RUSSIAN EMPIRE
 


 

NAVAL ENSIGNS, FLAGS & PENNANTS  •  SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
 

Notes
 

The reign (1682-1725) of the Emperor Peter I—known to history as Peter the Great—witnessed the creation, virtually from scratch, of a powerful Russian navy. A fervent admirer of the West and particularly of the Dutch Republic, the Emperor was determined to make Russia a major naval power. For this purpose he recruited a large number of foreign  specialists in ship design and shipbuilding, and set about the creation of the city of St. Petersburg, intended to serve as Russia's "window to the West" and a major naval port. The development of a powerful Baltic fleet was integral to this vision, and the history of the modern Russian Navy is generally held to begin with Peter's reign. In fact, however, Russia had been building warships since the early seventeenth century, and the first known Russian war ensign dates from 1669. It was flown by the 26-gun ship Eagle, built for service against the Turks on the Caspian Sea. Two versions of this ensign are known; the swallowtailed variant was probably employed as a masthead pennant.

Peter took intense pride in his growing fleet and personally designed many of its ensigns, flags and pennants. His importation of the Order of St. Andrew into Russia resulted in the introduction of the famous Andrew Flag, white with a blue saltire cross, as the Russian Navy's basic ensign. Prior to the appearance of the definitive Andrew Flag, a number of different ensigns are know to have been used during the late seventeenth century. At first the white-blue-red tricolor flag, probably inspired by the Dutch flag, was flown together with a pennant striped in the national colors. Contemporary sources also depict a variant of the tricolor flag with the gold imperial arms on the blue stripe. This ensign is known to have been used by the armed yacht Saint Peter. An ensign of nine stripes (the national colors repeated three times) is shown in a number of contemporary illustrations, and an ensign with the Cross of St. Andrew on a white field between stripes in the national colors. At the end of the seventeenth century, the Russian war ensign was the national tricolor charged with the Cross of St. Andrew. The corresponding masthead pennant displayed the Andrew Flag at the hoist, with the fly striped in the national colors.

Flag Proportions: Naval ensigns and flags of the Russian Empire were generally made in 2:3 proportions, as illustrated. It is unlikely, however, that seventeenth-century ensigns and flags conformed to these proportions in every case.

Credits: Many of my drawings are based on images posted to the FOTW Mailing List by Zeljko Heimer (Croatia). Information was also taken from VEXILLOGRAPHIA, the outstanding website devoted to the historical and current flags of Russia and related countries, from the Russian Navy's official website, and from Whitney Smith's Flags Through the Ages and Across the World (1975).
 



 


 

WAR ENSIGN & MASTHEAD PENNANT OF THE SHIP EAGLECIRCA 1669

 

WAR ENSIGN & MASTHEAD PENNANT • CIRCA 1685

 

ENSIGN OF THE ARMED YACHT SAINT PETER, 1693

 

 

WAR ENSIGNS • LATE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

 

WAR ENSIGN & MASTHEAD PENNANT • CIRCA 1699



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