The Warwickshire flag was registered on August 15th 2016. The flag is a modern reworking of the county’s traditional emblem of white bear and ragged staff on red background, which originated as the seal and then crest, of the Earl of Warwick and was then adapted for use by Warwickshire County Council. The flag was designed in accordance with stipulations about use of the bear and staff, outlined by Warwickshire County Council and reflects the depiction found on John Speed’s 17th century map of the county.
The precise origins of the bear and ragged staff emblem are lost in the distant past, whilst definitely associated with the Earls of Warwick since at least the 14th century, their use in fact seems to extend further back by several centuries. The seventeenth century scholar William Dugdale wrote of the legendary Arthgallus, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table and apparent early “Earl of Warwick“ believing that his name derived from the Welsh “artos” or bear. Dugdale also suggested that the ragged staff appeared because one Morvidus, another “Earl of Warwick”, killed a giant with the broken branch of a tree.
Whilst such legendary origins cannot be confirmed, the symbol of bear and ragged staff appears to have been used by the de Beaumont family, who first held the title of Earl of Warwick, Henri de Beaumont being created Earl in 1088, for his service to William I in suppressing a rebellion. Another de Beaumont, Guido, became the first Abbot of Lindores Abbey in Fife, Scotland, after its foundation in 1191 and it is believed that he had the family device of bear and ragged staff carved in stone and placed above the door to his residence at the Abbey. Although this was destroyed amidst the sixteenth century Reformation, the stone carving of the de Beaumont family badge, the ’Bear Stone’, was rescued and incorporated into the building of the eponymously named ‘Bear Tavern’ in Newburgh, Fife where it can still be seen today
Southeast of Lindores Abbey, an image of the ’Bear Stone’ was cut into the turf at nearby Park Hill in 1980
It is unclear whether the bear and ragged staff emblem was a local Warwickshire tradition, as the above legend suggests, which the de Beaumonts adopted upon the creation of their earldom, or if it was a device that they had brought with them from Normandy but it became definitively associated with the title of ‘Earl of Warwick’ and bear and staff were unequivocally used, both separately and in combination, by the Beauchamp family, who became Earls of Warwick in 1268, as badges or marks of identity in addition to their own coat of arms.
The bear alone appears on the tomb of the 11th Earl, Thomas Beauchamp I (died 1369),
in the chancel of St Mary’s Church in Warwick. The bed of his son Thomas Beauchamp II, 12th Earl of Warwick from 1369 to 1402, is said to have been covered by black material embroidered with a golden bear and silver staff; dating from 1387, this is the earliest known occurrence of the Beauchamp’s use of the two badges depicted together. His great seal of 1397.
depicts the Beauchamp coat of arms between two bears, while a privy (private) seal of the same date is said to have shown a bear on all fours with a ragged staff behind. His son Richard Beauchamp, the 13th Earl of Warwick from 1402 to 1439, used a crest of two bears each holding a ragged staff; the entrance arch to the Beauchamp chapel at Saint Mary’s, appears to illustrate this in a stone carving, where the plain Beauchamp coat of arms (before quartering with the other arms seen in the above illustration of Thomas Beauchamp’s seal) appears between two bear and ragged staff emblems.
Richard Beauchamp’s tomb, in the centre of the Beauchamp Chapel on the south side of St Mary’s Church, includes an inscription in which the words are separated alternately by bears and ragged staffs!
Richard is also known to have used banners embroidered with bears or ragged staffs, although these were apparently not combined, one such example, with a ragged staff, is seen here
Richard Beauchamp’s retainers also wore a red livery sporting white ragged staffs before and behind. This illustration
from Ian Heath’s “Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1” is based on John Rous’s ‘Pageant of the Birth, Life and Death of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick’ of c. 1485 which contains many pictures of such retainers wearing the Warwick livery.
The Beauchamp bear and ragged staff are further depicted, separately but alongside one another, in a stained glass panel in the same Beauchamp chapel in St Mary’s Church, on the east window.
