Translation by Pier Paolo Lugli

Flags over Elba

This is the summary of an in-depth study by Roberto Breschi about the flags that flew over the island of Elba, in the Tuscan archipelago.

The Foresiana Library in Portoferraio [the current main town of Elba] owns an 1889 manuscript by Vincenzo Mellini Ponce de Leon, historian, about the local dialect. However, it also includes a couple of pages about the flags used on the Elba Island since the rule of Pisa (starting ca. 1000). This work was republished in 1983 from the Centro Nazionale di Studi Napoleonici (National Centre of Napoleonic Studies), unfortunately without a proper criticism.
This article tries to sort this flag controversy out.
Pisa fetched the island about 1020, recovering it from the Muslim pirates and kept it until 1398. As Aldo Ziggioto proved, the flag was plain red; nevertheless the use of ensigns in the Mediterranean area did not start before the first half of the XIII century. In 1399 the Appiani family sold Pisa to Milan, but maintained a lordship over Piombino, which later on became an imperial principality. Elba was part of it. It is possible that the armorial banner of the family was introduced on the territory, however we only have a quotation from Mellini and no other source. The original coat of arms of the Appiani was a white shield with a red chequered band, a correspondent banner being reported in the Sercambi chronicle. If such a symbol ever flew over Elba is unknown, as it is its real pattern. As a matter of fact, family arms had many variations. In 1634 the principality was inherited by the Ludovisi family, which in 1701 expanded to Ludovisi-Boncompagni. Until 1801 Piombino – and Elba - had a white state flag bearing their arms. However, Elba saw other flags in the same period. Charles V and Cosimo I dei Medici signed a treaty in 1548 by which Elba was subdivided in three entities. Medici obtained to rule a bay on the northern coast, where they founded Cosmopolis, later Portoferraio; Spain the right to govern over some sites in the Tyrrhenian Sea (Stato dei Presidi), including Porto Longone on Elba; the remaining portion of the island was still under the rule of Ludovisi-Boncompagni. It is unclear which flags the Medici family displayed on Elba. It is possible that they used their white flag with the family arms on it, it is probable that starting since 1562 the red cross on white background, the well known Leghorn ensign of many flag plates, was hoisted by the ships in the harbour. During 1737 the Lorena family began ruling Tuscany and their flags and ensigns flew over Portoferrario.
The French revolution brought many realists to Elba, which was soon put under British control. In the years between 1796 and 1802 Elba saw rough fights between British, French, Spanish and Tuscan troops. From 1802 to 1814 Elba was under direct French rule, and as such only the French tricolour flew on it. The big momentum for Elba came in 1814, when following the treaty of Fontainebleu the island was assigned to Napoleon as a principality. On May 3rd the former Emperor arrived aboard of the British ship Undaunted in the bay of Portoferrario. Before his landing the new symbol of the principality was hoisted: a white flag with three golden bees on a red band. The origin is unidentified: many wrote about it, but nobody brought about sound evidence. It is very possible that Napoleon avoided referring to the French tricolour, for the inhabitants were hostile to the French. Even so, when he landed on May 4th he was enthusiastically welcomed and the new flag quickly appeared all over the island. The bees were a sort of Napoleon’s signature, as he was convinced that they had been the symbols of the ancient French kings. Napoleon introduced a merchant and man-of-war ensign: it was the same red / white / red flag of Tuscany and Austria with the local flag in the top hoist, like a small canton. If Napoleon was aboard, the ship added a big golden N topped by a crown on the centre of the ensign. It is possible that the emperor had in his mind a different kind of standard. In 1910, following the demolition of a building in Gap, France, a green flag with a golden horn and bees over all was found. It was identified as a special standard bunted for Napoleon and brought back from Elba to France when he returned.
After the Restoration, the entire territory of the island passed to Tuscany and her flags and ensigns flew over it. However, the local sailors remembered the flag of Napoleon and sewed it on the official ensigns. Since 1835 some flag plates began to report it and in 1841 the Grand Duke determined that a special merchant flag be granted to the vessels of Elba. It was the official red / white / red ensign with the full arms of Tuscany, to which a canton was added displaying the former flag of Elba (the white one, with the band and bees). All these symbols went out of use in 1860, when Tuscany and Elba became part of the Italian kingdom.
Finally, Elba still uses the flag of Napoleon as its particular ensign and the same pattern is part of the coat of arms of  the Province of Leghorn and a number of Elba municipalities.

Some flags flown by Western Europe foreign volunteer units of the Wehrmacht

This is an abstract of an article of Alfredo Betocchi from his lecture held during the VII Annual General Meeting, Lucca, 2001.

