Essential Information

Type Free displays
National Maritime Museum
Date and Times Past event: Monday 17 – Friday 21 October 2022
Prices Free

Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a flag from the Battle of Trafalgar on display at the National Maritime Museum.  

Measuring almost 10 metres high and 14.5 metres wide, the 'naval ensign' is one of the largest objects in the Museum’s collection.

This huge flag once flew from the Spanish warship San Ildefonso, but became a poignant symbol of commemoration after it was captured by the Royal Navy in 1805.

The Spanish ensign will be on display from Monday 17 October until the morning of Trafalgar Day, an event held on 21 October every year to remember the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.

For five days only, the flag will be unrolled on the Great Map for visitors to view.

Then during the afternoon of 21 October, conservation staff will carefully roll it up for long term storage - so don't miss this unique opportunity to see British maritime history in person.

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Event timings

17 October: The ensign will be transported and unrolled during the morning, and will be open for visitors to see from 3pm.

18-20 October, 10am-4pm: The ensign will be on display on the Great Map throughout the day. In order to protect it overnight, the ensign will be covered from 4pm each day. Depending on conditions inside the Museum, the flag may also occasionally need to be covered during the day. 

20 October, from 6.30pm: Royal Museums Greenwich Members can enjoy a private viewing with Senior Curator of World and Maritime History Robert Blyth and Senior Textile Conservator Nicky Yates. Not a Member? Join now.

21 October: The flag will be on display throughout the morning of Trafalgar Day. From 1pm, visitors will be able to watch as Museum conservators and collections teams carefully roll the flag back up and prepare it for storage.

Visitor information: Please ask a member of staff when you arrive for directions to the flag. If you are a regular visitor to the Museum some routes you are used to may be unavailable.

What is an ensign?

An ensign is a flag or banner that is flown from the stern (rear) of a ship. The flag displays the ship's nationality.

The history of the Spanish ensign

The Spanish ensign is one of the most iconic objects related to Admiral Lord Nelson in the National Maritime Museum’s collection.

It was captured from the 74-gun warship San Ildefonso during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, when San Ildefonso surrendered to the Royal Navy ship HMS Defence.

The ensign later hung in St Paul’s Cathedral during the state funeral of Nelson on 9 January 1806.

Interment of Nelson at St Paul's, with Spanish ensign in painting
The Spanish ensign hanging in St Paul’s Cathedral at Admiral Lord Nelson’s state funeral (PAH7331)

The ensign entered the National Maritime Museum's collection in 1936. However, due to its size and fragile condition it has been in storage for decades - until now.

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