Although he also employed separate bear and ragged staff badges, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick ( “Warwick the Kingmaker” ) (22 November 1428 – 14 April 1471) who married Richard Beauchamp’s daughter and heir Anne, made use of a seal bearing a combined bear and ragged staff, to authenticate deeds and letters, a modern interpretation of which, is seen here
As with his predecessor, Richard Beauchamp, Neville’s retainers are recorded in 1458, when he attended the Great Council at Westminster, as wearing red coats with separate silver staffs embroidered front and rear – with as many as 200 men-at-arms and 400 archers so attired. This colour scheme was similarly used on his battle standard which featured a combined bear and staff emblem
in what may perhaps be the first instance of the combined emblem obtaining a coloured realisation. This has been depicted in paintings of Neville’s famous battles;
left, “ The First Battle of St Albans” by Graham Turner and right “The Battle of Barnet” by Geoffrey Wheeler . The white bear and ragged staff on red is also seen “carried” by these miniature figures of Neville’s soldiers
In his Henry VI, Part Two, Act 5, scene 1, where there is much talk of bear baiting, William Shakespeare has Warwick say ‘Now, by my father’s badge, old Nevil’s crest the rampant bear chain’d to the ragged staff, this day I’ll aloft my burgonet.”, the “burgonet” being his helmet.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and great-great-great-great-grandson of Richard Beauchamp, is known to have used the combined device of the bear and ragged staff frequently as a badge and seal
and as the crest on his coat of arms
It can be seen in many places on the walls of the Leicester Hospital in Warwick
, which he founded in 1571 and as a decorative item at his castle of Kenilworth in the county
Inventories of the furnishings of the castle mention cushions, bedcovers, and bookbindings decorated with the design, and his suit of armour (now in the Royal Armoury) is heavily decorated with ragged staffs
Robert Dudley’s older brother, Ambrose, who held the title of Earl of Warwick from 1561 to 1590, also made use of the bear and staff emblem, depicting it within a distinct chain denoting “The Order of the Garter”
A bear appears on his alabaster tomb, at the feet of his effigy,
also located in the Beauchamp Chapel, at St Mary’s, Warwick, diagonally aligned to that of Richard Beauchamp.
Another interesting appearance of the bear and ragged staff is in Richard Day’s 1578 “Booke of Christian Prayers” as a decorative feature on page 84,
presumably in dedication to the Earl Of Warwick.
The bear and ragged staff subsequently made a notable appearance on John Speed’s 1611 map of the county of Warwickshire, in his ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine‘.
The Greville family, distantly related to the Beauchamps, had acquired Warwick Castle in 1604 and in 1759, Francis Greville, Earl Brooke of Warwick Castle, was created Earl of Warwick. The following year Francis obtained a grant for himself and his heirs of “the crest anciently used by the Earls of Warwick” that is “a bear erect argent, muzzled gules, supporting a ragged staff of the first” i.e. a white bear. Subsequent Earls of Warwick have continued to use the Bear and Ragged Staff emblem; they sit together as a crest on the arms of the present earl.
Over the centuries use of the emblem by the Earls of Warwick has led to its association generally with the county of Warwickshire. The 1st Warwickshire Militia regiment (originally raised in 1759, but reorganised under the Earl of Warwick as Lord Lieutenant in 1803) bore the bear and ragged staff as its collar badge
until attached to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1881. The Warwickshire Constabulary (founded in 1857) also adopted the bear and ragged staff as its badge
, using a red background with a silver bear and staff. The badge is also seen here proudly displayed on the vests of the winning Warwickshire team at the 1927 “Inter County Cross Country Championship”.
Created in 1889, Warwickshire County Council obtained permission to use the bear and ragged staff as a seal
in 1907 (images from Warwickshire County Records Office (Refs. WCC Minutes 1907-8 Page 23 & C.929.6 War(P)) before receiving a formal award of arms on July 7th 1931, which included a full depiction of the bear and ragged staff in the white on red colours found on Richard Neville’s battle standard
Many other organisations have since followed this lead such as;
Warwickshire County Bowling Association
Warwickshire Federation of Women’s’ Institutes
Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Service
Warwickshire Golf Captains
Warwickshire Gaelic Athletic Association
and North Warwickshire Borough Council
Attesting to its status as the county emblem, a “Bear and Ragged Staff” was a decorative element in the window of a 1920’s Birmingham pub
seen in the BBC TV production “Peaky Blinders”.
