Reformation and Cockades

Over five hundred years ago, a movement began that would change the map of the world - and influence cockades for centuries!

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses combating the errors of the established Catholic church. This was no mere theological argument. The Pope and his church hierarchy had accumulated vast power in the world, making and unmaking kings and kingdoms. Luther's Theses were the first stroke at the foundation of a massive empire.

Beards, Breaths, and Feathers 

(and Cockades)

One of the sources of income for this religious Catholic empire was the sale of indulgences, supposedly the forgiveness of sins for money. Peddlers of these indulgences often displayed phony "relics" - items supposedly belonging to Christ or the Catholic saints. In an 1853 history of the Protestant Reformation, we are told about some of these relics - note the cockade reference!

"At Wittenberg were shown a piece of Noah's ark, a small portion of soot from the furnace of the three young Hebrews, a bit of the manger in which our Savior was laid, a little of the beard of the great Christopher, and nineteen thousand other relics of greater or less value. At Schauffhausen was shown the breath of St. Joseph, which Nicodemus had received into his glove; at Wurtemberg, a dealer in indulgences carried on his head a cockade, containing a large feather from the wing of Michael the archangel! Think you, was it not time for heaven to interpose? Luther appears amid all this to accomplish heaven's behests."

Luther was the catalyst for the Reformation, a movement that insisted the church go back to Scripture alone, without inventions of men.

Reformers, Catholics and Cockades

Catholicism and Protestantism began a struggle that involved not merely the kingdom of God, but also the kingdoms of men. Many a civil war was fought between Catholic and Protestant claimants to the same thrones. And naturally, each side of the conflict usually had its own cockade.

The Catholic Stuarts wore the white cockade in their quest to gain England's throne and that became the basis for the Scottish white cockade. (Read my blog post about it here.)

The Protestant Dutch William ultimately gained England's throne and brought with him the Dutch orange cockade. That's why Protestant Irish wear orange, while Catholic Irish wear green. (Yep, I've got a blog post on that too.)

William and Mary established Britain as Protestant, but the fracas between Catholic and Protestant didn't end. The Papist Act of 1778, for example, sparked riots that rocked the city of London and were led by anti-government rioters wearing blue cockades. Those blue cockades, by the way, were to appear again several times in American anti-government movements - notably the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and the Secession Crisis of 1860-61. (Aaaand here's the blog post.)

As Protestant and Catholic statesmen  boiled along in political disputes, the real Reformation continued. Puritans within the church and Separatists or Non-Conformists outside of the church sought to wean the church from the teachings of men and go back to Scripture alone. But the persecution continued. An account of French Huguenots tells of cockades and a massacre:

Armed bands rushed from Nimes into the country around, ravaged, murdered, or blackmailed the Protestant farmers and small cultivators. Some of the more remote, isolated, and consequently defenceless victims, wishing to find protection, obtained from the Prefet of Alons white flags and cockades. This was done under the eyes of the ' Sous-Prefet ' who, on August 2, gave Graffan the order to march on those very men termed now by that treacherous official 'disguised rebels.' Graffan, proud of this official order, marched forthwith to St. Maurice, seized six men haphazard, brought then triumphantly to the same 'esplanade,' and shot them under the windows of the 'Sous-Prefet,' notwithstanding the protests of the doomed men that they were Royalists and bore the white cockade.

The first Thanksgiving at Plimouth
In seeking a way to practice religion according to Scripture instead of the State, many people began looking for a new place to start over. And they found it in the New World. Pilgrims began to arrive in America to create a city on a hill, an example of how practicing biblical religion can create a strong, healthy society.

The Christian foundations of America's history can be traced 500 years back to Martin Luther and his 95 theses. And a long line of cockades marks the trail!

Betsy Ross and the First American Flag

The colors and emblems on cockades have always signified great meaning. The same is true with flags. The Betsy Ross flag is no exception! Both the meaning of the flag and the story of the woman who made it are an inspiration to every American who loves his country.

The Woman
Betsy Ross's story is that of a true American who works hard, asks no favors and is a blessing to society. Betsy was no stranger to hardship. Twice widowed by age 30, she had also lost a child by her second husband. Her third marriage survived many years but she lost another child. But Betsy had the resilient American spirit that keeps going through struggle.

She was an entrepreneur and talented upholsterer and seamstress. She supported herself with these skills through the loss of two husbands and made a name for herself as a woman of skill. She worked on uniforms, tents and flags for the Continental Army, and reportedly even made bed hangings for George Washington. As her business succeeded, she became a blessing to extended family, taking in widowed or orphaned relatives who needed help.

