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The Order of the King "On the service of officers, cadets and masters on vessels of the Royal Navy" was signed on 31 October 1827 in the Palace of Tuileries (Paris) by King Charles X.
The Order, which prescribes in greater detail the duties of the officers, cadets and masters at sea, is composed of 18 Titles, divided in Sections and Chapters including 722 Articles. Five Regulations and a great number of Tables are appended to the Order. The Order was redacted by Count Christophe de Chabrol de Crouzol (1771-1836). Minister of the Navy (1824-1828) during the Second Restoration under Louis XVIII (1815-1824) and Charles X (1824-1830), Chabrol completely reorganized the Royal Navy; he re-established the Admiralty Council and the Maritime Prefectures, created seaman's vocational schools, and pushed shipbuilding.
The Order would serve as the template for subsequent Orders adopted during the Second Republic, the Second Empire and the Third Republic.
Title I prescribes the duties of the officers in peacetime and wartime, according to their rank:
- flag officers: Vice Admiral (vice-amiral), possibly commissioned as an Admiral (amiral), and Rear Admiral (contre-amiral);
- senior officers: Commander (capitaine de vaisseau), Captain (capitaine de frégate), Lieutenant (lieutenant de vaisseau), and Sublieutenant (enseigne de vaisseau).
Vessels are grouped in naval armies, naval squadrons and naval divisions.
Title II prescribes naval flags. The flags are not described in detail, this being left for a specific Regulation; contrastively, the Order insists on all possible precedence issues connected to rank and command.
The Order makes a distinction between pavillons (rectangular flags), flammes (long, narrow flags ending with one or two points; for instance, the masthead pennant), and guidons.
The 8th edition of the Dictionary of the French Academy defines a (naval) guidon as "a banderole shorter and broader than a flamme, forked at fly, and used as a signal". The 9th edition of the Dictionary has a shorter definition, dropping the flag's shape "A banderole shorter than a flamme." Examples are given as guidon de commandement, on a warship and guidon d'un club nautique (yacht club's burgee, whatever its use) (CNRTL).
The use of guidon for a swallow-tailed flag is supported by images provided in subsequent flag books, starting with Legras' Album (1858) [leg58], and the modern use of the term, as specified in the introduction of the Album des Pavillons (2000 edition) [pay00], contributed by Michel Lupant.
Since there are no detailed images of the flags described in the Order, I will use guidon as in the original text. Different shapes might be covered by guidon; for instance, Article 33 prescribes a guidon blanc à queue bleue (blue-tailed white guidon), probably triangular. For flamme, I will also keep the original word except when "masthead pennant" is intended - that is a flamme flown at the mainmast as an emblem of command.
The Order makes another clear distinction between flags flown on vessels (vaisseaux) and distinguishing emblems hoisted on boats (embarcations); at the time, most vessels were moored in harbors and could be accessed only by small boats. The greater diversity of positional flags is to be found on boats, also with complex rules of hoisting and furling according to rank and precedence.
Articles 1 to 24 address the flags to be flown on vessels. There is no mention of a "national flag" but only of the "Royal flag". This is not surprising since the Bourbon Restoration aimed at a the strict re-establishment of the Ancient Regime as it was before the French Revolution, the Consulate and the Empire, that is, absolute monarchy. Louis XIV is said to have silenced the Parliament of Paris that challenged his authority with L'État c'est moi on 20 March 1655. The sentence, not recorded in the acts of the Parliament, is believed by several historians to be a later, convenient invention highlighting the personalization of the Ancient Regime on the figure of the king "of divine essence".
Articles 24 to 32 address the flags to be flown on boats.
The diversity of flags to be flown on vessels was quite limited. For instance, flag officers all have the same square white flag, their rank being indicated by the mast at which the flag is flown. For senior officers, position of the flag at bow or stern, or lack of, and furling, or half-furling or unfurling, made the distinction.
Persons entitled to fly a distinguishing flag were:
- the King (Art. 10 & 24);
- the Admiral of France (Art. 11 & 25);
- the aforementioned flag officers and senior officers (Art. 12-23 & 26-30);
- Port Admirals (Art. 31).
