull and cross bones over their posts; such flags were seen at Plaza de Segura, at the forts of Onda, Castellote, Aliaga, Beteta, and at Morella. Some units also used skulls and bones on their battle flags, also symbolising war without quarter; the Army of the Centre seemed particularly fond of this practice, for example, the Battalions of Tortosa and Guías de Cabrera used these symbols.

On several occasions Don Carlos granted his units the right to include orders on their flags; for example the 9th, 10th and 12th Battalions of Navarre and the Battalions of the Guides of Navarre, received the order of San Fernando on 5 January 1838.

Carlist Army of the North

Royal Standard

The Royal Banner accompanied Don Carlos throughout the war and was carried by the Navarrese Lancers (Sorando, n.d.; Cairns, 1995, WI90, mistakenly believes the Navarrese Lancers carried a different flag with a similar motif).

The Royal Banner measured 88 x 78 cms, was entirely surrounded gold fringes, had a fleur-de-lys as the top of the staff, and had different faces (Sorando, n.d.):

Obverse: Red with a wide border of geometric motifs embroidered in gold, and in its center the complete Royal Arms surrounded by the orders of Toisón and Carlos III on a chain, with a fleur-de-lys in each corner.

Reverse: White with the same border and fleur-de-lys as in the obverse, but in its center an oval with the image of the Our Lady of Affliction dressed in red tunic and blue mantle, and surrounded by a gold inscription “GENERALISIMA DEL EXERCITO DE CARLOS V” (“General Flag of the Army of Carlos V”).

Flags of the Royalist Volunteers

The Carlist army largely evolved out of the Royalist Volunteers lead by Don Carlos, and when war broke out many units still carried their old flags (Sorando, n.d.). Each Battalion of Royalist Volunteers carried a flag similar to the Colonel’s Colours of the army, i.e. white, with the Royal Arms in its center and the arms of the locality to which the Battalion belonged in the corners. The majority of surviving flags from these bodies have broken the regulations and also have an embroidered band around Royal Crown with the name of the unit, and in many cases also with an allusive phrase.

Like their infantry counter-parts the early Carlist Cavalry were ex-Royalist Volunteers, hence carried a red standard like those of the Cristino horse (Sorando, n.d.).

Royalist Volunteers of Zaragoza

Zaragoza is in Aragon, so this flag may have been adopted by the Army of the North or the Army of the Centre. The flag is typical of those of the ex-Royalist Volunteers (Sorando, n.d.). It is a regulation Colonel’s Colours with the name of the unit and an allusive phrase added, in this case “Voluntarios Realistas de Zaragoza, siempre fieles a Dios y al Rey” (“Royalist Volunteers of Zaragoza, always faithful to God and the King)

Guías de Navarra

The Guides of Navarre used Black flags with skull and cross-bones as markers, so may have used such a flag in battle (Cairns, 1995, WI90). However, there is some evidence that this unit actually used the flag of the 1st Battalion Royalist Volunteers of Navarra as their battle flag (Sorando, n.d.). The flag of the 1st Battalion Royalist Volunteers of Navarra left service long before 1833, however, it was adopted by one of the Carlist units during the First Carlist War, and there is some evidence that the unit in question was the Guías de Navarra.

Sorando’s (n.d.) description is of a conventional Colonel’s Colour: white with Royal arms and Royal Crown in centre, and in each corner a winged escutcheon of Navarre and a Royal Crown above. There is one deviation from the norm: it has an inscription on a band underneath the Royal arms. The inscription reads “VOLUNTARIOS OF NAVARRA” (“Volunteers of Navarre”) , and a little further down is “1er. Bon.”

Other Royalist Volunteers of Navarre

An identical flag to that 1st Battalion Royalist Volunteers of Navarra, but without the number of the Battalion, existed so may have been used by another one of the five Battalions that formed the Royalist Division.

