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Flag Urban Legends (Spain)

Last modified: 2013-12-09 by eugene ipavec
Keywords: flag urban legend | urban legend | purple banner of castile | comuneros | commoners |
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Urban Legends about Spanish Flags

These are some of the typical 'FULs' (Flag Urban Legends, and a pun on fools) in Spain:

  • "The colours of the Spanish flag stand for the bullfighting arena's sand and the bullfighter's blood"
  • "The Spanish flag is derived from the Catalan flag"
  • "The Catalan flag is derived from the Spanish flag"
  • "The former coat-of-arms with eagle etc. does not respect the Constitution" (the 1978 Constitution does not define the coat-of-arms – actually during 1978-1981 the 1977 flag coexisted with the Constitution)
  • "The [16th century] Commoners' flag was purple"
  • "During the Carlist Wars, the liberals adopted the red-yellow-red flag, while the Carlists used the old Burgundian Cross flag"
  • "The Republican tricolour was first used during the 1873-74 Spanish Republic"
plus 90% of the "explanations" about Spanish flags given in the last edition of Dorling Kindersley 1997... But the one I like most (I think I still keep the 1980s newspaper which mentioned it) is:

Santiago Dotor, 17 Dec 1999

It is sometimes incorrectly said that senyera ultimately comes from the Spanish words sangre y oro (blood and gold) [or from Catalan sang i or]. This is wrong.

Jordi Pastalle, 1995


Legendary "Purple Banner of Castile" or "Commoners' Banner"

Pendón Morado de Castilla or Pendón de los Comuneros

[Commoners' legendary flag (Castile, Spain)]
image by Antonio Gutiérrez and Ignacio Munguía, 01 Jul 2002

The Comuneros [commoners who revolted against Charles V in the early 16th century] used a purple flag with a castle.

Jaume Ollé, 16 Dec 1996

One of the most typical Spanish flag urban legends says that "the [16th century] Commoners' flag was purple," a misunderstanding of purpure which is very dark red rather than purple.

Santiago Dotor, 17 Dec 1999

[Above] it is stated that the adscription of the purple stripe in the flag of the Second Republic 1931-1939 to earlier republican banners is incorrect and reflects a confusion with the purpure or dark red in an earlier Spanish flag. I am the author of an academic book on the Spanish civil war 1936-1939. It is widely established in the historiography of the Spanish antimonarchist and federalist traditions prior to 1931 that antimonarchist forces in the 19th century used a purple flag, known as el pendón morado. Morado is the correct Castilian word for purple.

Stephen Schwartz, 18 Jan 2001

With all due respect, I am afraid that subject has not been sufficiently researched for that book. I would suggest having a look at Símbolos de España 2000, for a complete study of the association of the purple colour with Spanish federal ideology.

According to legendary explanations, the purple banner (pendón morado, usually ...de Castilla i.e. of Castile) was used by the 15th century Commoners (Comuneros) in their revolt against King Charles I (Emperor Charles V). However, there is no evidence for this theory, and the only colour associated with the Commoners is red which they used on their surcoats in the form of red crosses, as opposed to the King's troops who used white ones. So if there had ever been a 15th Century Commoners' flag, it would have been red.

On the other hand, the traditional banner of Castile was purpure (Spanish púrpura). This is a heraldic tincture which makes reference to a very dark shade of red, sometimes depicted as a bluish or purplish red.

Anyway, the banner of Castile was the flag of the King, hence its use as an antimonarchical flag would have been somewhat stupid, in my humble opinion. So whether it was red, dark red or purplish red is irrelevant to the question.

According to Símbolos de España 1999, the association of purple with Spanish federal ideology originates in a semi-political movement which was created in the 1820s and called themselves the Commoners. They did adopt a purple flag. As time went by, people referred to the purple banner of the Commoners without realising this was a 19th century creation not a 15th century one.

Ironically enough, the royal standard manufactured for Queen Elizabeth II (of Spain)'s coronation in the early 1830's was made with a purple field, probably due to a mistaken (or chromatically exaggerated) interpretation of the heraldic tincture purpure. All previous Spanish royal standards had had a red, sometimes dark red, field. The "mistake" however perpetuated itself until 1931, when the Second Republic was proclaimed. So the new republic incorporated to the red and yellow (inherited from the colours of the arms of the constituent countries which made up Spain) the colour of the royal standard, purple.

However, the republicans' political opponents ended up identifying purple as a republican colour indeed, so the urban legend became more and more believed to be a true story (as is usually the case with urban legends!)

In any case, before 1931 the antimonarchists used the red-yellow-purple flag, not a plain purple flag. Of course, very strictly speaking, Mr. Schwartz is right in saying that "antimonarchist forces in the 19th century used a purple flag". However he ought to add "a small fraction of the" at the beginning of the sentence and the word "early" before the date...

Santiago Dotor, 19 Jan 2001

Concerning the recent postings on the Spanish colour purple I would like to support Santiago Dotor's message. I have done extensive research in Spanish flags for many years and I totally agree with Santiago Dotor that the republican meaning of the colour purple turned up in the early 19th century with the secret masonic and radical-liberal political organization Los Comuneros, who named themselves after the early 16th century Castilian noble men from free towns who fought the change of their status after accession to the throne of the "foreign" Habsburg King Charles I of Spain and Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. The uprising of those original Comuneros ended 1522 in defeat, their almost for sure red flags disappeared. The romantic history of the 19th century has given the original Comuneros an aura of revolutionary men seeking freedom from monarchic oppression and attributed them purple flags, though there is no evidence for it and even strong evidence against that colour.

When the first Republic came into being in 1873 flags with the colour purple (morado) appeared in several parts of Spain, mainly in the South and South-East, and many a ship of the Navy in Cadiz and Cartagena unofficially hoisted tricoloured flags of red, yellow and purple horizontal bands, sometimes also in red, white and purple. The first Republic however never did adopt that colour, the national flag remained yellow and red as before (only was the royal crown removed from the coats-of-arms on the flags, being re-established in 1875). There is correspondence in the Archives of the Navy Museum of Madrid about that period, where you can read that the Navy High Command ordered the captains of several men-of-war in the Navy base of Cadiz to remove the tricoloured flags!

Concerning the federalist republican flags I have documents from the early 1930's showing tricoloured flags (i.e. with purple) with a light blue triangle at the base with white stars, light blue being the federal colour of the time.

Emil Dreyer, 21 Jan 2001

There was a military regiment in the 16th century called 'Castilla' (Castile) led by the Conde-Duque of Olivares which used a purple flag; and in the Spanish Civil War there was a republican militia called 'Los Comuneros' (The Commoners) which used the purple flag with a yellow castle. It had its own anthem, called 'El Pendón Morado'.

Ignacio Munguía, 01 Jul 2002