The complet text of the Order is available in F. Chassériau. Précis historique de la marine française, son organisation et ses lois. Vol. II [Legislation]. Paris, Imprimerie Royale, 1845.
Frédéric-Victor-Charles Chassériau (1807-1881) was Historiographer of the Navy (1839-1853) and State Councillor (1857-1870). Loyal to Napoléon III, he retired from public life after the fall of the Second Empire and refused to serve the Republic. He was the senior brother of the romantic and orientalist painter Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856).
Chassériau published Précis de l'abolition de l'esclavage dans les colonies anglaises, an abolitionist manifesto.
Title II. Command flags and other distinguishing emblems.
The vessel to be boarded by the King shall fly the Royal flag at the mainmast, stern and bowsprit.
The vessel boarded by the Admiral of France shall fly at main mast a square white flag, with the arms of France, charged with two anchors crossed in saltire.
Excepted in the cases specified in next Article, the command emblem shall be, for all naval flag officers, a square white flag.
An Admiral shall fly his emblem at mainmast, a Vice Admiral at the foremast, a Rear Admiral at the mizzenmast.
Flag officers' flags (reconstruction) - Images by Ivan Sache, 5 February 2020
In any group of 15 vessels or more, the flag officers of each squadron shall be distinguished by different flags:
- The flag officers of the first squadron, or central squadron, by a square white flag;
- Those of the second squadron, or vanguard squadron, by a square white flag with a blue quarter at the upper hoist;
- Those of the third squadron, or rearguard squadron, by a square blue flag pierced by a white bomb, in diameter one fourth of the flag.
Flag officers on secondment shall leave, during the separation period, the distinguishing emblem of their squadron; they shall recover it only when rallying the armed forces.
When several flag officers of the same rank are commissioned in the same army or squadron, or when they meet whilst commanding different squadrons or divisions, each of them shall let place on his flag a number indicating his position in the order of precedence on the roll of officers of his rank.
The Commanders in Chief of an army or a squadron can, depending on the circumstances and the nature of their mission, be allowed to fly distinguishing emblems higher than those attributed to their rank.
A Head of Division or a Commander commanding several grouped vessels shall fly a white guidon at the mainmast.
When two Heads of Division meet, the senior shall keep his guidon at the mainmast, while the junior shall transfer it to the foremast.
In case of the meeting of a Head of Division with a senior Commander commanding several vessels, the Head of Division shall transfer his guidon to the foremast for the duration of the meeting; the senior officer shall fly the guidon at the mainmast.
When two Commanders not commissioned as Heads of Division, commanding one or several vessels, meet, the senior shall fly a guidon at the mainmast for the duration of the meeting, while the junior shall fly the flamme.
A Commander commanding a division, in an army or a squadron, shall fly at mainmast a guidon of the color assigned to the squadron he belongs to.
When several Heads of Division serve in the same squadron, each of them shall let place on his guidon a number indicating his position in the order of precedence on the roll of officers of his rank.
A Captain commanding several vessels shall fly at the mainmast a white guidon attached to the yardarm.
When a Captain commanding several vessels meets a senior Captain commanding one or several vessels, he shall lower his guidon while the senior Captain shall hoist his own at the mainmast.
A Lieutenant or a Second Lieutenant commanding several vessels shall fly at the foremast a white guidon attached to the yardarm.
When they meet a senior officer of their rank commanding several vessels, they shall lower their guidon for the duration of the meeting.
The senior officers and other listed in the three preceding Articles, when commanding an isolated division, shall lower their distinguishing emblem when meeting a commanding officer of a higher rank.
They shall fly again their flag only after separation from that officer.
Any King's vessel that does not fly one of the distinguishing emblems listed in the preceding Articles shall fly a white masthead pennant at the mainmast.
The flags at bow and bowsprit shall always be white.
The vessel boarded by the Commander in Chief of an army shall have three lanterns at stern and one in the maintop.
The vessel of the Commander of the second squadron shall have three lanterns at stern, and the vessel of the Commander of the third squadron, two lanterns.
All the army's vessels and the following vessels shall have only one lantern at stern.
The maintop's lantern can be replaced by a light hoisted atop the mainmast.
Vessels chartered for the King's service and commanded by naval officers shall fly a white masthead pennant at the mainmast.