Colonel’s Colours of the Navarrese Battalions

Each of the 8 Volunteer Infantry Regiments of Navarre used two flags: Colonel’s Colours and a Battalion flag (Sorando, n.d.). The Colonel’s colours were white with the Royal Shield in its center, escutcheons of Navarre in the corners and the inscription “Xº REGIMIENTO YNFANTERIA VOLUNTARIOS DE NAVARRA” (Xº Volunteer Infantry Regiment of Navarre”. in black letters distributed against the four margins of the cloth.

The flag of the 7th substituted the word “BATALLON” for “REGIMIENTO”.

Battalion Flag of the Navarrese Battalions

The Battalion or Ordenance flag of each Navarrese Regiment was white with the red cross of Burgundy with the shield of Navarre upon a laurel wreath at the crossing point, and Royal Crowns at the ends of the cross (Sorando, n.d.). It had an identical inscription to that on the Colonel’s Colours.

I assume that, as with the Colonel’s Colours, the flag of the 7th substituted the word “BATALLON” for “REGIMIENTO”.

Colonel’s Colours of a Valencian Battalion

Another conventional Colonel’s Colour (Sorando, n.d.). 135 x 132 cm, white with the Royal Arms in its center and escutcheons of Valencia in its corners. (Valencian units appeared in the Army of the North and elsewhere.)

Unknown Infantry Flag

The illustration is based on a sketch in Cairns (1995, WI90, p37). Cairns says the lettering was gold, but doesn’t mention the field colour; I have shown it as black as Cairns says this was normal, and it highlights the lettering more effectively.

Unknown Infantry Flag

Cairns (1995, WI90) also mentions an infantry flag that was “oblong and of a swallowtail shape” (p36) with a crimson field containing the Madonna in natural colours on the obverse and a gold Dios, Patria, Rey” (“God, Country, King”) on the reverse.

The illustration is my guess at such a flag, although I’m not sure about the shape so I made it square.

Carlist Army of the Centre

Sword Skull Olive Flag

Cairns (1995, WI90) and Sorando (n.d.) describe a Battalion flag the Army of the Centre: black, with a skull upon crossed bones between a sword and an olive branch, all devices being in white. Sorando suggests it belonged to Cabrera’s troops defending Morella, very possibly to the Miñones de Cabrera, whereas Cairns suggests it may have belonged to a battalion of Tortosa infantry. J. Polo from www.dixiespain.com contacted me to say that this flag was used by the Batallon del Maestrazo, which was one of Cabrera’s units; this is quite plausible as J. Polo is based in the Maestrazo and might have local knowledge. Apparently the original flag is in National Army Museum (Madrid) and a replica in Morella (Maestrazgo).

Unknown Flag

Cairns (1995, WI90) and Sorando (n.d.) contain slightly differing descriptions of what I believe is the same flag. They agree it was used by the troops of Cabrera and has the abbreviated coat of arms of Spain, plus the words “DIOS, PATRIA Y REY” (God, Country, and King”). Sorando says it has has three vertical strips, white in the centre and sky-blue on each side, the motto encircling the royal arms, and a gilded oval surrounded the lot. In contrast, Cairns states the flag is white, and has a gold laurel wreath. Sorando explains the current mistaken belief that this flag is white by the fact it is folded within its case which means the sky blue stripes are not visible to modern observers.

I have followed Sorando for the illustration, but replaced his oval with Cairns’ laurel wreath.

Unit of Colonel Urrutia, Army of Centre

This flag was used by the Unit of Colonel Urrutia in the region of the Maestrazgo (Sorando, n.d.). It is 185 x 180 cms., has a white field, and a Burgundian cross in red, yellow and blue, with crowns at the end of each branch. Above the centre of the cross is a circle containing an image of the Madonna. In the space that are between the cross and the spear appears a blue shield with a castle with a lion at its door and two letters “Y” to its sides. A border of red and blue leaves surrounds the whole flag.

Other Carlist forces

Colonel’s Colours of Volunteers of Palencia

Palenicia is in Old Castile. The description Sorando (n.d.) gives of the flag is that of a conventional Colonel’s Colour. It is 135 x 132 cm., white with the complete Royal Shield surrounded by the order of Toisón de Oro on a chain. Each corner has a small oval shield containing the arms of the city of Palencia and a Ducal Crown above.