Units of volunteers from Western Europe countries shared the Nazis idea of a European crusade against the Soviet Russia. They fought beside Germans and were made of Norwegians and Dutch (Wiking), Scandinavians (Nordland), French (Charlemagne), Belgians (Wallonie) and others.
Norwegians flew a Norwegian ensign with DEN NORSKE LEGION lettered in yellow on the top hoist, in a curved pattern. The Viken battalion used a red swallow tail standard, charged with the golden Norwegian lion.
On June 1941 a Danish Frikorps Danmark was constituted. Initially they used a Danish flag with white FRIKORPS DANMARK in two rows at the top hoist. Later, they used a white cross “pâté” in a red square.
The French units used runic symbols in the national colours, except for the Bretons, who used a black flag with a white circle containing their traditional triskell. In general French always displayed their tricolour.
Belgium had a number of pro-German movements since the start of the hostilities. The vast majority of the Belgian volunteers came from those organizations like the Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond. The Flemish Legion adopted a yellow square with the traditional black lion. The Walloon Legion flew a black flag with a red cross.
British volunteers, a handful of former prisoners, were not allowed to use a flag and only bore a Union Flag on a black shield.
The Dutch volunteers rallied under a black ensign with a red and black cross and the Dutch Nazi Movement seal all over.
Luxembourg was annexed to the Third Reich and for this reason her soldiers were considered regular German troops.
In Italy the creation of the Social Republic after the 1943 armistice meant the volunteers joined the Republic rather than German units, however about 15,000 formed the First Assault Brigade of the SS Italian Legion. No particular ensign is known, except for the flag of the Republic.
The Spanish Legion was forbidden to use Spanish flags because of Spanish neutrality, nonetheless they were allowed to bear a Spanish coat of arms on their arms while resting far from the forefront. The same applied for volunteers of other neutral countries, like Sweden and Switzerland.

Saint Vincent «Maiden»

This is the summary of Roberto Breschi’s column VEXATA QUAESTIO.

This is a review of Saint Vincent’s vexillology: an amazing confusion for a land of 400 square kilometres and just over 100,000 souls.
All began when the old seal was adapted as the colony badge and attached to the ensign. It was a neoclassic scene representing two allegories of Justice and Peace. Unfortunately, Justice and Peace were poorly placed and too undressed for many. In 1907 the two maiden were properly vested and repositioned and the motto, originally «Saint Vincent», became «Pax et Justitia», so that everybody could realize who the two girls represented. A few years later, in 1912, the badge was the base for the coat of arms. It maintained the basic portrayal and motto, adding to it a golden border topped by a cotton plant. The maiden had blue clothes and in the following years they changed the hairs colours from black to brown to blonde.
In 1967 the Caribbean colonies were offered self-government, in a first step towards full independence. Therefore, Saint Vincent devised a new flag and coat of arms. The first was a horizontal tricolour green, yellow and azure. The olive branch alone remained from the old badge, included within a lozenge at the centre of the flag. The arms lost the cotton plant, as it had disappeared from the place as well. When in 1969 Saint Vincent accessed autonomy, the new government did not adopt those symbols and the Blue Ensign of the colony carried on. However, to add some mystery to the island vexillology, in 1969 the local mails produced a stamp with a spurious flag: overall blue with the arms amid. It never existed but on the stamp.
1979 brought independence and a new flag. It recovered the 1967 project, still in vertical stripes. The central, yellow, was larger and split from the other colours by thin white edges and bore the arms placed on a large breadfruit tree leaf. In 1985 a government change caused a new flag to be brought in use. Similar to the precedent, it lost the white edges, the leaf and the arms, and gained three green diamonds disposed in a V pattern. V stands for the victory scored by the new rulers. This is the still flying flag, however the labour party promises to change it when it gains the power again…
Meanwhile, there is no evidence of the two now old ladies. I recall a movie, called «Logan Escape», where in a future world the elders are brought to resting places, eliminated and turned into green tablets: the same end of the two poor Saint Vincent Ladies?