In French and foreign harbors, in the absence of the King's vessels, the senior captain of the moored merchant ships shall fly a white masthead pennant at the foremast. He shall lower this flag as soon as a King's vessel enters the harbor; he might, however, keep it hoisted by permission of the officer commanding the vessel.
The boat boarded by the King shall fly the Royal flag at bow and stern.
The boat of the Admiral of France shall fly the Admiral's flag at bow and the white flag at stern.
The boats of the flag officers with command and of the Heads of Division shall fly at bow the following distinguishing emblems:
- An Admiral's boat shall fly a square white flag;
- A Vice Admiral's, a square flag charged with three stars;
- A Rear Admiral's, a square flag charged with two stars;
- A Head of Division's, his guidon;
- A Commander commanding several vessels', a white guidon attached to the yardarm.
The Commander in Chief, independently of the distinguishing emblem flown at the bow of his boat, shall fly an unfurled white flag at stern.
The distinguishing emblems of the boats of flag officers and heads of division shall be similar to those of the squadron they belong to. When the flags and guidons are white, stars shall be blue, and when flags are blue, stars shall be white.
When several flag officers of the same rank or several heads of division are subordinated in the same squadron, a number placed on the flag or guidon of their boat shall indicate their respective seniority.
A Commander commanding a single vessel shall fly an unfurled white flag at his boat's stern.
A Captain with command shall fly this flag half-furled.
A Lieutenant with command shall fly this flag furled.
Moreover, the boats of these officers shall fly a white flamme at bow.
A white flamme shall also be flown by any boat belonging to a war vessel when the boat does not fly any other distinguishing emblem at bow.
Any flag officer commanding on harbor and whose authority does not extend to the port shall let his flag furled when entering the port.
In the kingdom's military ports, the flagship shall fly a square white flag at the mainmast.
The Port Admiral shall fly at his boat's bow the distinguishing emblem of his office, and, at stern, a white flag charged with a yellow fleur-de-lis in each corner.
The flag officers heads of service and employed in the port shall fly at their boat's bow the distinguishing emblem of their rank and no flag at stern.
The senior officers heads of service in ports, or commissioned by the Port Admiral, shall fly at their boat's stern a white flag charged with a yellow fleur-de-lis in each corner.
All the boats attached to the port's service, excepted those boarded by flag officers, shall fly at bow a white flamme charged with a yellow fleur-de-lis.
These prescriptions shall be applied to the officers of the administration, of maritime engineering, and of health service, employed in chief in an army, a squadron or a naval division.
The command emblems shall be flown on boats only when officers allowed to fly them are boarded.
Stationed vessels placed under the orders of the port's Commander in Chief shall fly at the foremast a white guidon with a blue tail.
The merchant ships shall fly a white flag at stern.
The captains might hoist, moreover, the identification emblems they consider appropriate, but they should use these emblems only after having notified the Bureau de l'Instruction Maritime and provided these emblems are mentioned on the ship's muster roll.
When the captain of a merchant ship flies the flag at stern, he shall fly at the same time the registration flag.
Captains of merchant ships are forbidden to fly a white flag at stern.
A regulation shall determine the color, dimensions and placement of numbers, as well as the dimension and placement of stars and fleurs-de-lis to be added on flags and guidons as prescribed in this Title.
Title XVIII prescribes honors to be rendered to the King, the Admiral de France and general officers in the least details (Articles 673 to 722).
When the King arrives on harbor, the war vessels at mooring shall be dressed up and they full artillery shall fire three salutes as soon as the Royal flag is spotted.
As soon as His Majesty boards, the Royal flag shall be hoisted atop the mainmast, at stern and bowsprit. It shall be cheered by the crew with seven "Vive le roi !" and the other vessels shall cheer it the same way.
A company of cadets of the Navy, guards of the flag, shall be at the service of His Majesty.
[...] When the Admiral of France boards a vessel [...], his flag shall be hoisted atop the mainmast and cheered by the crew with five "Vive le roi !". The other vessels shall cheer it the same way.
The cadets of the Navy, guards of the flag, shall be at the service of the Admiral of France.<.P>
[...] When an Admiral shall let hoist his command flag for the first time, the flag shall be cheered by four "Vive le roi !" by all the vessels on harbor.
