A few weeks ago at the Malvern Great Trails Festival in Malvern, Ohio my drum major approached me and asked me to identify a near by flag. If you’ve never been to the trail head imagine a colonial craft and trade fair crossed with a mountain man rendezvous and a French and Indian War reenactment. The Akron and District Pipe Band has been performing their for years. The band camps out side the front gate of the festival grounds. There along a wooden palisade hang many flags from the 1700’s such as the British red ensign, the Saint Andrews Cross, the French battle ensign and flag of New France, among others. But at one end of the row was the Flag my drum major was pointing at, and I was stumped as to its origin.
This flag consisted of a jagged red cross on a white background. As it turns out it is actually supposed to represent two, roughly pruned branches, symbolizing the cross on which Andrew the Apostle was crucified. The Cross of Burgundy was originally the battle flag of Duke Burgundy of Spain who is said to have adopted the design to emulate the St. Andrews Cross. Many Scottish soldiers had served with the Duke during the hundred years war. This flag would later become for a time the Spanish naval ensign and serve as Spain's land battle flag till 1843. Which is all well and good, but why was it flying here at the trail head?
Well the flag was used by Spanish Viceroyalties who ran the Spanish colonel territories of Florida and Cuba. That being said Spain played little to no role in the struggle between France, England and the Iroquois Confederacy for control of the North America. But thats just it, it is the absence of Spanish forces in that war that is most interesting. France and Spain had been long time allies leading up to the out break of war in 1754, but they hesitated to join in the fight for fear of losing control their silver rich colonial positions in central america to the British. It was a delay that would be regretted when the British later captured the port of Havana where the Spanish Treasure fleet had been sailing annually, possibly flying the Cross of Burgundy. If they had joined earlier the combined French and Spanish naval forces may have been a match for the British Navy preventing Britain’s dominance of the high seas.
A lot of history lies behind those flags. Flags are something of mystery to many people these days. Before the 18th century almost all flags where battle standards. It wasn’t till the 19th century that many nations across Europe and Asia adopted flags as national symbols. This makes the American Flag adopt in 1777 one of the earliest national flags in history. A interesting fact for a nation still in its relative youth. Flags can trigger strong emotional reactions as the Confederate Battle Flag has in recent history. They are symbols that can take on a indefinite number of emotional and spiritual meanings to so many different people. Most of the time though they hang unnoticed, passed by, often times forgotten.