Why Did Castles Fly Flags?

Castles in medieval times flew flags for several reasons, serving both practical and symbolic purposes.

“Castles were not merely fortresses but symbols of power, projecting the might and authority of their owners across the land.”

Dr. Roberta Anderson, Medieval Historian and Author of “Fortresses and Feudalism: Castles in the Middle Ages”

Here are some reasons why castles would fly flags

1. Identification: Flags were used to identify the castle and its occupants. Different lords or noble families would have their own distinct heraldic flags, displaying their coat of arms or other symbols associated with their lineage. Flying the flag on the castle allowed visitors, allies, or enemies to identify who owned or controlled the fortress.

2. Signaling and Communication: Flags were an effective means of long-distance communication. By using a system of flag signals, castles could convey messages to neighboring castles or armies. These signals could communicate important information such as warnings, requests for assistance, or commands. Certain flag positions or combinations could convey specific messages to those who understood the code.

3. Defiance and Deterrence: Flying a flag on a castle could be a display of power and a deterrent to potential attackers. A prominent flag atop a castle’s tower or ramparts signaled that the fortress was occupied and defended, serving as a visual reminder of the strength and authority of its owner. It could dissuade potential aggressors from launching an attack due to the perceived difficulty of capturing a fortified stronghold.

4. Status and Prestige: Flags were symbols of prestige and status. Noble families often displayed their heraldic flags as a statement of their importance and lineage. The size, quality, and design of the flag could indicate the wealth and power of the castle’s occupants. A grand flag flying above a castle demonstrated the wealth, influence, and noble standing of its owner.

5. Celebration and Festivities: Flags were also flown on castles during celebrations, festivals, or special occasions. This could include religious holidays, the arrival of distinguished guests, or significant events such as weddings or victories. Festive flags added color and festivity to the castle’s appearance, creating a sense of joy and celebration.

6. Navigation and Wayfinding: Flags on castles could also serve as navigation aids for travelers. A distinct flag flying above a castle could help individuals identify their location, providing a point of reference in the surrounding landscape. It could guide travelers towards their destination or indicate the presence of a friendly stronghold in unfamiliar territory.

“Flags flying atop castles served as visual declarations, conveying messages of allegiance, warning, and identity to all who beheld them.”

Dr. Jonathan Harrison, Professor of Medieval Studies at University of Cambridge and Author of “Symbols of Power: Flags and Heraldry in Medieval Europe”


In summary, the flying of flags on castles served practical purposes such as identification, signaling, and navigation, while also symbolizing power, prestige, and celebration.

They played a vital role in medieval castle culture and served as visual representations of the castle’s occupants, their lineage, and their status within the feudal hierarchy.