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Flags of Political Reform in 19th Century Wales

Last modified: 2011-12-17 by rob raeside
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The Tricolor in Wales

From Clive Bloom's ' Terror Within - Terrorism and the Dream of the British Republic' (2007) ISBN 9780750942959:

P.136 ..." In Wales, the tricolor colours of red, white and green were associated with the revival of druidism at the end of the eighteenth century, with radicals such as Richard Price mixing in druid circles. After the Chartist uprising in Newport in 1839, the Welsh language and its symbols fell under suspicion, but this only gave rise to a mythology of Welshness whose symbolic (and considered ancient) colours conveniently matched those of the French Republic. Welsh Chartists also carried tricolours in horizontal stripes of blue, white and purple, or white and green, adorned with the motto 'Universal Liberty'."
[ I am wondering if the book has a typo here - surely 'blue, white and green' and 'purple, white and green']
David B. Lawrence, 23 July 2009

Chartist flag in Wales

There exists a different flag for Wales which was used by the chartists in their uprising (and subsequently by Welsh republicans). It consists of a tricolor arranged vertically of blue white and green. Blue represents the sky (and heaven) white peace and green the earth (or the common people). It was supposed to represent a new order when the common people of Wales would be united under the sky.
Muiris Mag Ualghairg, 19 June 2000

I think you will find that the Chartist flag was a light purple, white and green horizontal tricolour, with the words "Universal Liberty" in English on the white strip. This flag was used by Chartists in England and Wales, but in Wales there was a armed rising by Chartists, I suppose carrying this flag. Here is a photo of such a flag (but without words).
David Cox, 4 May 2002

I have found a reference to just such a flag, in a popular history book about The Newport Rising of 1839 called " The Man From The Alamo " by John Humphries pub Wales Books, Glyndwr Publishing ISBN 1-903529-14-X . The sources he refers to in his notes are " The Merthyr Rising " by Gwyn A Williams pub Croom Helm, London ISBN 0-85664-493-5 (but I have searched those pages quoted without success) and an article about Morgan Williams in the " Merthyr Express " 5th May 1956 (which I don't have access to).

On Page 50 of " The Man From The Alamo " John Humphries, in describing the political turmoil of the 1830's, mentions..." One of these was Morgan Williams, eventual leader of the Merthyr Chartists, and another John Thomas, his co-editor of the bi-lingual newspaper 'The Workman - Y Gweithiwr', launched the same year as the Tolpuddle Martyrs and considered Wales' first working class newspaper....Morgan Williams was born at Penrheolgerrig in 1808,...A weaver by trade, he was credited with designing the Chartists' green, white and blue banner and was secretary of the Merthyr Workingmen's Association, formed in October 1838 to fight for the Charter. But after the disastrous Merthyr Riots of 1831, it was not surprising that he remained firmly planted on the 'moral force' wing of the Chartist movement. " [i.e. he objected to the use of violence for political ends - as did most Chartists, hence the later split into two groups after the Newport Rising: the National Charter Association being abandoned by many who went on to form the Complete Suffrage Union].

"Only one issue of 'The Workman - Y Gweithiwr', for May 1st 1834, has survived, and only four pages of that [it is in the National Library of Wales]. The curious ambiguity contained in its pages, if characteristic of other issues, reveals its co-editors Morgan Williams and John Thomas as campaigners in the Owenite socialist tradition sending out confused messages about trade unionism, self-reliance, co-operation, education and the environment."
David B. Lawrence
, 17 April 2007

Regards a Welsh Chartist Tri-Colour:
    Green to represent EARTH.
    Blue to represent Heaven
    and White to represent Justice.
The Colours of the Gorsedd Ynys Prydain?
The slogan 'CYFIAWNDR' was printed across it.

Designed by Hugh Williams, the Old Rebeccite, who I believe is buried in Llangenech.
Information from Silurian Republic Gweriniaeth y Siluriad 2 Aug 1988.
Gethin Gruffyd, 20 July 2007

I've just read Gethin's comment about the Gorsedd colours added to the discussion of the blue, white, green triband that featured in the 1839 Newport Rising, so it is quite timely that I have just come across a reference implying just such an idea. The book is " A Welsh Heretic - Dr William Price, Llantrisant " by Islwyn ap Nicholas. Price was a renowned free-thinker who appointed himself Arch-Druid and outraged his neighbours by publicly worshipping nature, practising nudism and also the wearing of strange costumes for the purpose. He typically wore green trousers, a scarlet waistcoat and a white tunic all of a strange design which he insisted was men's Welsh national costume - except for the fox fur that he wore on his head as a symbol of him being a healer. Famous for introducing cremation and defending the practice in court, it is rather less well known that he fled to Paris in 1839 after a warrant was issued for his arrest as the leader of the Chartists in eastern Glamorganshire who on the eve of the insurrection decided not to march to Newport.

