The Spanish flag has undergone various changes over its history. The red and yellow flag we know today, often referred to in Spanish as the rojigualda
, was originally designed after the flag of the Spanish merchant and war marines during the reign of Charles III (1785), although it wasn’t until 1843, under the reign of Isabella II, that it became the nation’s sole flag. Until that point, the various regiments used different flags and insignias.
The colors of today’s Spanish flag come from the design that Charles III asked his navy minister, Frey Antonio Valdés, to come up with 1785. The goal was to create a flag that could be easily distinguished from others, especially on the high seas, because in that era many countries used insignias on a white background, making it easy to confuse different flags at long distances.
The first flag to represent all of Spain was the Cross of Burgundy, which reached Spain with the marriage of Philip the Fair and Joanna of Castile (perhaps better known as Juana la Loca or Joanna the Mad) in 1508. This flag, featuring Saint Andrew’s Cross on a white background, was used until 1793 and remained the flag of the Spanish Empire until 1898. This flag was also used by the Carlist movement in 1935 and during the entire Spanish Civil War
The red and yellow flag survived all the political changes of the 19th century, a tumultuous time for Spain, including an effort to substitute it with another tricolor flag (in this case, red, white, and blue) during the First Spanish Republic (1873-1874).
After the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed on April 14, 1978, the flag’s second red band was replaced with a purple band to represent the historic flag of the Comuneros of Castile. This tricolor flag was the official Republican flag during the Civil War.
Franco’s army, on the other hand, used the yellow and red flag throughout the conflict and added the Eagle of Saint John after winning the war. The eagle underwent two small changes during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975) and remained on the flag during the first years of the transition to democracy.
The new Spanish flag was promulgated by the Constitution of 1978. It has three horizontal bands of red, yellow, and red. The middle yellow band is twice as wide as the red bands and contains the national coat of arms
. This new coat of arms was approved by law in 1981 and includes the royal seal flanked by two crowned pillars (the Pillars of Hercules) with the inscription Plus Ultra
According to Spanish legislation, the height of the coat of arms should measure two-fifths the width of the flag and should appear in the middle of the yellow band. The flag's usual proportions are a length measuring three halves its width, in which case the distance from the hoist of the emblem's vertical axis should be half the flag's width. In other instances (should the flag be either shorter in length or square) the coat of arms should appear in the center.