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Austro-Hungarian Empire: The Habsburg Empire until 1749

Last modified: 2013-07-27 by rob raeside
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This part of the report concerns ensigns on Austrian (Hapsburg) ships before 1786. This report is heavily based on my paper prepared for the XXI ICV in Buenos Aires, 2005 [Heimer, 2005]. It is to be noted that these flags were not regulated with any precision of the design that we may think of for flags today, so mostly only the general pattern was followed (even when they were regulated more precisely). Also, the ensign was the responsibility of the ship's captain and he was ordering it from a flag maker - both the captain and maker took great liberty in interpreting the design.
Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

See also:

Ensign, 17th century

[17th Century ensign] image by Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

In 1527 at the Cetingrad assembly the Croatian nobility elected the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Hapsburg as the Croatian king after the death of the last Croato-Hungarian king Ludwig (Ljudevit) II Jagello. The Austrian dynasty thus gained an exit towards the Adriatic with at least two larger harbours - Rijeka and Senj. However, like the Hungarian kings before, they had at first very little interest in the sea, and it was only in the time of Emperor Carl VI (1685-1740) that the first Austrian ships were built. [Novak, 2004b]

The basis of the European and international maritime laws until today that determines that each war ship should fly a flag, a pennant and an admiral's standard if he is on board is the so called Ordonnance (or the See-Artikel) that Emperor Maximilian I signed in Brügge on 8th January 1487 [Lehnert, 1886; Baumgartner, 1977]. However, neither a description nor a depiction of  these early flags exists during almost the next two centuries. It is only in the reign of Emperor Carl VI that there are hints to what the flags of the Empire looked like. A copper plate drawing by Romain de Hooghe of the Turkish siege of the Ofen Fort (i.e. the fort of Buda) in year 1686 shows imperial galleys on the Danube flying the ensigns with a double-headed eagle without any breast shield, holding a sword and a sceptre in its claws, with circular nimbuses behind the heads and the Imperial crown above. A copperplate drawing by J. Balzer in the Archducal Collection that is also dated to the end of the 17th century shows the same flag (both etchings are preserved in the Albertina Museum in Vienna).
Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

Ensign, ca. 1716

[17th Century ensign] image by Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

It is hardly possible to claim that there existed a unique design of the flag that would be carried on all imperial ships. The obtaining of the flag was a duty of each captain and he would order and buy flags of a design of his pleasure and the skill of the manufacturer within the general outline - golden and black flags with the black double-headed eagle. This was enough to identify the ship as being under Habsburg rule. The various designs found in literature include a golden-black bicolour with the eagle in canton [Khuepach, 1941], golden flags with multiple black stripes with or without the eagle in the centre or in the canton and so on.
Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

Naval Ensign, 1730

[17th Century ensign] image by Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

In 1730 Emperor Carl VI issued marine regulations entitled "See-Articuli und Kriegsgerichts-Instruction für die Marine Seiner kaiserlichen und katholischen Majesté Carl VI" with a description of the flags. The flag to be hoisted at the main mast of a ship commanded by an Admiral is yellow with a black double-headed eagle with escutcheon impaled Austria and Habsburg, wearing a collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, nimbuses behind the heads and the imperial crown above. The flag is bordered with black triangles [Lehnert, 1886; Baumgartner, 1977]. The same flag is hoisted on the foremast by a Vice-Admiral and on the rear mast by a Rear-Admiral.
Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

Squadron Commander Pennant, 1730

[Squadron Commander Pennant] image by Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

The See-Articuli also define a "Stendard" or a "breite Wimpel" to be hoisted from the main mast by a commander of a squadron consisting of at least three ships.
Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

Masthead Pennant, 1730

[Squadron Commander Wimpel] image by Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

The See-Articuli also define a "Wimpel" or a "Flamme" to be hoisted from the main mast - a bicolour black-yellow triangular long pennant.
Željko Heimer, 24 September 2007

- Baumgartner, Lothar, 1977: Die Entwicklung der Österreichischen Marineflagge, Militaria Austriaca, Gesellschaft für Österreichische Heereskunde, Wien, p. 29
- Heimer, Željko, 2005: The Naval Flags on the Eastern Adriatic, XXI ICV Buenos Aires Vexillobaires 2005 (proceedings in print)
- Khuepach, Arthur von, 1941: "Interessantes aus der Österreichisch-ungarischen Kriegsmarine", Marine-Rundschau, nr. 46,
Münch, Bonn, p. 301
- Lehnert, Josef von, 1886: "Beiträge zur Geschichte der k. k. Flagge. Vortrag, gehalten im militär-wissenschaftlichen Verein zu Wien am 13. März 1885", Organ der militär-wissenschaftlichen Vereine, nr. 31, Mayer, Wien, pp. 3-4
- Novak, Grga, 2004b: "Jadransko more u sukobima i borbama kroz stolječa II. Od 1409. godine do Drugog svjetskog rata", Marjan tisak, Split