Since a fair number of free-thinkers embraced neo-druidic activities and declared themselves to be resurrecting the ancient religion and bardic culture of Wales, it is a fair bet that the blue, white, green triband is derived from the colours ascribed to the orders of the Gorsedd of Bards as Wales' sole national institution at that time. Dr Price described them as blue for the order of Bards, derived from the summer sky ; white for the order of Druids, [derived perhaps from winter] ; green for the order of Ovates, derived from spring growth. [In the modern Gorsedd the Arch-Druid wears a purple robe as well - maybe even a source for the violet, white, green flag?]

There is another possibility that is kind of linked to Druidic lore: druids are associated with trees, usually oak trees, and some Welsh currency in circulation early in the 19th century symbolises the nation with a druid's head on it encircled by oak leaves (instead of the monarch?). But also in many European countries the oak tree was the chosen "Liberty Tree" , a symbol of the radical meetings that might be held beneath its boughs, and certainly in Wales the link between neo-druidry and republican sentiment was well known. But the oak was not the only choice for liberty tree, and in Wales there seems to have been a Christian alternative for those who found neo-Druidism objectionable - the "Draenen" - a thorn tree. Thorn trees yield a wealth of political symbolism quite besides the idea of the idea of the thorns that crowned Jesus on the cross, e.g., bare branches bursting unexpectedly into blossoms after the desolation of winter suggest hope for political aspirations. But there are two "Draenen" in the Welsh dictionary - " Y Ddraenen Wen " is the hawthorn, which yields a symbolic colour scheme of red, white and green - " Y Ddraenen Ddu " - is blackthorn whose berries can be various shades of blue through to purple, or even interpreted as black. So maybe these Welsh blue / violet / red triband flags are actually referring to these ?
David B. Lawrence, 31 October 2007

I have discovered that Hugh Williams' Sunburst Tricolour, conceived most probably in terms of internationalism, may be the origin of the blue, white and green horizontal tricolour described above as the 'Chartist Flag in Wales', and that the same flag appears in the frontispiece of the 1851 book 'The English Republic' by radical journalist L J Linton who knew Hugh Williams ( and later implied that he was the instigator and leader of the Rebecca Riots ) but who described the flag as the English Republican Tricolour and wrote a  poem about it that is on page 35, which I will set out below before dealing with the evidence that I have found for Hugh Williams originating these blue, white and green tricolour flags.


Let our Tricolour be wove, our true English Flag unfurl'd -
Heirs of them who foremost strove when Cromwell led the world,
Lift again in Freedom's van England's Flag republican !

Choose for hope the sky serene, freedom Albion's cliff's so white,
And the eternal ocean's green choose we for our native right:
Blue and white and green shall span England's Flag republican.

BLUE - the over-arching dome, Faith that stretcheth beyond sight :
WHITE - the Love of our white home - truest heat is purest light :
GREEN - our Truth, - since life began thy tides are true, Republican !

Equal as the equal march of our duties and our dues,
Horizontal as the hues on the rainbo's topmost arch,
Railway parallel the plan of our Flag Republican.

Equal - one above the other, equal - though in different place :
Even as brother is, with brother nearer heaven in the race :
Such the hierarchical plan of our life republican.

Choose our colours ! - Ground of green - our own English Fields, and white -
Free and all-embracing light, earth and God's blue heaven between -
Heaven above, the Future Man, our new world republican.

BLUE - the far idea of might, harmonized Humanity :
WHITE - the pure, world-circling light, universal Liberty :
GREEN - the common home of man, Equality republican.

Let our Tricolour be wove ! - March for equal laws and life :
Not mere balancing of strife, but that equal wish of Love
Which shall found on Nature's plan palaces republican.

