Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Battle of Crecy 1346. A version of the oriflamme can be seen in the center between two other banners.
The Battle of Poitiers 1356. The oriflamme can be seen on the top left.

The Oriflamme (from Latin aurea flamma, "golden flame"), a pointed, blood-red banner flown from a gilded lance, was the sacred battle standard of the King of France and a symbol of divine intervention on the battlefield from God and Saint Denis in the Middle Ages. The oriflamme originated as the sacred banner of the Abbey of St. Denis,[1] a monastery near Paris. When the oriflamme was raised in battle by the French royalty during the Middle Ages, most notably during the Hundred Years' War, no prisoners were to be taken until it was lowered. Through that tactic, they hoped to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy, especially the nobles, who could usually expect to be taken alive for ransom during such military encounters.[2]

In French, the term oriflamme has come to mean any banner with pointed ends by association with the form of the original.

Legendary origin

Reconstructions of two versions of the historical Oriflamme banner. Other descriptions have the banner as plain red.

The Oriflamme was mentioned in the 11th-century ballad the Chanson de Roland (vv. 3093–5) as a royal banner, first called Romaine and then Montjoie.[3] According to legend, Charlemagne carried it to the Holy Land in response to a prophecy regarding a knight possessing a golden lance from which flames would burn and drive out the Saracens.[4] That suggests that the lance was originally the important object, with the banner simply a decoration, but that changed over time.[5]



The Oriflamme was first used in 1124 by Louis VI of France and was last flown in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt,[6] but a version of it remained in the Abbey of St. Denis until the 18th century.[7]

Louis VI replaced the earlier banner of Saint Martin with the oriflamme of the Abbey of St. Denis, which floated about the tomb of St. Denis and was said to have been given to the abbey by Dagobert I, King of the Franks.

Until the 12th century, the standard-bearer was the Comte de Vexin, who, as vowed to St. Denis, was the temporal defender of the abbey. Louis VI, having acquired Vexin, became standard-bearer. As soon as war began, he received Communion at St. Denis and took the standard from the tomb of the saint to carry it into combat.

Although the azure ground (from the blue cope of St. Martin of Tours) strewn with gold fleur-de-lis remained the symbol of royalty until the 15th century, the Oriflamme became the royal battle standard of the King of France, and it was carried at the head of the king's forces when they met another army in battle. It is recorded as having been carried at the following battles/campaigns:[citation needed]

The Oriflamme was lost at least four times during its medieval history: Mons-en-Pévèle,[8] Crécy, [9] Poitiers,[10] and during the campaigns of the Seventh Crusade under King Louis IX.[11][12]

Although the Oriflamme has often been depicted as present at the battle of Agincourt, modern historians have disputed that. The banner was given to Guillaume de Martel by Charles VI of France on September 10, 1415 and carried by Martel from Paris to Rouen. [13] That was likely an attempt to raise French morale and to rally troops, but there is no evidence that the Oriflamme was then taken on campaign and unfurled at Agincourt.[14] Modern historians agree that the Oriflamme was not carried by Guillaume de Martel at Agincourt, as the king was not present at the battle in person.[15][16]

In the 15th century, the fleur-de-lis on the white flag of Joan of Arc became the new royal standard replacing both the symbol of royalty and the Oriflamme on the battle field.[3]



The banner was red or orange-red silk and flown from a gilded lance.[17] According to legend, its colour stemmed from it being dipped in the blood of the recently-beheaded St. Denis.

The surviving descriptions of the Oriflamme are in Guillaume le Breton (13th century), in the "Chronicle of Flanders" (14th century), in the "Registra Delphinalia" (1456) and in the inventory of the treasury of Saint-Denis (1536). They show that the primitive Oriflamme was succeeded in the course of the centuries by newer Oriflammes, which bore little resemblance to one another except for their colour.[3]

On the battlefield


According to Maurice Keen, the oriflamme, when displayed on the battlefield, indicated that no quarter was to be given: its red colour being symbolic of cruelty and ferocity.[18]

The bearer of the standard, the porte-oriflamme, became an office, like that of the Marshal or Constable and a great honour, as it was an important and very dangerous position to take charge of such a visible symbol in battle. If things went badly, the bearer was expected to be killed in action, rather than relinquish his charge.