2nd Battalion of Lerida

This flag was red, with an image of the Madonna on the obverse and on the reverse the motto “DIOS, PATRIA Y REY”; “FUEROS – PROVINCIAL DE LERIDA – 2º BATALLON” (“Dios, Country and King; Rights – Province of Lerida – 2º Battalion”). and with initials E.R. and a Royal Crown (Sorando, n.d.).

Volunteers of Roa

The men of Roa, a town in Old Castile with Carlist leanings, fought under a white flag with the abbreviated Arms of Spain in the centre and a Royal Crown above (Sorando, n.d.). These symbols were surrounded by a sky-blue embroidered inscription “POR LA RELYGION DE ESPAÑA. SU REY SALE A CAMPAÑA” (“For the Religión of Spain. Its King leaves on Campaign”). A second inscription – the word “ROA” in golden letters – appeared at the bottom on small laurel branches.

Gonfanon of the unit of Palillos

Palillos was a guerilla leader in New Castile (Sorando, n.d.). His flag was crimson, measuring 82 x 79 cms, and ended in two ends or tails. The obverse has the Royal Crown and the initials “A.L.V.D.L.M.”. The reverse had an image of Our Lady of Affliction in a box in the center and around this the inscription “CARLOS V. DEFENSOR DE LA RELIJION Y LA LEJITIMIDAD” (“Carlos V. Defender of Religion and Legitimacy”) embroidered in gold. The whole flag was surrounded by yellowish fringes, and the tassels of the tails were the same colour.

Spanish Heraldry

Heraldic devices were common on flag of the First Carlist War, so I collected what I could find about the heraldry of Spain and of the provinces that were most involved.

Arms of Spain

The coat of arms of Spain where those Carlos III introduced in In 1761 (Heraldry in Spain):

Quarterly of six (in three rows of two each):

1. per pale Aragon and Aragon-Sicily (quarterly per saltire, in chief and base Aragon and in flanks Argent, an eagle displayed sable).

2. per pale Austria (Gules, a fess argent) and Bourgogne modern (Azure, on a semis of fleurs-de-lys or a bordure compony argent and gules).

3. Farnese (Or, six fleurs-de-lis 3, 2 and 1 azure).

4. Medici (Or, six balls 1, 2, 2 and 1, the tin chief of France, the others gules)

5. Bourgogne ancient (bendy of 6 or and azure, a bordure gules).

6. Brabant (Sable, a lion rampant or)

Enté en point per pale Flanders (Or, a lion rampant sable) and Tyrol (Argent, an eagle displayed gules, crowned and bearing Klee-stengeln on the wings or).

Overall an escutcheon quarterly of Castile and Leon enté en point of Granada, overall Anjou.

Around the shield are the collars of the Golden Fleece and of the French Saint-Esprit.

Abbreviated Arms of Spain

The abbreviated coat of arms of Spain were quarterly Castile and Leon, enté en point Granada, overall Anjou (Heraldry in Spain).

Arms of Navarre

The coat of arms of Navarre consist of chains forming a rectangle with other chains extending from the center to the corners and sides. In the center of the emblem is an emerald.

Arms of Vizcaya

The coat of arms of Vizcaya contains the Tree of Gernika. Optionally it also contains two wolves, each carrying a lamb in its mouth.

Arms of Guipúzcoa

The old coat of arms of Guipúzcoa was divided into two sections: The upper section contained a king seated on a throne and twelve cannons. The lower section contained three trees and three streams of water.

Arms of Alava

The coat of arms of Alava has always contained four elements:

  • A high, craggy promontory.
  • A fortified tower on top of the promontory.
  • An arm – apparently blue – wielding an unsheathed sword.
  • A lion raking its claws toward the fortification at the foot of the tower.

Arms of Aragon

Aragon has four red stripes on a gold field.

Arms of Valencia

The Coat of Arms of Valencia seems to be that of Aragon with a differentiator of a crowned helm with a dragon crest.

Arms of Castile

Castile was represented by a gold triple towered castle upon a red field.

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