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Answered 2011-04-25 21:06:08

Today the word "banner" is used generally for any type or shape of flag or large poster; in medieval times it meant a very specific and particular type of flag and was just one of many different kinds: banners, banderoles, gonfalons, gonfanons, pennons, pennoncells, standards, streamers, and guidons.

Most people are unaware that there were many different grades of knight, each rank being allowed to carry (or have someone else carry) a specific and strictly-controlled type of flag.

At the very bottom of the grade system were knights bachelor, originally landless and therefore poor knights who had little or no experience of battle. They carried a pennoncelle attached to their spear - a small square or rectangular flag with two, three or more triangular tails on the edge opposite the spear; many of these can be seen on the Bayeux Tapestry carried by Norman knights. Higher grades of knight bachelor carried a pennon, usually a flag about 3 feet long and triangular in shape.

On becoming an experienced and trusted knight banneret, the knight was entitled to remove these triangular tails, leaving just the square or rectangular flag which was called a banner, carrying the same device as shown on the shield. This was carried in different sizes by increasingly higher grades of knight and might be fringed around the edge.

The next level of knights were of very high status and included royalty, their male relatives and most trusted barons. They carried (actually someone else carried for them) flags called standards, which were extremely long, narrow, tapering and swallow-tailed at the end. A royal standard could be 33 feet long. They did not display coats of arms, but the animal or other crests, livery colours, badges and mottoes of the family.

The purpose of the banner was to indicate the presence of a prticular knight on the battlefield; it served as a rallying-point for his own household troops and (since it symbolised the man himself) its loss was considered extremely shameful. It was from these banners that heralds in the opposing armies could identify the coats of arms (and therefore the names) of the important knights in the enemy ranks and where they were positioned.

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