Be our English Flag unfurl'd ! - Bear it, thou most liberal Air !
To the far ends of the world, with God's message everywhere :
Help mankind to o'erstep the ban of tyrants, thou Republican !

Heirs of Cromwell and of Him who saw God through eyelids dim !
Once again at Falsehood's head hurl that old Cromwellian dread :
Milton's Spirit lead the van of our march republican !

Equal place whereon to build, - freest growth for every need, -
And that faith to be fulfill'd - all humanity to lead
In one onward life of Man, organized, republican.

Lo ! our Tricolour is wove, England's Banner is unfurl'd :
JUSTICE, LOVE and FAITH, above all the standards of the world !
Yet again shall lead the van England's heart republican.

SPARTACUS ( L J Linton's pen name ).
Hugh Williams' Sunburst Tricolour

I haven't yet attempted to draw it, but perhaps the descriptions to be gleaned from the following evidence is enough to imply that the blue, white and green flag discussed above had a more elegant and sophisticated precedent that might be termed a (Welsh? British? United Kingdom? Internationalist? ) Sunburst Tricolour that is akin to the early Fenian flag's imagery. I'd be interested to know how people might interpret these descriptions.

I finally did track down the most authoritative reference to Hugh Williams the Carmarthen lawyer being the author and promoter of the blue, white and green flag, but it is still not proven whether he invented the colours or adapted them from some previous source such as the main colours of the flags representing the kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland, or the London Working Men's Association, or the orders of Iolo's Gorsedd of the Bards. I am still in favour of the latter because of two new pieces of information : a) Williams had a bardic name, Cadvan; b) Williams original flag seems to have had a sunburst symbol on it, the same symbol that appears on the Fenian flags of the period and which is derived from the legend of the Fianna found in Ossian's poetry: it seems to me to be utterly natural for somebody like Williams to use two symbols in his flag that are drawn from the poetic writings of James MacPherson and Edward Williams' celticised radical patriotisms.

The reference is from the writings of Hugh Williams himself, a book published in 1839 in which there are three poems about the tri-coloured flag, one of which intrigues me. The book is called 'National Songs and Poetical Pieces: dedicated to the Queen and her countrywomen', compiled and edited, with introductions and notes, by Hugh Williams - it was published by Henry Hetherington in London 1839. Now actually the title is very misleading, because most of the contents are essays of the most radical sort that frequently rail against the establishment and its governments at home and abroad. It seems to me to be a bit of a hotch potch, not even a pot-boiler, but my mind began to twitch some hours after reading it and taking some photocopies of the sections relevant to flags. I had also read other things in it, including the Dedication and the Preface, both of which are dated the 2nd September 1839. Rather unusually Williams' poem on page 62 'The Tri-colour!' (why the exclamation mark?) is dated the 5th November 1839 - a very significant date in the British calendar when most people burn in effigy Guy Fawkes, but some celebrate him as a martyr who tried to overthrow a corrupt government. The date of the Newport Rising was the 4th of November 1839 and it is believed that it was to be a signal for a mass uprising across the UK to follow - the next day? Hugh Williams' book appears to have been published in September 1839 and would have been distributed in Chartist circles in the following weeks, and in the poem and article titled 'Freedom's Tri-coloured Banner' there are very detailed instructions about purchasing the materials and making the flag - clearly intended to create a standard symbol to rally around. I'm intrigued : was this book publicising the intention of a mass insurrection, dispelling mere rumour about it with a tangible but coded set of instructions to prove to people that they should rise on the 5th of November 1839 ?

Whilst not having the best of references to hand, and relying on the internet and luck, here is some of the material that I have culled in the quest for this flag. I will not say much about Hugh Williams because he is worth a university thesis in himself, which I never suspected. He was a radical lawyer who practised in Carmarthenshire and was involved in various ways in all of the significant political events in Wales in the middle part of the 19th century but who also had extensive connections beyond the Principality.

