Flag of Castile and León

Flag of Castile and León

(1248 - 1516)

Columbus and other early Spanish explorers to the New World brought with them the castle-and-lion flag incorporating the arms of Castile and León. Technically, in the 15th century, Spain was not a single country but rather a collection of kingdoms. The largest and most important was the combined kingdom of Castile and León, which since 1248 had been identified by a banner incorporating the arms of Castile (a castle) and León (a lion).

In 1469, princess Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon and Sicily—a move that would lead to the eventual union of Spain. Upon the death of her brother in 1474, Isabella became queen of Castile, thus inheriting the royal flag of Castile and León. That year, Isabella and Ferdinand’s royal infantry adopted a quartered flag incorporating three sets of the castle-and-lion arms, two sets of the red-and-gold vertical lines comprising the arms of Aragon, and one set of the arms of Sicily. (“Quartering” is the heraldic term for dividing a coat of arms, shield, or flag into four or more divisions, with each division bearing different or repeated coats of arms.) As other kingdoms joined Spain, their coats of arms were added so that the official imperial banner eventually grew to be an ornate checkerboard of contiguous coats of arms.

In 1479, Ferdinand became king of Aragon (and Sicily, Catalonia, and Valencia). In 1492, he and Isabella were accorded a new quartered royal banner incorporating four sets of the arms of Castile and León, two sets of the arms of Aragon, and two sets of the arms of Sicily, all placed on a shield and capped by a crown on a field of white. Many subsequent Spanish flags—including the current state flag—would follow the practice of including the arms of Castile and León somewhere in the design.

Other kingdoms joined the union, and soon there was a plethora of royal, state, maritime, military, and other flags. Still, historical paintings and other evidence suggest that the flag bearing the arms of Castile and León remained widely used into the 16th century—particularly on ships at sea.

The first European known to have set foot on the southeastern mainland of North America was Spaniard Juan Ponce de León, who landed on Florida’s eastern coast in 1513. He likely brought the castle-and-lion banner, as did Pedro Menendez de Aviles who came fifty years later to colonize La Florida (a broad area of the Southeast that included present-day Georgia). In 1965, the U.S. and Spain designed a stamp to be jointly issued commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine. That stamp portrays Menendez with a variant of the castle-and-lion flag shown above.

Because of the chain of missions and military outposts built after Menendez’s arrival from St. Augustine up the Atlantic coast to present-day Port Royal, South Carolina, there can be little doubt the arms of Castile and León (as well as other Spanish flags) flew over coastal Georgia.

Flag of Castile and León View large image

Flag of Castile and León
Source: Ed Jackson

Flag of Castile and León View large image

Spanish Royal Infantry Flag (1474)
Source: Ed Jackson

Flag of Castile and León View large image

Spanish Imperial Banner (Late 15th Century)
Source: Ed Jackson

Flag of Castile and León View large image

Spanish Imperial Banner (1492)
Source: Ed Jackson

Flag of Castile and León View large image

Spanish Stamp Showing Ship Flying Royal Banner
Source: Ed Jackson

Flag of Castile and León View large image

Settlement of Florida Commemorative Stamp
Source: Ed Jackson