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"The flags of the Belgians through history" plate

Last modified: 2010-09-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: lotharingia | lothier | burgundy | austrian netherlands | spanish netherlands | cross: burgundy | cross (red) |
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Presentation of the plate

The colour plate entitled Les drapeaux des Belges à travers l'histoire (The flags of the Belgians through history) is shown as an illustration to the article Le drapeau belge (The Belgian flag), written by Louise Starck-Claessens, President of the ADIPB (Académie pour la Défense et l'Illustration du Parler Bruxellois - Academy for the Defense and Illustration of the Brussels Language), founded in October 1989. The article was originally published in the trimonthly review issue by the ADIPB; no other details are available, while the article has been copied, sometimes without the plate, on several websites. The plate has also been reproduced on different websites without mention of the source.

Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 16 June 2008

The original plate was published in the book Deux mille ans d'histoire belge (Two thousand years of Belgian history) by Léon van der Essen, Professor of History at the University of Leuven, Éditions Universitaires, 1946. In Appendix VIII of this book there is an accompanying article which was extracted from the study by Joseph Cuvelier Le Drapeau de la Belgique (The flag of Belgium) originally published in Bulletin de l'Académie Royale de Belgique, 5e série, Vol. XII, 1927. Both articles are in French.

Ronald Milo, 30 May 2009

Description and discussion of the flags

The plate depicts ten flags, displayed and captioned as follows:
- First row: 9th-12th centuries - 13th century - 15th-18th centuries;
- Second row: 16th-18th centuries (two flags) - 1787;
- Third row: 1787-1790 - 1814-1830 - 1830;
- 1831.

9th-12th centuries ("Lotharingia")

[Flag of Lotharingia]

Alleged flag of Lotharingia - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008

A flag horizontally divided red-white-red is captioned "9th-12th centuries". The text by Louise Starck-Claessens says "We have found traces of a flag that we should consider as the first emblem to have been used on our territory, the flag of Lotharingia. It shows, according to the laws of heraldry, three horizontal stripes, red-white- red; it appeared at the end of the 9th century and disappeared at the end of the 12th century."
The "traces" of the flag are not explicited. While this flag indeed is a banner of the arms of Lower Lorraine / Lotharingia / Lothier, also used as the arms of the town of Leuven, there is no evidence that these arms were used before the early 12th century (as the arms of Godefrey, Count of Leuven and Duke of Lothier), and nothing has remained from flags or banners from that period.

[Flag of Lotharingia]

Banner of "Lotricke", as shown in the Gelre Armorial - Image by Ivan Sache, 8 November 2009

The Gelre Armorial (folio 72v, #806) shows a narrow vertical banner "Gules, a fess argent" as the banner of "Lotricke" in the Brabant/Limburg section, which seems to be the oldest representation (late 14th century) of the alleged flag of Lotharingia.

Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 26 December 2009

13th century

[Flag of Brabant]

Alleged flag of Brabant - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008

A flag horizontally divided red-white is captioned "13th century". Not specifically addressed in Louise Starck-Claessens' text, the flag might be covered by her next paragraph: "During the birth of the arms and the parcelling due to the feudal system, some principalities, like Brabant, kept it for a very restricted period."
Here again the statement is very vague and not substantiated by any historical evidence. Moreover, the Lothier banner shown above would have predated the birth of heraldry, while it is clearly a banner of arms.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008

15th-18th centuries

[Flag of Lower Countries]

Alleged flag of the Burgundian Lower Countries - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008

A white flag with a red saltire is captioned "15th-18th centuries". This is evidently a simplified depiction of the well-known Cross of Burgundy, said in Louise Starck-Claessens' text to have been "adopted by most of the provinces of the Lower Countries in the 15th century". The author claims that the Dukes of Burgundy adopted the red and white colours as a reference to Lotharingia.
Most sources say that the cross was adopted by Duke John Fearless (1371-1419) and his partisans (the Burgundian party, not necessarily the Burgundian people!), with the first confirmed use in 1411 as a livery element, to avoid confusion with the white cross used by the Armagnac party.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008

16th-18th centuries

[Flag of Low Countries]         [Flag of Low Countries]

Alleged flags of the Spanish Netherlands - Images by Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008 (left) and Klaus-Michael Schneider, 28 June 2009 (right)

A flag horizontally divided yellow-white-red is captioned "16th-18th centuries". The flag is said by Louise Starck-Claessens to have resulted from the amalgamation of the Burgundian / Austrian colours (red and white) with the Spanish colours (red and yellow) after the marriage of Duke Philip the Handsome with Joan of Castilie.
This flag would be the flag of the Spanish Netherlands.

The same flag, charged with the Cross of Burgundy in the white stripe, is also captioned "16th-18th centuries". Louise Starck-Claessens claims that the flag with the Cross of Burgundy remained in use during the Spanish rule, mostly at sea, and that "sometimes the two flags were combined by adding a small red cross on the yellow-white- red flag".

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008

[Flag of Low Countries]

Alleged flag of the Spanish Netherlands - Image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 28 June 2009

On a cigarette card album released in 1932 [neu32], Neubecker shows (p. 32, image #109) the flag of the Spanish Netherlands as horizontally divided red-white-yellow with a red Cross of Burgundy shifted to the hoist.

Klaus-Michael Schneider, 28 June 2009


A flag horizontally divided red-white-red with the Austrian arms at hoist is captioned "1787". Louise Starck-Claessens says that the yellow-white-red colours were used until the end of the reign of Emperor Josef II, who refused in 1781 to add the double-headed eagle to the flags, "since the ensign had been recognized for long by the foreign powers. On 26 March 1786, Josef II decreed that only the Austrian flag, red-white-red, should be used, inadvertently restoring our early national colours".
However, the ensign of the Austrian Netherlands (1781-1786) was indeed reported as charged with the Austrian double-headed eagle. The flag shown on the plate looks rather like the Austrian merchant ensign, 1786-1869.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008


A yellow flag with a black escutcheon charged with a yellow lion and crowned and a border made of red and black triangles is captioned "1787-1790". Louise Starck-Claessens' text does not address specifically this flag, but mention the colours used by volunteers during the Brabantine revolution, "of great diversity", but with prominence of the Brabantine colours.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008


[Flag of the Netherlands]

Flag of the Kingdom of the Netherlands - Image by António Martins, 22 April 1999

A flag horizontally divided red-white-blue is captioned "1814-1830", that is the flag of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, then ruling Belgium.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008


[First national flag of Belgium]

First national flag of Belgium - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 February 2004

A flag horizontally divided black-yellow-red is labelled "1830". This is the first Belgian national flag, hoisted at the beginning of the uprising gainst the Dutch rule. As for the aforementioned "flag of Lotharingia", Louise Starck-Claessens invokes "the laws of heraldry" prescribing horizontal stripes.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008


[National flag of Belgium]

National flag of Belgium - Image by Vincent Morley, 16 January 1998

A flag vertically divided black-yellow-red is captioned "1831". The flag is, of course, the Belgian national flag.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008


My conclusion is that the flag chart was probably designed with some nationalistic ulterior motive and to show the seniority of the Belgian colours on those of the neighbours, spreading unverified and spurious information on the "flag of Lotharingia", and conveniently ommitting the "rival" flag of France for the 1794-1814 period. The author of the text seems to have followed the same goal, as shown by her concluding statement: "And to conclude, without chauvinism, we shall state that our national colours are older than the French colours that appeared in 1789 and older than the Italian colours that appeared in 1794."

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2008