With a majority of English counties having secured flags, a campaign was started in 2014 seeking to add Warwickshire to their ranks. The theme of white bear and ragged staff, anciently associated with Warwickshire, was self-evidently the only viable option for deployment as the county flag. In the words of Warwickshire County Council, on its website, “…the bear and ragged staff is widely used to denote a connection with the county and there is no restriction on its general use…” However, the design of the prospective flag had to comply with several restrictions on the depiction of bear and staff, stipulated by the council. Principally, the council unequivocally asserts that the council’s arms are specific to Warwickshire County Council and may only be used by it, thus precluding any use of its armorial banner, its arms in flag form. The council also highlights how its depiction of the bear specifically shows it muzzled and chained to distinguish it from the crest of the Earls of Warwick, where the bear is muzzled but not chained. A further consideration was that any depiction of the bear and staff should avoid the same colour arrangement of gold, silver and red. Taking all these considerations into account and with the depiction of the bear and staff by John Speed as a precedent, the following initial design was fashioned.
which dispensed with the gold collar, muzzle and chain, present on the council arms and family crest and thereby, featured only the two colours of red and white, the traditional colour scheme found in the badges of such county bodies as, Warwickshire Constabulary, the county fire service, the golf captains and Gaelic Athletic Association. This simultaneously removed any possible breach of copyright enjoyed by the Earl of Warwick or the County Council.
Such a depiction of bear and ragged staff is in fact typical in the modern era where similar examples include;
The University of Warwick
Warwickshire County Council’s logo
Warwickshire Police in various guises
Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service’s modern insgnia
Warwickshire Cadets’ regimental insignia
Warwickshire Law Society
Warwickshire Search and Rescue
a local pub
and the cleverly adapted badge
of the Warwickshire Golf Union.
Most markedly, a bear free of chain and muzzle, grasping the ragged tree, forms the crest of the arms of the Borough of Warwick
The design thus matched both the restrictions directed by the county council and modern local practice, whilst retaining the traditional local theme. This originally proposed design received the support of a dozen county bodies;
- Birmingham City Council Honorary Vexillologist;
- Warwickshire County Tenpin Bowling Association;
- Warwickshire Table Tennis Association;
- Warwickshire Young Farmers
- Acocks Green History Society;
- The Warwickshire Beer Company;
- Aston Cantlow and District Local History Society;
- Berkswell And District History Group
- Leek Wootton History Group;
- Bidford & District History Society;
- Long Compton Parish Council;
with one of their number, Warwickshire County Hockey Association, submitting a formal request for registration of the proposed design, collating all the background information and detailed support, to the Flag Institute.
The Flag Institute accepted the proposal in principal but offered an alternative depiction of the bear and ragged staff with the creature in a dynamic and assertive stance, which was happily accepted; a modern realisation of the traditional county emblem, as presented by John Speed in 1611.
A similar version had in fact appeared a few years earlier!
And Warwickshire’s bear and staff emblem can also be found on the flag flown by the county cricket team
The FI also requested that the sanction of a county official such as the High Sheriff or Lord Lieutenant be obtained. Upon consultation both Tim Cox, the Lord Lieutenant
and Richard Samuda, the High Sheriff,
confirmed their approval and the design was duly registered as the county flag of Warwickshire.
Prior to the registration of the Warwickshire county flag, the armorial banner of Warwickshire County Council,
its coat of arms in flag form, had been widely sold as ‘the Warwickshire flag’. This description is inaccurate because, as noted, only the council has a right to use of its arms, in any form; a point the council has asserted on its website “These arms are specific to the County Council, and may only be used by it.” Additionally, unlike the registered flag, the council’s banner represents just the council itself, not the county as an entity.
The flag was soon flying following its registration
It is seen here
outside Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, flies here
at the front of a cottage in the county and here
at a home in Baginton.
It is seen here
flying over the 2018 Dorset Steam Fair and here
in the hands of a group at the summit of Ben Nevis!
The county flag flew over Parliament Square, Westminster
along with other county flags
on July 23rd 2019, Historic County Flags Day #countyflagsday
An exhibit of the county’s famous emblem, as depicted on its flag,
can be found at the Warwickshire Museum (Market Hall Museum) in Warwick.
With thanks to Brady Ells for additional research on this account.