The earliest reference that I have come across is in the main Chartist newspaper, the 'Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser' issue No 23 of Saturday 21st April 1838. It is a report of a meeting held on the 28th 'ult' (28th March 1838? - in anticipation of May Day?) under the title CARMARTHEN WORKING MEN'S ASSOCIATION and it contains a report of a long speech given by Hugh Williams, and this comment about the flag: ' Mr W took that occasion to present to and grace the room with a splendid tri-coloured flag and streamer in horizontal stripes - blue, white and green, symbolical of the three prevailing colours of etheral sky, of light (and of truth) and of the general carpet of nature; with a figurative sun, in the corner of each, shooting resplendant rays over the face of it. In presenting the flags for the acceptance of the room, he said he hoped these glorious colours would be adopted as the Radical insignia of Great Britain, and eventually of Europe, would be regarded as the harbinger of peace and social order, and not as was the case with the blood-stained banners of the old world, the emblems of tyranny and precursors of carnage and plunder. He concluded amidst heart-stirring cheers by expressing his gratification at their reception, and at the daily accession of strength to the cause, in that and in all parts of the kingdom.' Issue No 63 of Saturday 26th January 1839 had a report, in the STATE OF THE NATION section (which consisted of reports from all over the kingdom), of a meeting in Pontypool where Henry Vincent was present and at which John Frost was elected as their delegate to the Convention that would organise the petition for 'The People's Charter'. It describes them proclaiming that they had sufficient Moral Force to obtain their ends without revolution. The report is signed A BACK BONE RADICAL and there is appended 'P.S. The Working Men's Association of this place beg to acknowledge the receipt of a splendid tri-coloured flag from Mr Hugh Williams of Carmarthen.' In the same issue under the title 'RADICAL DEMONSTRATION' is a piece of news copied from The Silurian which described Hugh Williams making a speech in favour of majority rule and accountable taxation etc in which he emphasised the distress of working people.

The next piece of good evidence for Hugh Williams trying to encourage the use of the flag is from pages 50-52 of his National Songs and Poetical Pieces which consists of a song dated August 1839, headed by an introduction and followed by a note each of which is descriptive of the flag. I will simply transcribe this in its entirety and leave it to speak for itself.

Composed on the occasion of the Writer's presenting the Metropolitan [ London Working Men's Association ], Merthyr, Pontypool, and Carmarthen Associations each with the first projected Tri-coloured banner - composed of green, white and blue, symbolical of the aspect of nature - the green Earth, the Solar light, and the ethereal blue. A banner with colours as predominant as EQUAL RIGHTS are universal; and now about to supersede the blood-stained standards of the old world, of ancient and modern tyranny, and so form the emblem of freedom, of fraternity and happiness to the rising millions !

AIR - " Fill The Bumper Fair "

Unfurl the banner bright,
Grasp it ever steady, -
The flag for freedom's fight
Must needs be always ready.
Fair emblem of the free,
Of nature's lovely dyes -
All hopes respond to thee,
The Earth, the Light, the Skies.
Unfurl, etc.

Kind Nature's genial laws
To all alike apply;
But despots mar our cause,
Our equal rights deny;
Then " burst dishonour's chain,"
Joint heirs of freedom be,
We dread, nor death, nor pain,
Determined to be free.
Unfurl, etc.

United face the foe,
Come hasten to the strife ;
Why linger, when we know
The hour with freedom's rife?
'Tis better freemen die,
Than live the life of slaves,-
All manly bosoms sigh
To baffle tyrant knaves.
Unfurl, etc.

Then hurrah for the fight,-
In gallant bearing stand -
Exulting millions shout,
And proffer heart and hand :
Let freedom's cause infuse
Full courage to the heart -
Till every bondsman rouse
And act a Freeman's part.
Unfurl, etc.

Let justice govern right,
And nature's bounties share -
We wage no murd'rous fight,
No bloody ensign rear; -
'Tis ours the mind to gain,
with reason for our guide;
That power, once it reign,
Alone will conquer pride.
Unfurl, etc.

Away with servile fear
That palsies every nerve;
The slaves that nobly dare,
True Liberty deserve; -
Come hoist the banner high,
Every heart's in motion -
The cause of Liberty
Inspires us with devotion.
Unfurl, etc.

Why lag at freedom's call,
Or falter, once we start ?
Can patience win control,
Or handle freedom's dart ?
Around your standard rally,
Defiance in each port, -
Can COURAGE longer dally,
Or haughty tyrants court ?
Unfurl, etc.

On ! On ! ye dauntless crew,
The struggle to commence, -
One blow tells better now
Than dozens sometime hence; -
Ourselves must strike the blow,
If freedom we'd maintain,
Then lay the tyrants low,
And equal laws ordain.
Unfurl, etc.

