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Denmark - the First Known Dannebrog

Last modified: 2021-08-25 by christopher oehler
Keywords: denmark | dannebrog |
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[First known Dannebrog] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, September 2008

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Description of the flag

The first known Dannebrog flag is a copy from the flag of 1427 that had been captured by Hanse in a sea battle. This flag was brought to the Dome of Lübeck, where it was destroyed after a bombing in 1942. The Danish however made a copy of this flag in 1881. This copy is shown in Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød city (Frederiksborg Amt) in North Zealand. Here is my photo. I shot this photo in 1977(?) in Hillerød.

Dannebrog model 1427:
It is a rectangular flag consisting of three parts. The total ratio is approximated 1:4.
Description of hoist part:
In a beige field covered with blossomy ornaments (like on seals) there stands face to face at the hoist a crowned St. Mary carrying Jesus in her arms and opposite St. James with his attributes, a baton and a scallop. All three are nimbed and in natural colour
Description of central part:
This partition is divided by a white centred cross. The 1st field shows the arms of Denmark: three blue, couchant leopards with queue fourchée in a golden (=yellow) field. The 2nd field shows the arms of Sweden: three golden (=yellow) coronets in a blue field. The 3rd field shows the arms of Norway: a golden (=yellow), crowned, rampant lion, red tongued (and probably in the beginning also red armed) holding an silver-bladed axe in both hands. The 4th field shows the arms of Pomerania: a blue griffin with silvery beak.
Description of fly end part:
It is simply a field of dark brownish red divided by a horizontal white fessy line, being the continuation of the horizontal crossbar.
The horizontal ratio of the partitions is approximated: 9:17:4.
The central and hoist part are divided by the crossbars vertically approximated 10:3:10. The central part horizontally approximated 8:1:8.
The author supposed that the original was a ship flag and that the images on the hoist part had something to do with the name of the ship.
Povl ELLER: Frederiksborg Museum - Fahrer mit Abbildungen; Hillerød 1981; ISBN 87-87237-26-1; p.28
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 1,8 September 2008

My image is a reconstruction, based on the image on p.28 of source and on my own photo. The colours of the 1881 copy have turned really pale. So I took fresh colours according to the well-known coats of arms. There remained however some open questions:
I chose a light blue for the coat of St. Mary though it seemed to be rather white in source. But there existed an image of Znamierowski, who painted the coat blue and so I decided to trust in him. The colour of the griffin may also be a dark silver, but it has the same shade as the leopards in the 1st field. So I decided to paint him blue. All the ratios are estimated. The image in source seems to show the flag not completely rolled out from a pole at the hoist side. Therefore the image is slightly oblique. Furthermore St. Mary has no right shoulder. I gave her back her
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 8 September 2008

This flag is certainly a staple of Danish publications on the history of the Dannebrog (those that go into any length at least). The original flag was four and a half meters long and made of painted canvas. Strictly speaking, it is not a Dannebrog flag, but a flag with a Dannebrog cross, that is a white cross. The rest of the flag is made up of a field with St. Mary and the Child with St. James at the hoist, then the arms of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Pomerania in the quarters made up by the cross. The field of Norway is blue, which was and is incorrect. Pomerania has the colours reversed (should be red griffin on white).

The flag was first scientifically published and discussed by Henry Petersen in an article called "Et dansk flag fra unionstiden i Maria-kirken i Lübeck" (in English: A Danish flag from the times of the union in St.Mary’s church in Lübeck) in Årbøger for nordisk oldkyndighed og historie, 1882, where there is also a colour reproduction. See our bibliography: phn82.

[First known Dannebrog] image scanned by Jan Oskar Engene, 2 September 2008

I made a scan of the plate, made by Professor Magnus Petersen. The colours of the flag changed over the centuries. This is especially the case with silver that turned into blue-grey. This must be taken into account when discussing the colours.

Professor Henry Petersen studied the original flag in detail in Lübeck and was present when, in June 1881, Prof. M. Petersen made his copy (which may well be the one you saw, Petersen notes in his article that the copied flag was made for the National Museum at Frederiksborg). According to H. Petersen the blue colours of the flag have faded to grayish. His account of the colours of the flag is as follows:
The field containing Mary with the Child and St. James is described as a white field strewn with red roses. The first quarter is described as containing three blue leopards on yellow, the second blue with three yellow crowns, the third blue with a yellow crowned lion holding an axe, fourth red with a black griffin. The free end of the flag is described by Petersen as brownish red, but he makes a remark that it was probably originally red.
Petersen also notes that the flag seems to lack a piece: A part seems to be missing from the hoist side. As you can see from the scan above, St. Mary is positioned very close to the hoist edge.
Jan Oskar Engene, 2 September 2008