Thursday, 23 August 2018

Raise High The Black Flags

"Raise high the black flags, children. No pity. No prisoners. I'll shoot any man I see with pity in him. Forward!"  Sergo Zakariadze as Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher in the 1970 film Waterloo.

The large colourful flags carried by the infantry in this period are surely one of the big visual attractions to wargaming the British Civil Wars.  With a lack of uniforms it is often a unit's flags or Colours, as they were known, that help us to differentiate units, just as they were in the real wars of the mid 17th century.

Some Colours (infantry flags) and Cornets (cavalry flags) from the British Civil Wars are documented.  Some of the design patterns are known which allows others to be inferred.  We are then left with guess work for the rest.

Great sources for the Colours carried at Inverlochy, and any other battle involving the Scots, are:
  • 'Scots Armies of the 17th Century Volume 2: Scots Colours', by Stuart Reid, published by Partizan Press.
  • 'Scots Armies of the 17th Century Volume 3: The Roaylist Armies 1639-46', by Stuart Reid, published by Partizan Press.
Regular Covenant foot regiment Colours typically had a white field with the colonel's crest in the centre of the field, for the Colonel's first company, and then nine company colours with saltires for the remaining nine companies making up the (ideal) regiment.  Now, even though I think the flags look great, 10 flags to a wargames unit feels a bit excessive.  I decided to scale this down to two Colours for a regular regiment.  During a battle the Ensigns carrying the Colours, one for each company present, would typically be formed within the protection of the pike block.  Two Colours for my model regiments would mean I could have the Colours carried by the centre two figures in the 3 ranks of 6 figure pike blocks I use.   I think it sets off the Regiment nicely, also showing the Ensigns safely protected by surrounding pikemen.

Obviously there was no set system for flags carried by the irregular highland units.  My assumption is that some my have had no flag or standard, but some important clan figures, especially the chiefs, may have some sort of banner including their heraldic symbols.

Covenant Colours

For the Covenanters I hoped that Colours for the regular foot would be easiest to track down.   
Much like the variety of figure manufacturers, I have also used a variety of 28mm flag producers.  I have included links in the description below.

Roughe's provisional battation was made up of 8 companies from the Earl of Tullibardine's regiment.  Tullibardine's Colours can be inferred from a set captured at Preston in 1648, a white field with a red saltire for the company colours.  GMB Designs do fabulous 25/28mm flags and as fortune would have it GMB covers this regiment.
One of the things I really like about the GMB Covenant flags is that they produce them showing the writing on the Colour having been painted on to one side of the material of the flag, and has then having 'leeched' through the silken material, in mirror form, on the other side.  Great attention to detail!

Cockburn's provisional battalion was made up of 8 companies from Wauchope of Niddrie's regiment.  Unfortunately no Colour is documented for Wauchope's (that I have found so far!) and so I was left with a free hand.  I decided to go with a generic blue field white saltire set, the classic colours of the St. Andrew's cross, again from GMB.

The colours for Argyle's regiment can be inferred from a set again captured at Preston, which are based on the Campbell heraldic colours of black and yellow.  The Colour has a black field with a yellow saltire.  GMB also do this flag.  All great so far!

In one of the accounts of the battle of Inverlochy it describes the Covenant last stand being made under the 'great Campbell banner'.  It is not clear exactly what this looked like, but the black and yellow gyronny pattern is a fundamental part of the Campbell's coat of arms, and would make a great flag.

As a conjectural Colour I couldn't find this from any of the commercial flag producers so I painted this myself, not too tricky as it is a relatively simple pattern.  I have used this colour on Auchinbreck's command base.

Being made of a light material 17th century flags were relatively fragile, and being the rallying point for their unit, they were often in the thick of the fighting.  Therefore I like my flags to show some wear and tear, especially those belonging to veteran units that have seen plenty of action.  This can provide a nice visual key to troop experience.  Fresh, inexperienced units, will have pristine flags, while grizzled veteran's Colours will show some damage and wear.  During the period it was not unusual for a captured colour to be little more than a few tatters left on the flag pole.  I hesitate to go this far for my veteran units, but some rips and tears are good to show the unit has seen combat before.

There are no records I have found of any other Covenant Colours at the battle, probably because the remaining troops were irregular highlanders.  I decided to give a couple of the highlander units Colours with simple heraldic devices.  As part of the wider Campbell clan I kept with the yellow and black colour schemes.  I created these by 'photoshopping' the heraldic symbols and printing out on paper.  I then painted over the printed flag to produce the final version.

Royalist Colours

No examples of the Irish brigade's Colours have survived but their Colours were described by one contemporary source.  Due to the brigade's fame with wargamers several commercial flag producers include inferred Irish brigade designs.  I went for those from Body's Banners.  I gave them a lot of 'weathering' as befits the Colours belonging to veteran unit, and also used a fine line marker to add a bit of contrast to the intricate details.   Despite the contemporary descriptions there is no indication of which designs went with which Irish regiments and so you have a free hand here.

One Royalist colour that must have been at Inverlochy was the Royal Standard of Scotland, presented to Montrose by King Charles.  It would have been the presence of this Colour, before anything else, that would have told the Campbells that it was Montrose and his whole force that was before them on that cold February morning.  In some accounts Montrose has the Royal standard unfurled to a fanfare of trumpets and so this is how I have represented Montrose's command base.
Anyone who produces flags for Montrose's army always includes the Royal Standard.  I have used the one from GMB Designs, with the addition of some black lining and some shading around the standard pole.  The trumpeter is from Foundry, while the Montrose figure is a converted (I changed the hat!) Warlord figure on a Perry horse.  The Standard is carried by a Perry Scots figure.