Usurping factions quail,
And tremble at our might, -
Our efforts must prevail
FREEDOM ! heaven-born maid !
All hearts aspire to thee,
In all thy charms array'd,
With gen'rous rivalry !
Unfurl, etc.

August, 1839 - W.
N.B. A short sketch may assist in constructing the glorious ensigns of Liberty.

The standard Radical flag will bear for its motto UNIVERSAL LIBERTY along the centre; the full flag and banner - TRUTH, JUSTICE, and HUMANITY, with the SUN gilded on the upper staff quarter of each, and on the centre of upper part of banner. Size: Standard flag, two feet square; full flag, four feet do,; banner, two feet by three. Stripes horizontal, and in the following proportions: - Grass-green below, two-ninths of depth; white, centre, four ninths, and the rest sky-blue. The material may be had at any army clothier's, or military store. Or the flags may be made up of strong silk.

The prevailing wearing Radical colour for public occasions, and for any portion of dress particularly of females, is understood to be green. A bay or laurel leaf may be mounted for public meetings or the display of principle.

Whilst there are two more poems about tri-colours in Hugh Williams' National Songs and Poetical Pieces, only the one on page 62 is explicitly about his blue, white and green one and this is the one that I think may imply that he was involved in the Newport Uprising, given that it seems to be a sort of post-dated cheque for insurrection published before the date that he appears to claim that it was composed in - was this an instruction to raise the blue, white and green tricolour on November the 5th 1839.

AIR - " The Swiss Boy;" or " A Bumper of Burgundy."

" Hark ! hark ! 'tis the trumpet of LIBERTY sounds,
As the tri-colour flag is unfurl'd;"
With joy at its notes " every bosom rebounds, "
While the echo is heard o'er the world.
Her cause is as pure as the deep azure sky,
It cheers like the bright sunny ray, -
Refreshing and lively as nature's green dye,
Ever gentle, unchanging, and gay.

And hark ! the glad throngs now re-echo the sound -
Responding to liberty's call, -
No longer by craft and by ignorance bound,
Since bigotry - tyranny fall !
Then array the bright ensign 'gainst power and guile, -
Uprise ye the gallant and bold, -
And grateful to heaven we will die with a smile,
As we sever our fetters of old !

NOV. 5, 1839 - W.
David B. Lawrence, 30 September 2009

UK National Republican Brotherhood's Flag

The Blue, White and Green Triband - with a White Star for Freedom - the UK National Republican Brotherhood's Flag.

On Sunday 1st December 1872 at the foundation meeting of the National Republican Brotherhood in the Sheffield Hall of Science, the blue, white and green triband ( - that had originated in Iolo Morganwg's colours for the orders of the Welsh Gorsedd of the Bards, and had then been transformed in 1838 into a flag featuring a sunburst by the Carmarthenshire political radical lawyer Hugh Williams ( ' Cadvan ' ) which was carried by the Welsh Chartists in the 1839 Newport Uprising, and had then been adopted in 1851 as the flag for the English Republic by the artist and political agitator L J Linton - ) was adopted as a flag representing an internationalist sort of republicanism, with the addition of a white star ( apparently placed in the middle ) on the blue stripe. I have found two newspaper accounts so far,

Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, 7th December 1872
Resolutions of the National Republican Brotherhood ....
1. That an association be formed called the National Republican Brotherhood. ....
6. A Republican Flag to be adopted.
7. A Tricolour to be adopted of green, white and blue - Linton's old flag. ....

The Manchester Guardian 4th December 1872 - quoting an article in The Times - about the founding conference of the Republican Brotherhood, 01/12/1872

Resolutions 6 and 7 gave good scope for treasonable gossip in general. They ran as follows, and were ultimately passed :-

6. " That it is desirable to adopt a flag that shall be known as the Republican Brotherhood Flag."
7. " That a tricolour be adopted of green, white, and blue - the white to be placed horizontally, the white star of freedom to be placed in the blue ground; the principle being, the green denotes fertility, the white purity, the blue the sky, representing that under the sky all men are equal so long as they are guided by purity of action and thought."

In moving the adoption of this rigmarole, " Citizen De Morgan " urged that it was very necessary to have Republican flags out as soon as possible, as the Prince of Wales was shortly expected in Sheffield and other towns, and all true Republicans must be prepared to give him " the right sort of welcome." ....
David B. Lawrence, 16 October 2011