Command flag, Admiral of the Fleet, RN (before 1801)

A full-sized command flag of a 1st rate associated with the first fleet action of the French Revolutionary War, fought on the 1 June 1794 and thereafter known as the Glorious 1 June. It was flown as the flag of the British commander, Richard Earl Howe, indicating his role as Admiral of the Fleet. In Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg’s painting of the battle (also in the Museum’s collection, see BHC0470), the flag can be seen at the main of Howe’s flagship ‘Queen Charlotte’ forming the apex of the composition. Although the British fleet were the victors capturing six ships and sinking a seventh, the French fleet protected a vital American grain convoy which successfully landed its cargo at a time of food shortage in France.

The flag was handed down through the family of a midshipman in ‘Queen Charlotte’, William Burgh, who was promoted lieutenant shortly after the action on the 24 July 1794. Letters from Burgh to his family include an account of the battle and his name is marked on the kitbag in which the flag was kept by his descendents. The construction of the flag is entirely consistent with its provenance — other late 18th and early 19th century flags in the collection show the diagonals of the Scottish saltire failing to join up correctly. The loosely woven bunting and hand-sewn seams are also indicative of an early date. It seems likely that the flag would have been made in the Royal Dockyards or by one of their contractors.

James I introduced by royal proclamation in 1606, a flag joining together the crosses and St George and St Andrew, the emblems of his kingdoms of England and Scotland. The king was anxious to unify the two formerly warring states and introduced the name Great Britain for the new dominion. The Union Flag designed by his heralds was specifically for use at sea. It remained in use (with a break during the Commonwealth period) until replaced in 1801 by the present day design. St Patrick’s saltire was added at this date, representing the union of Great Britain and Ireland

Object Details

ID: AAA0730
Collection: Flags; Textiles
Type: Command flag
Display location: Not on display
Events: French Revolutionary Wars: Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1794
Vessels: Admiral of the Fleet; Queen Charlotte (1790)
Date made: Before 1794; before
People: Royal Navy; Burgh, William Howe, Richard
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: flag: 3962.4 x 5588 mm

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