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Belgrano’s historical flags (La Plata: northern Argentina, 1813-1815)

Last modified: 2013-12-02 by antónio martins
Keywords: belgrano (manuel) | charles 3 (spain) | saint mary | cockade |
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[Flag of Belgrano]
by Jaume Ollé, 08 Jun 1998
See also:

Origin: legend

The Argentine standard was conceived by General Belgrano, at the place where today is located the city of Rosario. He got the inspiration while he was staring at the sky, just before a battle, at the shores of the Paraná. [myth#1]
Felipe Flores Pinto, 23 Feb 1998, translated by Santiago Dotor

This is false, even though it is what teachers are using to teach at school. It is a very poetic image of Manuel Belgrano (designed General, but actually a Doctor in Law). He was fronting a big problem, while the Spanish Royal Army was coming over the Rio de la Plata vice-kingdom. Because the local army (trying to defend this place) was using the same uniform, and even the same flag. He had to find something to diferentiate both armies, but... How? General Manuel Belgrano decided to use the Borbon family colours in order to make a flag to identify the local army.[myth#2]
Eugenio Grigorjev, 09 Apr 2000

These are not «the colours of the Bourbon family» which would be yellow and blue (utmostly adding red), the Bourbon-Anjou Arms being «Azure, three fleurs-de-lys Or, a bordure Gules».
Santiago Dotor, 11 Apr 2000

Actually, the origin of the Argentinian (and thereafter the Uruguayan and Central American) colours are the colours of the (Spainsh) Order of Charles III rather than «the white cloud on a blue sky» seen by Belgrano.
Santiago Dotor and Eugenio Grigorjev, 13 Apr 2000

Origin: facts

The first revolts in Argentina were intended to fight the rule of Joseph I Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother, appointed King of Spain). Patriots in Spain but also in the South American provinces showed their allegiance to the “legitimate” Bourbon (more precisely Anjou) dinasty by showing the colours they most associated with them, those of the Order of Charles III, at the time and up to nowadays the most important State Order in Spain (after of course the very exclusive Order of the Golden Fleece). In Goya's picture, several members of the Royal Family are wearing the sash of the Order of Charles III (Charles IV's father) the same way some of them are wearing the Collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece around their necks. They had been awarded these Orders by the King.
Santiago Dotor, 11 Apr 2000

The authorisation passed by the Triunvirate governement to adopt the national cockade inspired Belgrano to create a flag with those colours. On February 27th 1812, while presenting two new artillery batteries nearby Rosario city, Belgrano showed the new national flag to the troops. He reported to the government thus, «Having been necessary to raise a flag and lacking one, I ordered it be made white and sky blue as the colours of the national cockade; I hope this shall be approved by Your Excellency».

The government disapproved Belgrano’s measure, and asked him to replace the new flag with that used on the Buenos Aires Fortress (red and yellow). Belgrano did not receive this order as he was already marching North to take command of the army. Therefore, he ordered once again his flag to be hoisted on the second anniversary of the May Revolution, in the Jujuy Cathedral, where Juan Ignacio Gorriti blessed the flag after a Te Deum. The government understood this as a disobedience by Belgrano, who answered that he would reserve the flag for the final battle to victory.

The First Assembly of the XII I [12th or 13th?] Year allowed the flag to be used but with no written consent, so as to avoid total breach with Spain. The Constituent Congress of Tucuman adopted it officially on July 20th 1816, under the initiative of congressman Esteban A. Gascón. But the sky blue and white flag had already been used on many important occasions, for example, when Montevideo surrendered on June 23rd 1814 it replaced the Spanish flag, and the Buenos Aires Fortress adopted it on April 17th 1815.

In 1818 Congress determined that any national flag was to be blue and white and that the war flag was to be defaced with a sun on the white stripe.

Santiago Dotor, 15 Jun 1999, translating from this website

Among the four flags atributed to Belgrano, none had a Sun. It shows for the first time on the argentine flag in 1818.
Gus Tracchia, 02 Feb 2000, translated by António Martins

Frequently asked questions:

  • origin of the colours: some possibilities are
    1. the colours of the coat of Our Lady;
    2. the Buenos Aires coat of arms designed 1649;
    3. the colours of the Cross and Band [Sash] of Charles III [of Spain], as used by opponents to José Bonaparte whose supporters used a red band;
    4. blue and sky blue as used by patriots on several pieces of clothing during the English invasions, and by the regiments raised in 1806 and 1807, particularly after a stock of blue material was taken from the English as part of a war booty and used to make uniforms;
    5. the French tricolour, minus the Spanish-looking red;
    6. etc.
  • shade of blue: blue and sky blue were used indistinctly;
  • number and disposition of the stripes: Belgrano’s flag was vertically white-blue. On a picture made during Belgrano’s trip to London — presumably painted under his indications —, the flag appears as horizontally white-blue. [This does not match well with what is later said about what happened to Belgrano’s flag, as it ends up saying that this one was probably a horizontal white-blue-white...]
Santiago Dotor, 15 Jun 1999, translating from this website

Sash of the Order of Charles III

There is a clear relationship between the colours (and their layout) of the Order of Charles III (which were used both in continental Spain and in the — then — overseas provinces by opponents to the then King Joseph I Bonaparte, whose supporters used a plain red cockade) and the Argentinian flag.
Santiago Dotor, 14 Jul 2000

Earlier version, 1771

[Sash in 1771] image by Jaume Ollé, 13 Jul 2000

The Order of Charles III, as it was originally created by this king on September 19th 1771 (published 24th October), had a light blue sash fimbriated white. An image of Charles III (by Goya, 1784-1788) showing that early version cam be seen here.
Santiago Dotor, 14 Jul 2000

Later version, 1804

[Sash in 1771] image by Jaume Ollé, 13 Jul 2000

Charles III’s son Charles IV issued a Royal Decree on June 12th 1804, changing the Order’s statutes and making the sash light blue-white-light blue. An image of Charles IV and his family (by Goya, 1800) most of them wearing the sash of the Order can be seen here.
Santiago Dotor, 14 Jul 2000

So from the point of view of the Argentinian flag and colours, the original 1771 sash is irrelevant, since the later 1804 colours (still used today in Spain) were issued long before the Argentinian anti-Napoleonic, later independentist, use of such colours. (Extensive information on the Order of Charles III, with Spanish text only but many illustrations, can be found here.)
Santiago Dotor, 14 Jul 2000