The Waving Flag: Wars of the Roses Livery Colours

Thursday 13 December 2018

Wars of the Roses Livery Colours

At the end of September I put the Livery Colours Database online. So began my trip down memory lane.

When I returned to wargaming in the 1990s the second project I completed was a War of the Roses army featuring Henry Tudor at Bosworth. As regular readers will know I have recently returned to this period with the intention of updating the heavy infantry. As a consequence I have had to revisit the thorny subject of livery colours, standards, flags and coats.

It can be hard to convert the available information into plausible (this is important - see below) livery flags and coats.  Single colour liveries are easy but multi-colour liveries can be very confusing.  Despite my previous experience I recently I made a basic mistake designing a livery flag so I created this graphic as an aide memoire:

This illustrates how to convert a written livery or the colours of a standard (which are the most common & readily available sources) into a livery flag and a livery coat.

Update, 20th June, 2024

The above has been enhanced to clearly show the halving of livery coats.

As an aside, I thought this had something to do with the way the coat was made, but it's difficult to pin down exactly how livery coats were made.   See the comments for more details.

The conversion process is not based on detailed historical evidence as there's not a lot in existence.  It is however based on what is available but be aware that any conversion starts as conjecture unless confirmed by further research.

The rules used are:

  • The colours are always written in the order dexter (right) & sinister (left) in line with heraldic practice.
  • Standards are per fess (split horizontally) with the dexter colour on top.
  • Livery flags are per pale (split vertically) with the dexter colour at the hoist (centre) such that the two sides are mirror images of one another.
  • Livery coats are split vertically in half with the dexter colour always on the right side of the wearer (the left as you look at the front of the wearer).

For me the switching between horizontal and vertical splits starts the confusion. It is then compound by the mirroring of the livery flags and finally by the halving (not quartering) of the livery coats.

I hope this helps you.  I know it will help me.


Alexander the average said...

Good tips, simply explained. Thanks.

Huscarle said...

Excellent, and very helpful, Thanks

Byron said...

Thanks! This is very helpful as a friend an I are planning to start a WotR project.

Which troops used the standard and which the livery flag? Is one of the types only used by cavalry? Am I right to assume, that the standard was carried close to the noble and the livery flag was carried by common troops? Or is there no such rule?

Vexillia said...

This page should answer most of your questions. Good luck with the project

Byron said...

Thanks! This helps a lot!

Pat said...

Hi Martin, this is a great blog. I’m looking at painting an duke of Essex regiment so would the livery be green (right) & black (left) if facing the wearer? Many thanks

Vexillia said...

The Essex livery is black & green. The right half of the jacket would have been black. To work it out for yourself substitute black for white in the illustration above.

Vexillia said...

The illustration in this post has been enhanced to clarify how livery coats were halved not quartered.

Vexillia said...

I'm of the opinion that the halving of livery coats has something to do with simplifying the way they were made: reducing the number of seams and the amount of cloth wasted. But this is difficult to pin down.

There is a document which suggests a "four piece construction" based on 15th-century art. I'm a bit dubious about this not least because the art shown seldom, if ever, shows any shoulder seams on the coats.

It probably doesn't make sense to take this any further as it's tangential to how livery colours were displayed and has the potential to be an unresolvable distraction.

Vexillia said...

There's a pdf available from the Company of St George who are Burgundian re-enactors which includes modern patterns for livery coats and jackets.

Mark said...

I've studied a lot of historical clothing patterns and never seen one that doesn't have a seem at the shoulders. The idea of a simplistic two pieces of coloured cloth, one for for each side thus seems improbable; so having one colour on the left viewed from the front and right viewed form the back is a convention not a result of tailoring.

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