The history of Spain from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries is a tale of gradual decline from imperial splendor, marked by economic stagnation, political instability, national and civil wars. This turbulence was reflected in the evolution of Spain's national flags, though certain themes remained constant. After 1843, the horizontal red-yellow-red triband, originally adopted as the Spanish naval ensign in 1785, was the basis for most national flags. However, the vicissitudes of Spanish politics were reflected in the various coats of arms that appeared on these flags. During the short life of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-39) a horizontal tricolor with three equal stripes of red, yellow and purple served as the national flag, but it disappeared after the victory of the Nationalist opposition in the Spanish Civil War.
From the fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, Spain had no national flag as the term is understood today, Variants of the royal standards of the monarchs were used for various purposes, and the closest thing to a national flag was the Cross of Burgundy, representing royal authority in Spain's overseas colonies. This heraldic symbol was bequeathed to Spain by the Habsburg monarchy. As was the case with various other European countries, the first Spanish flag signifying nationality as opposed to royal authority was the 1785-1928 merchant ensign.
See also Naval and Military Flags of Spain


De Facto Flag of the Kingdom of Spain & the Spanish Empire  •  1506-1843

Kingdom of Spain
State Flag & Government Ensign  •  1843-1873 & 1874-1931

First Spanish Republic
State Flag & Government Ensign  •  1873-74

Merchant Ensign  •  1785-1928

Civil Flag & Merchant Ensign  •  1928-31 & Since 1939

Second Spanish Republic
State Flag & Government Ensign  •  1931-39

National Flag & Merchant Ensign  •  1931-39

National Flag of the Nationalist Faction  •  1936-40

From the early sixteenth century to 1843, the de facto national flag of Spain was white with the Cross of Burgundy in red. This flag was used primarily in Spain's overseas colonial empire. The Cross of Burgandy was a symbol associated with the House of Habsburg, whose monarchs ruled Spain from 1516 to 1700. It was replaced in 1843 by the 1785 war ensign, which was additionally designated as Spain's state flag and ensign in that year. This red-yellow-red triband with the lesser arms of Spain on the yellow stripe, became the model for all subsequent Spanish flags. In 1928 a variant without the arms replaced the 1785 merchant ensign. During the brief existence of the First Spanish Republic, the state flag displayed the lesser arms without the crown.

In 1931 the fall of the monarchy resulted in the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic, and this time the Spanish flag was substantially modified. It became a horizontal tricolor with red, yellow and purple stripes. Such flags had been used for many years by republican organizations and political parties. The state flag bore the coat of arms of the Republic, called the "arms of national character," which were identical to those of the short-lived nineteenth century republic. They quartered the arms of Castile, Le๓n, Aragon and Navarre, with Granada at the point. The shield was flanked by the Pillars of Hercules, representing the Strait of Gibraltar. The scarlet scroll bore the motto PLUS ULTRA (More Beyond). A mural crown, a republican symbol, replaced the royal crown.The proportions of these republican flags were altered from 2:3 to 3:5.

During the Civil War and for some time thereafter, the Nationalist faction used the red-yellow-red triband with the arms of national character centered on the yellow stripe.


National Flag & Government Ensign  •  1940-45

National Flag & Government Ensign  •  1945-77

National Flag & Government Ensign  •  1977-81

National Flag & Government Ensign Since 1981

The victory of the Nationalist rebels under General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) led to the abolition of the Republic and the establishment of a fascist/authoritarian state with Franco at its head. The new polity, officially established in 1940, was called the Spanish State until 1947, when Franco decreed a restoration of the monarchy with himself as Regent vested with the power to designate a royal successor. The republican coat of arms was deleted from the wartime Nationalist flag and replaced by new arms based on the Eagle of St. John, which had appeared on the royal banners of the Catholic Monarchs in the late fourteenth to early fifteenth centuries. The artistic rendition of the arms was revised twice before this flag was replaced in 1981 by the current national and state flag, which bears the crowned royal arms. These arms are similar to those of the 1931-39 Republic, with a royal crown replacing the mural crown and an escutcheon of the arms of Bourbon-Anjou, which is the proper name of the current Spanish royal house. A square version of the national flag with the arms centered is used by high civil authorities, such as government ministers.


Common Royal Banner of the Catholic Monarchs  •  1475-92

Common Royal Banner of the Catholic Monarchs  •  1492-1508

Royal Standard (House of Habsburg)  •  1580-1668

Royal Standard (House of Bourbon)  •  1700-1761

Royal Standard (House of Bourbon)  •  1838-68 & 1875-1931

Presidential Standard of Manuel Aza๑a  •  1936-39

Standard of Francisco Franco as Head of State & Regent  •  1940-75

Standard of Juan Carlos as Prince of Spain  •  1969-75

Standard of King Felipe VI Since 2014

Royal Banner of the House of Bourbon-Anjou

Since the fifteenth century, the banners and standards of the monarchs of Spain have displayed their royal arms. These arms have taken various forms over the centuries, primarily by distinguishing the House of Habsburg from the House of Bourbon. The standards themselves have been of broadly similar design since the sixteenth century, displaying the arms under a royal crown, surrounded by the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, on a red, dark blue, or purple field. The current coat of arms first appeared on the standard of Juan Carlos as Prince of Spain, i.e. as heir apparent to Francisco Franco, the Head of State from 1940 and Regent from 1947 until his death in 1975. After Juan Carlos became King of Spain in 1975 he used the same standard, with a royal crown replacing the princely crown. The standard of the current king, Felipe VI, omits the Cross of Burgundy and has a red field.
In addition to these standards, Spanish monarchs have banners of arms and guidons. The former, historically reserved for occasions of high ceremony, display the shield of the royal arms in banner form. The latter are fringed versions of the royal standard for use during military ceremonies. The Royal Banner of the House of Bourbon-Anjou is not used in Spain, but it may be seen in St. George's Chapel, Winsdor, where the banners of arms of the members of the Order of the Garter are on display. King Juan Carlos and King Felipe VI have both been made honorary members of the Order as Stranger Knights.

There were two presidents of the Spanish Republic between 1931 and 1939, and their standards displayed the arms of national character on a red field, flanked by their initials. Shown is the standard of the second president, Manuel Aza๑a; the standard of his predecessor, Niceto Alcalแ, bore the initials N-A. As Head of State and Regent from 1940 to 1975, Francisco Franco had a standard based on the military guidons of Spain's sixteenth-century monarchs. It depicts the heraldic charge known as the Bend of Castile flanked by the Pillars of Hercules.