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Flags of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides Cathedral (Paris, France)

Flags from French military campaigns and wars

Last modified: 2015-06-06 by ivan sache
Keywords: flag collections |
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Photograph by Krzysztof Mizera (Public Domain), located by Esteban Rivera, 15 April 2015

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In the main hall of the Saint-Louis-des-Invalides Cathedral hang historical flags. Judging from the actual interior of the Chapel, which is now part of the musée de l’Armée (Armed Forces Museum) after the 1991 restoration process, there are a total of 126 flags, pennants and banners displayed in the Temple of Mars (the vault) as war trophies. These are flags from military campaigns and wars and this tradition started back in 1688 and contains flags from Cameroon, Austria, Algeria, Germany, Syria, Mexico, China, Vietnam, Chad, among many others.
Esteban Rivera, 16 April 2015


The flags are described in a leaflet released by the Army Museum: Les drapeaux de la cathédrale Saint-Louis-des-Invalides (Army Museum, 5 p.):

Hanging flags to the vault of a church is an old tradition. Bernard Druène (Les Invalides, trois siècles d´histoire) explains that in the chivalric word such a display was an elegant tribute to the god of the armies, while respecting the sacred character of the trophies, which had usually been blessed. In some countries the captured flags were displayed in arsenals or castles; in England, they were kept in Regiment's museums.
In France, during the reigns of Louis XIII, Louis XIV and Louis XV, after a ceremony, the flags were hung to the vault of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. When space lacked, the older flags were transferred to the galleries of the church. In 1688, Louis XIV ordered that all the captures flags should be displayed in the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a rule that was maintained until the end of the Ancient Regime.

In 1793, the convention ordered the closure of all churches. The trophies were transferred to the church of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides, which had been transformed into the Temple of Mars.

The status of the trophies dramatically changed when the Hôtel des Invalides was transformed into the Army Museum. When considered as pure war trophies, the flags were left untouched until falling into pieces, which was the symbol of the eventual triumph over the enemy. When kept in a museum, the flags are parts of the national heritage and should be preserved accordingly. The most damaged flags were restored in 1976. When the church was revamped in 1990, all the flags were sent to the service of textile restoration of the Army Museum, which assessed the state of conservation of each of them and set up a campaign of restoration.
Interpretive translation: Ivan Sache, 16 & 19 April 2015


Additional pictures can be found at: The Nave of San Luis and this Photobucket Blog and the accompanying (picture).
Esteban Rivera, 15 April 2015

Considering that this is a museum, they likely documented the lot, as far as they knew them, and probably took photographs as well. Relevant photographs on the Internet can be found with this search.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 15 & 20 April 2015

The collection before 1814

Consul Napoléon Bonaparte maintained the tradition. Emperor Napoléon I commissioned the ex-servicemen housed in Hôtel des Invalides[lit., Disabled (ex-servicemen)] to care for the trophies. All along the 1st Empire, the Invalides would receive some 1,500 flags; the trophies, however, were shared among different institutions, including the Notre-Dame cathedral.
During the night of 30 to 31 March 1814, most war trophies, including those brought back from the Notre-Dame cathedral, were burned down in the honour yard of Hôtel des Invalides, as ordered by Marshall Sérusier, Governor of Hôtel des Invalides. 'In compliance with the laws of war', the order prevented the trophies to be seized by the enemy about to enter Paris. The metallic parts of the flags (finials, nails) were swept with the ashes down to river Seine - some of them, subsequently retrieved, are shown in the Army Museum. The trophies perviously kept in the Senate and Legislative Corps were hidden and subsequently reinstalled in the Invalides.
Interpretive translation: Ivan Sache, 19 April 2015

The collection 1914-1940

During the First World War, the first flags taken from the enemy were displayed in November 1914 on the organ gallery. Photos of the visit paid by Hitler and the Nazi dignitaries to the tomb of Napoléon I show that the trophies captured by the Grande Armée were still displayed near the Emperor´s tomb.
Ivan Sache, 19 April 2015

Current collection

The flags presented in the Saint-Louis-des-Invalides cathedral are numbered 1 to 126. When entering the church, the flags with uneven number are displayed on the right cornice, from No. 1 at the end, close to the altar, to No. 125 at the entrance, close to the organ; the flags with even number are displayed on the left cornice, from No. 2 at the end, close to the altar, to No. 126 at the entrance, close to the organ. The leaflet describes some of the flag, with colour photos.
Interpretive translation from the aforementioned leaflet: Ivan Sache, 19 April 2015


In the following list, the general assumption is that all numbers represent flags. Though occasionally exceptions are mentioned, it should be noted, however, that in reality more empty spaces show in the photographs than are mentioned in the text.


Austrian 1792-pattern Ordinärfahne. Two were carried by the 2nd and any subsequent battalions of each infantry regiment. The 1st Battalion carried one flag like this and a Leibfhane, which had a white field, with a similar border. The reverse bore this design, the obverse bore the Virgin and Child surrounded by gold rays.