I also wanted to have a flag for MacColla's command base.  I took inspiration for this flag from the great Project Auldearn blog, .
I used Photoshop to tweak slightly, printed it out, and then painted over the printed version.  You can see that I added some battle damage to this flag as well.  Couldn't really expect MacColla to not have been in the thick of the action!

Since I produced this base Flags of War have started to do some nice Scots Royalist colours, including some that use this design from the McDonald heraldry.  I have started using Flags of War for my latest projects and highly recommend them.  See their site here: .

I then wanted some standards for the Royalist Highlanders.  There were quite a few different clans present in the Royalist ranks and plenty of high-ranking clansmen, but I went for two which had easier / eye catching heraldic banners.  The Camerons red and yellow striped banner is unmistakable, very pretty, and easy to produce!   Flags of War (see above) also do a nice Cameron flag in their '45 range.
This is a simplified version of the Maclean of Duart heraldry.  One account talks about the "great green Maclean banner" and so that is why I went for green.
Finally I wanted a troop Cornet (cavalry flag) for Ogilvie's troop.  This isn't recorded, and it is possible they didn't carry a flag.   I used this colour that was carried by Montrose's cavalry in his ill-fated 1650 expedition.  It is produced by Body's Banners (see above).  

Preparing Flags

I have had several comments from people saying they liked the way my flags appeared to be flowing in the wind, so I thought I would share my process, which is quite simple.  All the flags I have used are paper based; both the commercially available ones (which I believe are inkjet printed), and my diy jobs which are inkjet printed on to ordinary photocopier paper.  

1. I cut out the flags using a sharp modelling knife and a steel ruler, on a self-healing mat.  (I get a straighter edge than using scissors.)

2. I pre-fold the flag and check it on the flag pole to ensure that the corners all match-up.  (Most of my flag poles are brass 'pikes', cut short.  17th century Colours had to be flourished one handed, and so  the poles were not much longer than the depth of the Colour; just enough to get a good hand hold.)

3. The magic formula for sticking the flags together is Pritt (other glue sticks are available!).  I give one half of the inside of the flag a good coating of the non-sticky sticky stuff (they do a blue stick which dries clear, but allows you see more easily where you have glued while still wet).  I then add the pole in to the flag and fold over, being careful to make sure the corners match up.  

4. Before the Pritt dries you have a bit of wiggle room to match up the corners.  If you have not cut out the flag perfectly square then you may find the two halves of the flag do not overlap perfectly.  Trim with small scissors.  Also at this point, with tweezers, I press the flag up tightly against the pole, making sure they are no gaps left at the top and bottom.

5.  Now the fun part!  Before the Pritt dries, bend the flag to make it look likes it is flowing the wind, and being flourished. The Pritt makes the paper quite malleable.  I try to make gentle folds in both directions and axis.  As the Pritt dries the flag will unbend a little, so you can be quite firm with your bends, but avoid creases.

6. Now is the time to add any battle damage to your flag.  I use a pin vice and drill to punch holes, and the craft knife for tares.  If the tares at the edge, then a bit more gentle folding.  Rolling corners of our tattered flag around a paint brush handle can help to give nice curves.

7.  Leave the flag to dry.  I leave them overnight to be sure.  It will be quite stiff when dry.  

8. The most critical part of the process; now paint the edges of the flags!  I can never quite believe it when I see people who have painted lovely figures and added lovely flags, but the flags have a paper white edge all around.  I often find that inks work well for this as it soaks nicely in to the paper.  I sometimes shade the flag a bit, and also add staining (dark brown washes) to taste.

9.  A warning.  Pritt is fabulous at sticking paper to paper.  Not so good at sticking paper to brass.  You may find that your flags will loosen from their poles over time.  A small dab of super-glue will secure it.  However, I have found this flaw useful on occasion for making it easier to swap flags, so think carefully before applying the super glue :-) 

That was a much longer post than I was expecting,  just to cover the Flags.  With Flags of War's offerings no available we really are spoilt for choice on commercial offerings.  No excuse to not bedeck your force with all sorts of colour and Colours now!

Until next time!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Simon! I must admit that your collection is tempting me to up my numbers of flags per unit :-)

    2. Put out more flags! ;-) Almost 10% of my ECW minis are carrying a flag of some kind.

  2. Nice flags, particularly like the tattered ones.

    There's an extra strong flavoured Pritt Stick which does seem to stick paper to metal (comes in a silver tube)

    1. Thanks Radar!

      Top tip. I will give the silver stick a try.

  3. Awesome stuff, and now I must look into 'colouring' the edges of my flags!

    1. Ha, ha! Yes, please colour the edges :-)

      (If anyone in the house has a felt-tip pen collection this can be another easy way to colour the edges. )

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Nice work, I like your Irish and Highland regimental/clan colours. Just a quick question regarding the black flag. When was it used? And do you have any knowledge of the Charles I severed head flag? One more point, the Covenanter colours belonging to the Earl of Tullibardine's regiment, you mentioned its colours were taken at Preston, didn't the Solum League change its colour scheme when supporting the Stewarts? So prior, the background would have been blue and the saltire white perhaps?