The Spanish Flag: Design | Variants | History

The Spanish flag, or the flag of Spain, is made up of three horizontal stripes of the color: red (at the top and bottom) and yellow (in the middle). A popular alternative name of the flag, in Spanish speaking nations, is ‘la Rojigualda.’

Like many national emblems worldwide, the Spanish flag has a fascinating history, which can be traced back to the sixteenth century Spanish kingdoms. In this overview article, we have summarized various design and color aspects, usage protocols, and variants of the Spanish flag in use.

Color And Design

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 laid the legal grounds for the national flag. A set of Royal Decrees (law enforced by the Spanish legal system) between 1977 and 1982 established color specifications and protocols or regulations on national emblems, banners, and flags.

Spanish national flag specificationsFlag specifications

The Royal Decrees declare that the national flag shall be red (Rojo Bandera) and yellow (Amarillo-Gualda Bandera) with an overall length-to-height ratio of 2:3, or 1.5. Their hexadecimal values are #AA151B (red) and #F1BF00 (yellow).

The color yellow covers about half of the flag’s total height, while each of the two red stripes makes up one-fourth of the space, adding up to the remaining half. A vital piece of the national flag is the Spanish coat of arms, whose precise location is specified by Royal Decree (1511/1977).

As one can see, the coat of arms is located slightly to the left on the yellow strip. On a regular flag (ratio 3:2), the general rule is that the axis of the coat of arms is placed at a distance of 1/2 from the edge, proportional to the total length of the flag. If the flag is of different ratio, then the coat of arms is placed at the center.

Similarly, the appropriate height of the coat of arms is 2/5 (centered), proportional to the flag’s total height.

Protocols and Usage Regulations

There are several regulations and protocols associated with the Spanish national flag that must be followed and are required by the law. Apart from government buildings, either in Spain or abroad, all private properties should hoist the flag from sunrise to sunset.

Furthermore, the flag can only be used horizontally, whether it’s public or private buildings, and must obey standards described by Spanish law.

In case the Spanish flag is used with other flags, within the borders, a prescribed order must be followed — First the national flag, then the flags of foreign nations, the European union’s flag, and so on.

History of The Spanish Flag

The concept of a national flag didn’t exist in Spain (and Europe) until the late modern period. In the 15th century, Spain was divided into several Christian kingdoms, each having their own heraldry and coats of arms. These kingdoms were Aragon, Castile, Leon, Navarre, and later Portugal.

The coat of arms of Castile, the most powerful of Spanish kingdoms, featured a three towered castle on a red banner. However, in 1230, following Castile and Leon’s unification, a standard coat of arms was adopted featuring Castilian fort and the Leonese purple lion rampant on a quartered flag.

Then, in 1475, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, a joint rule of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabell I of Castile, merged the coats of arms of their respective kingdoms to form a unified pennant. After 1492, the banner was modified to include the royal crown, the eagle of Saint John, and heraldry of Granada.

The Cross of Burgundy And Habsburg Coat of Arms

Flag of Cross of BurgundyCross of Burgundy

In the chronological history of the most influential flags or banners used by the Spanish kings, the Cross of Burgundy stands out of the rest. The red-colored Cross of Burgundy is based on St. Andrew’s Cross with saw-tooth edges.

As part of heraldry, the cross first appeared in France on the banners of Valois-Burgundian Kings in the 15th century. When Philip, the Handsome of the House of Habsburg, became the king of Castile, he adopted the Cross of Burgundy as an official ensign of his kingdom.

With the Habsburgs in power, the Burgundian Cross would serve as the naval and military ensign of the mighty Spanish Empire from the early 1500s to 1810. It is to be noted that the Spanish kings, at that time, were represented by their coat of arms or imperial shield (and not the Cross).

The coat of arms of Philip I (Philip the Handsome) as the king of Castile featured elements from his previous heraldic bearings. The quartered crest of Philip I featured emblem of the first Catholic Monarchs on two (diagonally aligned) quarters and a unified arms of Austria, Burgundy, Brabant with Flanders (a lion rampant), and Tyrol (red eagle) in the middle on the remaining two quarters.

Coat of Arms of Philip I of CastileCoat of Arms of Philip I, the king of Castile

His successor to the Spanish throne, Charles V, adopted identical royal arms with a few minor changes. After Charles V, the succeeding Spanish kings between 1556 to 1700 were represented by different variations of this coat of arms.

The Coat of Arms of Philip V and Charles III

It was not until the reign of Philip V of the Bourbon dynasty that any significant changes in the royal arms were introduced. His military ensign featuring the Cross of Burgundy with royal arms and two lions on either side was the first-ever unified symbol of Spain without any foreign influence. However, it was his son, Charles III, who made the defining contribution.