The arms on the breast are:

  1. Hungary Ancient & Modern
  2. Spain (1 Castile, 2 Leon, 3 Aragon, 4 Sicily, 5 Grenada)
  3. Bohemia
  4. Burgundy Ancient
  5. Tuscany
  6. Siebenburgen
  7. Milan
  8. Gonzaga
  9. Hapsburg
  10. Flanders
  11. Tirol

Overall Austria and Lorraine ensigned by an archduke's coronet

The flag was 140cm x 168cm. The 1792 pattern was, in theory, replaced in 1804, but regiments only received the new pattern when the old ones were worn out. Many regiments continued to carry their old colours in 1805, when they were captured by the French (presumably at the battle of Austerlitz).
Ian Sumner, 21 April 2015

Kept in the Palace of Luxembourg (Senate), they escaped the 1814 destruction by fire. A photo shows one of these flags as yellow with a border of black, yellow, red, and white triangles in a pattern — going flyward along the top edge — of outer yellow, inner red, outer white, inner black. Charged with a big black double-headed eagle, crowned with an Imperial crown and bearing on the chest an escutcheon made of the Imperial arms. It's like the unidentified Austrian standard, but then with a wider lay-out, and with a Holy Roman Empire eagle, though with the crowns on top of the shield, rather than on the eagle's heads, 'F' and 'II' in the wings, and a very complex shield with 12 quarters, some of which are themselves combined arms.
The cypher and the date would make it Francis II, HRE. To be precise, 1805 would have been the time when he was Double-Emperor of Germany and Austria.
The next photograph shows the reverses of two of these (1 and 3), in the background, which are in obverse as well.
Ivan Sache and Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 19 April 2015

6 & 9 Captured in 1806 during the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. Belonged to the Reali Albania regiment. Kept in the Palais Bourbon (Legislative Corps), they escaped the 1814 destruction by fire. A photo shows number 9 as square, white with a red cross flory superimposed by a yellow saltire, with black lettering RFRA below the cross. That "below", however, is at the outer end of the flag staff, furthest from the wall, whereas most other flags appear to hang with their bottom edge closest the wall. The yellow saltire is drawn as two separate poles or similar, the main diagonal under the counterdiagonal. The arms of the cross look like they had letters on them, but it's difficult to make out what they're all supposed to be.

Flag #9 is an 1800-pattern regimental colour (Bandiera Sensiglia). The colonel´s colour was white with the Royal arms in the centre, and a gold fleur-de-lys within a green laurel wreath in each corner.
The Neapolitan regiment of Real Albanesi was created in 1798 and disbanded in 1806. RFRA is just the regimental name, and stands for Reggimento Fanteria Real Albanesi. This was a standard feature of Neapolitan colours of the time.
Ian Sumner, 21 April 2015

