If you’re visiting the Centre during October Half Term, you will have the chance to design and make your own miniature battle standard to take away with you but what designs were seen on standards on the battlefield during the Wars of The Roses?

Luke, one of our Visitor Services Assistants, tells us more in his blog:

Battle Standards of the Wars of The Roses

Battle standards were very important in medieval warfare. When there were thousands of men, in similar looking armour and clothes, all rushing through each other on the field it was difficult to tell people apart. Your captain needed to be close to your commander, so he could receive the orders of combat but all you can see is visors and spearheads – just how will you find your leader?

This is the importance of the standard bearer: it’s an honourable position for any knight and it requires him to spend the whole battle as close to his lord as possible, raising a great seven- or eight-foot spear high above the chaos of the battle with a long thin flag showing the commanders ‘standard’.

Standards therefore needed three qualities: Firstly, they had to be easily visible, so no sky blue and no soft shapes or faded lines. Secondly, they had to be easily identifiable, so each shape and colour is different to others on the field. Thirdly, they had to be easily relatable, so the soldiers could read the symbols and be able to connect them with the person they belonged to.

Lords usually drew the images for their standards from some part of their livery and heraldry, the animal or flower they associated with themselves or their coat of arms was most common. Let’s take a look at some banners of arms and rate them on these scales:

1. King Richard III

Richard’s personal livery badge of a white boar was like a logo. He would give out ‘livery collars’ with the white boar in the middle for men to wear to show their loyalty to him. There are theories for why the white boar was used but that’s for another time. The animal helped distinguish him from other members of his family using the same background colours of murrey (red) and blue. The rose and sun is also visible: this is Richard’s family emblem, the sun represents his brother Edward and the rose is his father Richard, Duke of York

Visible 5/5
Identifiable: 2.5/5
Relatable: 4/5

2. Henry VII

The dragon was Wales’ national animal much as the lion was England’s (and half the families of England used lions in some way on their standards). Tudor uses dragons to identify as being from a Welsh noble family and his best bet invading Britain was to use Welsh support. The green and white which are now synonymous with the Welsh flag were the colours of the Tudor family flag until then.

Henry’s father’s family had the dragon but Henry’s right as king came from his mother’s side so that needed to be shown too, through the red rose of Lancaster and the royal standard everyone else was already using. The mix was confusing to say the least so its no wonder he adopted the red and white rose the following year

Visible: 4/5
Identifiable: 3/5
Relatable: 2.5/5

3. John De Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford

De Vere’s standard is not easy to reproduce because across the many battles he fought in he used many different emblems. The coat of arms of his Vere family is the top image and it is supported by a blue boar and a gold harpy on each side. The boar has been shown to be easily recognisable, it was sometimes used as his emblem with the white star also being used (sometimes depicted blue).

De Vere’s star is part of an infamous story: at the Battle of Barnet another leader called Montagu, who had never worked with De Vere before, confused his star with another sun badge of their enemy attacked him in the mist. De Vere cried ‘treachery’ and all three commanders fell to fighting each other making it a dramatic loss.

Visible 5/5
Identifiable: 1/5
Relatable: 4/5

4. Edward IV
When Edward was 18 he got his first full command at Mortimer’s Cross. On the morning of the battle he witnessed the solar phenomenon called parhelion or ‘sun dogs’.

He interpreted it as a blessing from the trinity and won his first battle as leader, then continued in a string of successes until he was crowned king of England. Edward thanked the sun dogs for the victory and used them for his own symbol thereafter.

The Sun in Splendour is the heraldic symbol of the sun blazing, represented by spikes coming out and Edward used this for a lot of his imagery. Edward put suns EVERYWHERE: every livery collar, every badge, even shoes. Edward had a canny business mind and he was king of brand alignment more so than any other of his age.

5. Thomas, Lord Stanley
Thomas Lord Stanley betrayed his friend and king Richard to side with his stepson and brother instead. This cost Richard the battle and the kingdom. The Stanley family are notoriously self-seeking changing allegiance often and that includes ever moving battle standards.

First the stag, then the triskelion (three-legged wheel) which symbolised their ownership of the Isle of Man (and boastful title King of Man that came with it) and thirdly, the talon which is a simplification of their popular but unofficial crest of the eagle and child.

Just to avoid any confusion the eagle is stealing this baby out of its bassinet with the intention of dropping it from a great height..!

Visible: 2/5
Identifiable: 3/5
Relatable: 2/5