City Flags

This is the summary of Aldo Ziggioto’s column VEXILLA ITALICA

NOVI LIGURE. It is a remarkable industrial and trade place in the south-eastern district of Alessandria. Her history saw a number of rulers and the great fight between Visconti (of Milan) and the Republic of Genoa, which gained the town in 1447 after a century of battles. It remained under Genoa till 1815 – apart a short occupation by Piedmont in 1746, when the place was granted the title of town – and then was handed over to Alessandria. During the Fascist regime her name was changed into «Novi Piemonte».
Information about the heraldry of the town is very scarce. It is realistic that Novi introduced her arms between 1447 and 1528. The first known statute «insignis oppidi Novarum» dates to 1535, whereas the town chose the same symbol than Genoa, i.e. a red cross over a silver background. The reason why Novi added a second silver small cross at the centre of the red cross is a mystery. Nevertheless, the first sound evidence of these arms is the book Libro figurato di tutte le possessioni nel territorio dell’insigne terra di Nove, by G. Benedetto Zandrino. Over the arms there is a duke’s crown. Two griffins appear in 1828 as supporters, even if they were dropped a few years later, and the whole brought on the gonfalone. In 1909 the motto «In novitate vivam» was added. During the fascist age a Littorio was added in the top of the shield and disappeared at the end of the Second World War. On January 11th, 1952 the arms were officially adopted. The gonfalone is divided white and red, with the arms; the city flag is an armorial banner.

CIVIDALE DEL FRIULI. Just a few remember – or know – that Friuli (a region of North-East Italy) gets her name from a nowadays small town: Cividale del Friuli. However it was the roman Forum Julii (hence «Friuli»), then, replacing Aquileia, it became the capital of the X Regione Venetia et Histria; following it was the capital of the first Longobard dukedom in Italy (568), the site of a Frank dukedom and of the Austral Mark; it constituted the County of Friuli or Cividale; since 735 was the capital of Patriarcato of Aquileia (till XIII c.), eventually becoming a possession of the Serenissima (Venice) in 1419.
A few years after this time, in 1436, we find the first coat of arms (previously only the seal). From a statement dated October 17th 1505 we know it was a red shield with a white band.
The same is in the diploma of the Austrian government, May 26th, 1844, which confirms «die Weiterführung des alten Wappens». The Italian government officially accepted the arms on September 9th, 1937, together with the red gonfalone.
The origin of the colours seems to come from a misunderstanding. At the end of the XII century the town was dubbed Civitas Austriae, yet it was not a reference to Austria, but to the Austral Mark that she had lead. From this error came the idea to use the Austrian colours.
The aforementioned statement of October 17th, 1505, says the flag had to be crimson «iuxta morem antiquum», actually introduced in red and white «cum factura armorum nostrarum» (with the picture of our arms).
At present the city flag is only red over white, without «armorum nostrarum» (our arms).


Stefano ALES, Insegne militari preunitarie italiane (Pre-unification Italian military ensigns), Roma, 2002, 450 pp. in-8°, colour illustrations, €47.00.
This is a new publication from the History Office of the Italian Army. It deals with the standards of the armies of the pre-unification Italian states, from the end of the XVII century to the start of the Italian Kingdom. It includes the states: Piedmont and Sardinia, Naples and the Two Sicilies, the Papal States, Tuscany, Lucca, Venice, Genoa and the Emilia Dukedoms (Parma and Modena). The armies of the Napoleonic epoch are excluded. Maybe they will be covered in a further work? 450 pages of text (in Italian) and 136 colour tables make the book. Appendixes and bibliography enrich the vexillological content. At first sight the drawings are poorly outlined and childish, still they are faithful reproduction of the originals. The eagles on the standards of Modena reminded cocks indeed. There are only a few minor concerns, for instance the pole is always at the left of the observer, even when the reverse of the flag is shown. Overall the book is a wonderful source of well-supported information, presented in a reasonable and intuitive fashion. Purchase suggested. (By P.P. Lugli)

Michel PASTOUREAU, Blu. Storia di un colore (Blue. A history of a colour), Milano, 2002, 216 pp. in-8°, colour illustrations, € 25.00.
This is the Italian edition of a book that first appeared two years ago in France. It deals with the blue colour evolution through the centuries. Blue was ignored during the Middle Age and began its social escalation in the XII century, an escalation which turned blue into the most important and beloved colour of our times. There are many references to blue and vexillology in the book. For CISV members it may be curious to read what Pastoureau tells about the yellow-green combination: «To juxtapose yellow and green is for us a moderate contrast. At the end of the Middle Age, instead, it is the most striking by far: it was adopted as minstrel liveries and to underline any dangerous, rebellious or evil behaviour». (By A. Martinelli)

Tarquinio MAIORINO - Giuseppe MARCHETTI TRICAMO - Andrea ZAGAMI, Il Tricolore degli Italiani. Storia avventurosa della nostra bandiera (The Italians’ Tricolore. The adventurous history of our flag), Milano, 2002, 168 pp. in-8°, € 13.60.
Our member Maiorino, in collaboration with two other authors, worked out this book about the history of the Tricolore (the nickname of the Italian flag). It is written aiming to diffuse the information to unspecialised readers, by means of an appropriate and correct text. For a disagreeable publishing choice there are no images. The work includes an interesting review of the Italian museums that preserve original flags. (By A. Martinelli)