In 1760, when Charles III became the ruler of Spain, he made critical observations of the existing naval flags, which were quite similar to other European ensigns.

To rectify that, he commissioned (in 1785) a new triband flag of color sequence red-yellow-red with the yellow band being twice the size of the red ones. A simplified oval-shaped royal arms was used in this flag. This naval ensign, overall, is the direct predecessor of the modern Spanish flag.

Flag of Spain under Charles IIIThe naval flag of Spain under Charles III

Charles III adopted a flag with the same color combination for civilian or merchant use but in proportions 1:1:2:2:1:1.

Spanish Flag Under The Second Republic

The monarchy in Spain ended on 14 April 1931 and was replaced by the Second Spanish Republic. The regime adopted a new flag, a tricolor in this case, with the addition of murrey (dark purple) color. Unlike the current national flag, this one had horizontal bands of the same width.

While the traditional colors of red and yellow represented the former Crown of Aragon, the newly added color purple symbolized the unified kingdoms of Castile and Leon.

Spanish flag under Second Spanish RepublicNational flag under the Second Spanish Republic

The coat of arms of the Second Republic (located at the center) features emblems of Aragon, Castile, Leon, and Navarre. At the bottom (Enté en point) is the symbol of Granada. On either side of the crest are the Pillars of Hercules and a mural crown on the top.

Read: The French Flag: Design | History | Symbolism

After The Civil War

After just five years of military dictatorship, in 1936, a civil war broke out in Spain between the incumbent Republicans and insurgent Nationalists (right-wing political factions). The conflict ended in 1939 with the fall of the Second Republic.

Under the Nationalist regime, a de facto military dictatorship led by Francisco Franco, the imperial era bi-color flag made its return. Between 1936 and 1977, multiple variations of royal arms appeared on the Spanish flag.

Between 1936 and 1977, at least three different versions of royal arms appeared on the Spanish flag. While the initial coat-of-arms was borrowed from the Republic era, changes were made first in the late-30s and then in the mid-40s.

Flag of Spain under FrancoNational flag under Franco (1938-1945)

Perhaps the most noticeable change was the addition of crest-embracing the Saint John eagle in 1938. This version of the royal arms was slightly bigger and aligned to the left. Later, in 1945, a set of regulations on flags replaced the existing coat of arms with a remodeled version. A noteworthy similarity between the 1938 and 1945 royal arms is that the eagle’s wings are placed within the Pillars of Hercules.

The present-day coat of arms of Spain was established on 19 December 1981, during the period of Spanish transition. It includes traditional heraldries of Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Granada, as well as the Pillars of Hercules. The eagle of John the Evangelist, along with the symbols of yoke and arrows, were removed.

Modern Variations of The Flag In Use

Like many other European nations, Spain employs different flags (other than the national ensign) to represent the government and private operations within its borders.

Top-level government officials, including the president, vice-president, the chairman of the Senate and Congress are represented by a square flag (1:1 ratio). The Spanish Armed Forces use an identical version of the flag.

The Spanish naval jack (a square flag) is a relatively unique flag as it is composed only of four traditional emblems of Spain, Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Navarre.

Spain is among the few nations that have a designated yacht ensign, the largest flag on board of any ship. Instead of the coat of arms, this flag features a blue royal crown in the middle. Similarly, the flag of the Custom Surveillance Service is charged with a double crowned H symbol, the mark of the Spanish Royal Treasury.

Royal Standard of Spain

Royal StandardThe Royal Standard

As a constitutional monarchy, like Britain, the King holds the highest office in Spain. The King, or monarch, is represented by the Royal Standard flag consisting of the coat of arms of the King at the center of a crimson square patch. This flag is usually displayed at the King official residence and other royal sites in Spain.

Read: The German Flag: History | Colors | Meaning

Few Interesting Facts

The Texas State Capitol dome features the royal banner of Castile and Leon; the flag of Spain alongside five other emblems, known as the “Six Flags of Texas.” Similarly, the flag also appears on the seal of the city of Mobile, Alabama.

The red and yellow colored logo of Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second-largest energy company, is believed to be inspired by the Spanish colors. On a different note, one of Shell’s earliest service stations in the United States was set up in California, a state with historically good relations with the western European nation.

Written by
Bipro Das

Biprojit has been a staff writer at RankRed since 2015. He mainly focuses on game-changing inventions but also covers general science with a particular interest in astronomy. His domain extends to mobile apps and knows a thing or two about finance. Biprojit has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Delhi, majoring in Geography.

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