Association de Sauvegarde du


From the standard to the Norman flag (guide to some terms and dates)

There is some controversy surrounding the origin of the flag of Normandy. We have sought to provide some terms and dates to help navigate the subject.


The standard or banner

We have to distinguish between standard and flag.  Flags only started to appear in the XVII century as the emblems of nations.
The standard (or banner)  is the medieval arms from the shield of a knight reproduced on textile material and raised on a staff or pole. It  is attributed to an individual in the X and XI centuries and then becomes hereditary.
The standard of the first Dukes of Normandy is red sometimes with a dragon added.

The heraldic Leopard

In the heraldry which appeared in the XII century, the leopard is often confused with the lion.
The leopard is distinguished by his “passant”  i.e. walking on three legs, the fourth erect, body shown in profile, head face on, tail pointing  above rather than falling on the animal’s back, as with the lion.
In the medieval bestiary, the leopard is considered as a cousin of the lion “leo” and “pard” (the panther) a malevolent animal since it is a bastard.  Henry II (the Plantagenet king) chose this emblem of two leopards in defiance of the pope  after his excommunication following the murder of Thomas A Becket (29th December 1170)

Heraldic Leopard

Three leopards standard

The three leopards standard (1198-1204)

The leopard, symbol of strength and force, makes progressive appearances.
The abbé Lelégard in his work « le château de Pirou », claims that the oldest apparition of the red  shield with leopards appears on the equestrian seal of  Richard Cœur de Lion, (Richard the lionheart) Duke of Normandy and King of England is the seal appended to a charter dated 18 may 1198 where the three leopards are present. This banner and seal were adopted by Richard on his return from the crusades; previously he used lions affronty more or less inspired by the lion cubs featuring in his grandfather Geffrey  Plantagenet’s heraldry. From then on the three leopards are attached to the Duke of Normandy’s standard

Upon Richard’s death, his brother and successor, Jean sans Terre, or John Lackland,  kept the heraldry unchanged.

The standard in the French coat of arms (1204-1426)

From 1204 à 1339, Normandy was attached to the kingdom of France so had no duke hence no standard.
From 1339 to 1426, the various dukes of Normandy  used the heraldry of France.

The two leopards standard (1426-1469)

In 1426 the Duke of Bedford, regent for and uncle of the King of England Henry VI, institutes a shield for the Normandy court of justice with two leopards surmounted by a Fleur de Lys, since in 1432 the seal of the King’s Council sitting in Rouen appears as a shield with two leopards above a parterre of fleur de Lys.
In 1432, Henry VI, King of England and France, founded various faculties which went to form the University of Caen and granted them a seal with two leopards.
In 1450, Normandy became French again. In 1465, Charles, brother of King of France Louis XI, was granted the Duchy of Normandy. His standard bore just two leopards.

Two-leopard standard

Red flag with the cross of Saint Olaf

The Red Cross Flag of Saint Olaf

More recently in the 1930s, Jean Adigard de Gautries created a Normandy flag; a red flag with the cross of Saint Olaf to recall the Scandinavian origins of Normandy. Saint Olaf, the Scandinavian evangelist, was baptised in Rouen.
A heraldic variant brought the insertion of two golden leopards in the top left square so as to make the flag more recognisably Norman.

Flag with the cross of Saint Olaf and two leopards.

Today, the two leopards arms, the most globally recognised emblem of Normandy, constitutes a sign of federation that is easy to indentify.
Nevertheless the three leopard emblem floats today above certain buildings such as the the château de Pirou.