[...] When the [Vice Admiral's] flag is hoisted for the first time, it shall be cheered by three "Vive le roi !" by all the vessels on harbor.
[...] The Rear Admiral's flag shall be cheered by two "Vive le roi !".
The salute paid by a Head a Division commander in chief to the flag of a flag officer shall be rendered by a four-gun salute.
It shall be paid a three-gun salute to the captain of any King's vessel flying a flamme that would have saluted the distinguishing emblem of a general officer or a head of division.
[...] The merchant ships that meet a King's vessel shall sail at its stern and leeward. They shall hoist their distinguishing emblem and salute with the flag.
When an Admiral die on harbor or at sea, the vessel he boarded shall fire a gun salute every hour. The stern flag shall be furled and the command flag half-staffed, from the time of death to the funeral.
When an officer commanding a King's vessel dies [...], the day of the funeral, the stern flag shall be furled and the flamme half-staffed, from the sunrise to the end of the ceremony.
At sea, the vessel's flag shall be furled and the flamme half-hoisted only during the ceremony.
Ivan Sache, 5 February 2020
The album Pavillons des puissances maritimes, released between 1815 and 1830, shows the following French naval flags (pavillons):
- Royal ensign: a white flag, semy of 43 yellow fleurs-de-lis, the royal arms (shield, crown, two collars of knighthood, angel supporters);
- French ensign: a plain white flag;
- Pennant: a plain white streamer;
- Naval flag for ships on which the Dauphin and his spouse are embarked: a white flag, semy of 24 yellow fleurs-de-lis, the Dauphin arms (Quarterly France and Dauphiné) over all with the Dauphin's crown, one collar of knighthood, two anchors crossed behind the shield. The anchors seem to be steel-coloured with yellow stocks;
- Naval flag for ships on which Princes of the Royal House are embarked: a white flag, semy of 50 yellow fleurs-de-lis. The pattern of the fleurs-de-lis is exactly like the stars on the present American flag.
Jan Mertens, 22 June 2003
The plain white flag became the national ensign in 1814. In 1817, merchants had the right to add a distinguishing mark to the plain ensign.
[Hervé Pinoteau. Le chaos français et ses signes. Étude sur la symbolique de l'État français depuis la Révolution de 1789. Loudun, PSR, 1998]
Corentin Chamboredon, 28 April 2017
The book The Artful Roux: marine painters of Marseille by Philip Chadwick Foster Smith (Salem MA, Peabody Museum, 1978) illustrates paintings by Ange-Joseph Antoine Roux (1765-1835) of the following during the Restuaration:
- Le Pierre, ketch (locally, a bombarde), dated 1816, flying a white ensign at the mizzen head and a white flag at the main;
- La Briséis, corvette (i.e. a naval vessel), dated 1818, flying a white ensign at the mizzen stays, a pennant at the main mast head and a flag at the foremast head (both probably white, but it is a b&w reproduction).
A painting by his younger brother Mathieu Antoine Roux (1799-1872) of La Fanny, bark, dated 1832 shows it flying a tricolour at the mizzen stays, a name flag at the mizzen head, the red and white striped swallowtailed registration flag at the main, and a Marseille flag, white with blue cross, at the foremast.
One by another brother, François Joseph Frédéric Roux (1805-70) of Le Napoléon, bark, dated 1838, also shows her flying a tricolour flag.
The same artist also illustrated an album of the ships in which Admiral Jean-Baptiste Willaumez (1763-1845) had served in a long career (Jacques Vichot,(Ed.). L'Album de l'amiral Willaumez (Paris, Association des amis du Musée de la Marine, 1973). Most are Napoleonic, and so pre-1815, but it also includes a picture of the frigate L'Épreuve, 60, in 1817, flying a white ensign with a second white flag at the foremast, and one of the cutter Le Mâteur, 18, in 1825, flying what looks like a white ensign (but it is depicted in a calm, so it is difficult to be certain).
So from these sources it would seem to be a reversal to white flags until 1830, then back to the tricolour.
Ian Sumner & Dominique Cureau, 28 April 2017