13, 17,
18, 20
Captured in July 1830 from the Ottomans during the seizure of Algiers by the expeditionary corps commanded by Lieutenant General de Bourmont. The photograph shows 13 to be red and almost square, with maybe a slightly curved fly. Not very much to look at, but it may not always have been like that
19 & 22Captured in 1832 during the conquest of Algeria. A photo shows a red flag with probably golden embroidery, with a roundish fly, and possibly a different colour border as well. But almost all has faded away. Even the red only shows against a white background; in a shot of the flag hanging under a window it shows up brownish, like the larger but similar 17 next to it.
21, 23,
25, 26
Captured from the Moroccan troops during the Battle of Isly, won by Marshall Bugeaud on 14 August 1844. Number 21 is shown to be in a red that is still red. It appears marginally longer than high and has a narrow fringe. What we can see of 25 is similar. On the other hand, 23 looks like it's faded to the cloth.
What is interesting, however, is that the staff of 21 has a crescent finial, like the red unidentified flag, (#F) with a fringe. Of course, that one does have quite a charge.
28, 29,
& 30
Captured in Mogador on 15-16 August 1844 by the navy squad commanded by the Prince de Joinville.
32Captured on 21 November 1845 from Argentine troops during the attack of the Obligado batteries by the seamen led by Commandant Trehouart.
33 &
Captured in Mexico during the 1862-1867 war that attempted to establish a Catholic Empire, to no avail. Several captured flags belonged to sapper's regiment.
Flag 35 has an emblem featuring a shovel and a pickaxe crossed per saltire superimposed to anchor (for the Navy) ensigned by a grenade bearing the regiment's number. It's not quite clear what the number is supposed to be in the drawing in the leaflet. It has more of a wolfsangel than of a number. It might just be the local style for such numbers, of course.
Flag 36 was captured on 14 June 1862 in Cerro Borrego from Sanchez y Roman sapper's battalion of Zacatecas. The flag is square, red with the white embroidering of the unit's name and emblem.
51Captured on 16 July 1881 during the seizure of Sfax (Tunisia) by the squad of Vice Admiral Garnault.
34Captured on 3 July 1883 in Papier, near Hanoi (Tonkin).
53Command flag of General Trien Hue, captured on 12 March 1884 in Bac Ninh by a column led by General Millot.
54, 56,
& 65
Chinese flags captured in 1884-1885 from the bands known as Black Flags or the Black Flag Army.
Flag 58 is shown on a photo as black, or darkest blue, with a white tiger, a symbol of domination and ferocity in fighting. However, though the leader of the Black Flag Army claims to have dreamed of his future self being referred to as "The Black Tiger General", that's as far as the association between tigers and Black Flags goes. The Black Flags seem to have had black bordered flags, with the flags of the leader being all black.
Somewhat confusing: Relatively recent, this flag seems to have switched sides, from the odd numbers, to the even numbers. (Then again, maybe the entire sides switched.)
68 & 69Annamite flags captured in Tonkin in 1885.
72Captured by Lieutenant Pourchet in Khone (Siam) in 1893. The photograph shows it to be now a red field with an inner dark brown border and an outer grey border, with white lines between the colours. We're seeing the reverse, but photographs taken from the entrance show the same pattern. E.g. at Selene Studies Abroad. If it had any charge on it, it's long gone. What other flag has such a red panel with borders around it?
73A flag of Chari Tchad, is part of a series of 16 flags captured on 2 March 1909 in Dogotchi by Captain Jérusalémy and on 15 June 1908 in Djoua by Commandant Julien.
74Captured on 5 May 1895 from the Black Flags in Tieng Ngo. It's a small red flag, with no special features, except that it looks like either there used to be a charge that has faded, or the charge is on the obverse only. On this side of the flag, there is nothing really Black Flag Army-like about it.
& 84
Captured in 1912 during the pacification of Morocco led by General Lyautey.
A photo shows flag 75 as red with golden embroidery: A "Rub el Hizb (star made from two squares), with in its centre what looks like an almost closed crescent, and diagonally outside it four more such crescents. Nearer the hoist a cartouche with one line of writing that are hard to read. Some parts are cloth-coloured and others more yellow. It may be they all were yellow or golden at some point.
The photograph shows 76 as a very pale flag, but it turns out that's because we're seeing the reverse: Other photographs show on the obverse a dark red flag, with again the Rub el Hizb and the outer four crescents, all white, but the crescents not closed as far as for 75.
Likewise 78 is shown as a pale reverse, but on the obverse is light green with Rub el Hizb and four crescents and a cartouche all red, and the fifth, inside crescent and what appears to be the ends and the lettering of the cartouche white.
Flag 82 appears somewhat plain, but we can see the Rub el Hizb shining through. The obverse is a pink flag with a white Rub el Hizb that takes of most of the flag with inside it a crescent and star, all in white or maybe a light grey.
83Captured on 27 November 1913 in Ain Galakka from the Senusi rebels by the 7th Meharist Company, commanded by Delvalat.
& 90
German flags captured on 30 October 1915 in Eseka (Cameroon) by Mechet´s column.
It's odd, but while the text mentions position 86, the photograph shows it to be empty.
Then flag 88 is a Black over White over Red tricolour with an iron cross centred, and a grey corner on the top stripe. If the grey is just a repair, this would be German Empire Naval Jack 1903-1919, as the tips of the horizontal arms don't seem to extend into the other stripes.
Flag 90 is a German Imperial Post Office Flag 1893-1921.
89A Cherifian Hashemit flag captured on 7 October 1918 on the Yeni Sarail of Beirut (Lebanon) from the partisans of Emir Faysal.
91-94Druze flags captured on 17 September 1925 in Messifrey (Syria) by the 5th Battalion of the 4th Foreign Infantry Regiment, commanded by Kratzert.
Flags 92 and 94 are apparently earlier than the Druze flags we cover. Flag 94 is this one from The dark charge is red, the field is green. Flag 92 is similar, but has slightly more space under the white rectangle, where another three of the white charges are placed, and another red charge is in the centre, partly on the white and partly on the green. (It would help if we knew what this triple-unity-like symbol is supposed to be, and whether it has a name.)
95Captured on 19 November 1927 in Nam-Si from the reformist Annamites by Caporal Ii-a-Loc, from the 2nd Regiment of Tonkin Tirailleurs.
97 & 98Italian flags captured during the Second World War. Flag 98 is similar to War Ensign of the Kingdom of Italy, however, this one doesn't seem to have the red bonnet inside the crown.
103Captured from the Viêt-Minh during the War of Indochina (1945-1954).

Descriptions interpretive translation by Ivan Sache from the aforementioned leaflet and comments by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 19 April 2015

Other flags

I also see the Elephant of Siam.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 15 April 2015