British Line Infantry Colours

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Introduction

Prior to 1743 British regiments were known by the names of their colonel, and the regimental colours were embellished with elements of his coat of arms. In 1743 the first of a series of Royal warrants and regulations standardized British colours. Colonel Robert Napier, adjutant general of the British army, in 1747, reiterated the points made in 1743 and included water-color paintings to the Clothing Board 1749 (published in 1751). These paintings summerize the Royal warrants and show:

-The king's, or first colour of every regiment, is the great Union throughout.

-No color display any designs except those approved, and specifically not any part of the arms of their colonels.

-Except those specifically authorized royal or pre 1743 badges, colours display in their centers the rank of the regiment in a union wreath of roses and thistles on one stalk.

-The second colour has the color of the regimental facing, with a small Union in the upper canton next the staff; except those regiments which are faced with red, white, or black. The second colour of those Regiments which are faced with red or white, has the red Cross of St George in a white field, and the Union in the upper canton. The second colour of those which are faced with black, has St. George's Cross throughout; Union in the upper canton; the three other cantons black.

-In the center of each colour, there is the number of the rank of the regiment, in gold Roman characters painted, or embroidered, within the wreath of roses and thistles on the same stalk; except those regiments which are allowed to wear any Royal devices, or pre 1743 badges; on whose colours the rank of the regiment is painted, or embroidered, towards the upper corner. The cord and tassels of the whole to be crimson and gold mixed.


To note: each painting from Napier included a white scroll for the regimental motto, although few regiments had a motto at the time. We have supposed that the colours of the regiments without motto didn't have in reality a scroll and decided to not show it (no original colour presently in museum is showing a blank scroll).

Description

Size of the colours

King Colour Sizes - Source: Frédéric Aubert

From A to B = six feet six inches (for King and Regimental Colours)

From B to C = six feet two inches (for King and Regimental Colours)

From D to E = one foot one inch

From E to F = five inches

From G to H = nine inches


  • Length of the pike (spear included) = nine feet ten inches
  • Thickness of the pike at top = 5/8 inch and at bottom = 7/8 inch
  • Length of the spear = four inches
  • Length of the cords and tassels = 3 feet, each tassel = four inches

Design of the central wreath

The wreaths are carefully designed to stay within the red cross of St George on the King’s colour, and are of identical size and shape on the regimentals.

Wreath design of the early 1750s - Source: Frédéric Aubert
Wreath design of the late 1750s/1760s - Source: Frédéric Aubert
  • Wreath design of the early 1750s:

-The wreath is almost circular and measures only eleven inches across at the widest point.

-The wreath design is small, symmetrical, circular, and closely wrapped around the regimental number.

-The regimental Roman numerals stand alone, without cartouche, background color, or "Regiment" term in the field.

-The wreath design is contained within the space of St. George's Cross.

-The colour devises are almost universally embroidered.


  • Wreath design of the late 1750s/1760s (also called "rococo" pattern):

-The wreath design is wild and fluid.

-The wreath is no longer treated with near-perfect symmetry, but the design is still tight, circular, and controlled.

-The regimental Roman numeral now universally appeared surmounted by "REGT.", in a rococo cartouche with red background and outlined in gold.

-The wreath design is large but, like its predecessor, contained within the space of St. George's Cross.

-The colour devices are still almost universally embroidered.

Second battalion

Some British regiments had two battalions and it was necessary to distinguish the second battalion from the first battalion.

The distinction of the colours of the second battalion is a flaming ray of gold descending from the upper corner of each colour towards the center. It seems that, on king colours, the regimental number was in blue and on the flaming ray of gold. On regimental colours, the flaming ray was under the Union in the upper left corner, the regimental number still in gold on the middle of the Union.


King's Colour 2nd Battalion - Source: Frédéric Aubert
Regimental Colour 2nd Battalion (here for a Royal regiment with blue field) - Source: Frédéric Aubert

References

- 1743 Royal Clothing Warrant

- Colonel Robert Napier: Clothing Board 1749

- 1768 Royal Clothing Warrant

- Cecil C.P. Lawson: A History of the Uniforms of the British Army, Volume II / Kaye & Ward Ltd 1971.

- Awesome article upon British colours on the site: http://dupagemilitaryflag.com


Acknowledgements

Frédéric Aubert for the initial version of this article.