Froissart vividly describes porte-oriflamme Geoffroi de Charny's fall at the side of his king at the Battle of Poitiers in this passage:

There Sir Geoffroi de Charny fought gallantly near the king (note: and his fourteen-year-old son). The whole press and cry of battle were upon him because he was carrying the king’s sovereign banner [the Oriflamme]. He also had before him his own banner, gules, three escutcheons argent. So many English and Gascons came around him from all sides that they cracked open the king’s battle formation and smashed it; there were so many English and Gascons that at least five of these men at arms attacked one [French] gentleman. Sir Geoffroi de Charny was killed with the banner of France in his hand, as other French banners fell to earth.[19]

Notable bearers


In literature


In Canto XXXI of Paradiso, Dante describes the Virgin Mary in the Empyrean as pacifica oriafiamma (Musa's translation, "oriflame of peace"):[21]

so there, on high, that oriflame of peace
lit up its center while on either side
its glow was equally diminishing

The 19th-century poet Robert Southey refers to the Oriflamme and its reputation in his poem Joan of Arc:

"Dark-minded man!"
The Maid of Orleans answered, "to act well
Brings with itself an ample recompense.
I have not reared the oriflamme of death —
Now God forbid! The banner of the Lord
Is this; and, come what will, me it behooves,
Mindful of Him whose minister I am,
To spare the fallen foe: that gracious God
Sends me a messenger of mercy forth,
Sends me to save this ravaged realm of France,
To England friendly as to all the world;
Only to those an enemy, whose lust
Of sway makes them the enemies of man."

— Robert Southey, Joan of Arc. Book VIII[22]

The 20th-century Martiniquais poet and politician, Aimé Césaire (1913–2008) invokes the Oriflamme in his poem "Your Hair" ("Chevelure"). By invoking the Oriflamme, Césaire also invokes the French Colonial Empire, war, and oppression. The poem is included in The Collected Poetry of Aimé Césaire. An excerpt reads:

Undulating innocent
all the juices rising in the lust of the earth
all the poisons distilled by the nocturnal alembics in the involucres of the Malvaceae
all the thundering of the Saponaria
are like these discordant words written by the flames of pyres
over the sublime oriflammes of your revolt

— Aimé Césaire, Solar Throat Slashed[23]

The Oriflamme is depicted in season 2 episode 6 of the History Channel series Knightfall. [citation needed]

The Oriflamme is also raised in History Channel's Vikings during a 9th Century siege of Paris, predating the first mention of the banner by two centuries. [citation needed]

In the Discworld novel Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, the flag of the theocracy of Omnia is referred to as an Oriflamme.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ "Oriflamme Society". Archived from the original on 2005-10-28. Retrieved 2005-10-25.
  2. ^ Robert Southey (1841) Joan of Arc: a poem, Longman et autres. p. 280
  3. ^ a b c Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Oriflamme" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  4. ^ Barbara Tuchman (1978). A Distant Mirror. Penguin. p. 148. ISBN 0140054073.
  5. ^ Heraldica.org
  6. ^ Richard W. Barber (1984) The Penguin guide to medieval Europe. Penguin Books. p. 224
  7. ^ Stephen Slater (2002). The Complete Book of Heraldry. Hermes House. p. 30. ISBN 1846819601.
  8. ^ Kelly DeVries (2006) : Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press. p. 40.
  9. ^ Jonathon Sumption (1990). Trial by Battle. London: Faber & Faber. p. 530. ISBN 0-571-20095-8.
  10. ^ a b David Green (2004). The Battle of Poitiers 1356. Tempus. p. 56. ISBN 0-7524-2557-9.
  11. ^ Edward Cowan (2012) The Wallace Book, Birlinn
  12. ^ "The Oriflamme". The Baronage Press. 2000. Archived from the original on 2020-08-04. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
  13. ^ Barker (2005).[clarification needed]
  14. ^ Anne Curry (2000). ‘’The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations’’. p. 353.
  15. ^ Matthew Strickland[clarification needed], in A. Curry, M. Mercer (eds.). ‘’The Battle of Agincourt’’ (2015). p. 36–37.
  16. ^ Stephen Cooper (2014). ‘’Agincourt: Myth and Reality, 1915–2015’’. p. 37–38.
  17. ^ Stephen Slater (2002). The Complete Book of Heraldry. Hermes House. p. 33. ISBN 1846819601.
  18. ^ Maurice Keen (1965). The laws of War in the late Middle Ages. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. p. 105-106.
  19. ^ a b Jean Froissart; trans Geoffrey Brereton, Chronicles ( Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, UK, 1978), p. 247.
  20. ^ Barker (2005), p. 323.[clarification needed]
  21. ^ Dante Alighieri (1986). The Divine Comedy, Volume 3: Paradise. Translated by Musa, Mark. New York: Penguin Classics. p. 369. ISBN 9780140444438.
  22. ^ Robert Southey, The Poetical Works of Robert Southey: With a Memoir of the Author, in X Volumes, Volume I, Boston: Little Brown and Company, New York, 1860, p. 181, 307
  23. ^ Aime Cesaire, The Collected Poetry of Aime Cesaire. Berkely and Los Angeles. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983.
  • Media related to Oriflamme at Wikimedia Commons