Historical tradition says that in the summer of 1776, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross visited her upholstery shop and brought a sketch of an American flag for her to make. It is said that Betsy then made the first flag shortly thereafter.

The Flag
On January 1, 1776, Washington ordered the Grand Union Flag to be raised during the Continental Army siege of Boston.  This flag had thirteen stripes which alternated red and white. The British Union Jack was in the upper left corner of the flag. "Ceremony staged on Prospect Hill, in Somerville, where a seventy-six foot flagstaff had been erected, so lofty that it could be seen even in distant Boston.  On this was hoisted the 'Union Flag in Compliment to the United Colonies.'  This Great or Grand Union Flag was nothing more than the Meteor Flag of Great Britain modified by having six horizontal white stripes imposed in its field....These of course signified the thirteen original colonies, while retention of the British Union in the first canton testified continued loyalty, as Americans saw it, to the constitution of the government against which they fought." (The History of the United States Flag)

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the First Flag Act, creating the new country’s first official flag.  "That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." (First Flag Act)

George Washington is credited with saying: "We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty." In speaking of the new Great Seal, more meaning was given to the colors chosen for the fledgling United States. "White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

In recent days, the story of Betsy Ross and the First Flag of the United States have been under attack. Therefore I thought it only fitting to create a special Betsy Ross Cockade to celebrate this amazing woman and the flag that symbolize our American heritage!

Italy's First Cockade

The world was facing violent unrest in 1794. Across the globe, monarchical dictatorships grew more oppressive, the power of the papal despotism was growing - and the people were revolting.

The French Revolution was in full swing and France was pretty much at war with the world. Napoleon would justly win fame as a world-class military leader through these wars, but his success was also due to another factor: Many countries were already facing internal revolution. When his army approached, he was often greeted by friendly revolutionaries trying to overthrow their own oppressive government.

Which brings us to Italy – and the dramatic story of their first cockade.

Young Plotters

Italy was fragmented and largely ruled by absolutist foreign powers in the late 1700s. Consequently, there was much unrest and protest among the people, particularly against the power of the papacy and the Holy Inquisition. Two of these protesters, young university students, were to go down in Italian history: Giovanni Battista De Rolandis and Luigi Zamboni.

De Rolandis and Zamboni were planning a revolution. But Napoleon was approaching the Italian borders, so De Rolandis’ and Zamboni’s friends urged them to wait, in order to receive help from Napoleon's army. Young and impatient, they disliked the idea of perhaps another year or two of grinding oppression… and they also disliked the idea of French interference in Italian affairs.

Conspirators' Cockades

So they continued anyway. They created a network, not only plotting an overthrow of the current government, but also arranging for a new government to be immediately set up. They set a date for their uprising. And to provide a badge of identification, they created a tricolor cockade.

This cockade was based on the French tricolor of red, white and blue, just as their ideals were based on French republicanism. But not wanting to copy the French exactly, they substituted green for blue, as the universal symbol of “hope.” Subsequent records indicate that Zamboni's mother and aunt sewed the cockades.

The uprising was initiated on November 13. But on November 14, a gathering of these plotters was betrayed and the students were arrested by the papal police. Both were tortured to try and find out who else was involved in the plot. Neither gave in, however. The following summer, Zamboni committed suicide in prison and De Rolandis was hanged. Zamboni's mother and aunt, along with his father, also suffered death for their part in the uprising.

When the papal police crushed the initial uprising, they tried to destroy all of the patriots’ cockades. But one survived, and is now considered an Italian national treasure. It is still the property of the De Rolandis family who allows it to be displayed in national museums. This is a picture of it.

Napoleon's Ratification

When Napoleon’s troops did finally arrive the following year in 1796, he was greeted as a savior from oppression by many of the Italian people. In a grand ceremony, Napoleon presented the military of the new Italian republic with a flag. It was the flag we know today, stripes of red, white and green. And the reason for those colors? They were based on the cockades of the two patriotic students, De Rolandis and Zamboni. “Since they chose these three colors, so let them be,” Napoleon declared.

Symbol of Patriotism

Italian poets ever since have rhapsodized about the symbolism of the colors. In the 1790s, the colors were equated with the republican virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity. In religious lore, faith, hope and charity have always been symbolized by white, green and red. Other poets say these colors symbolize Italy’s land – the white snow of the Alps, the green grass of the valleys, and red fire of the volcanoes.

But the ultimate symbolism of the colors comes from the cockades of two young men and their families who refused to submit to oppression and gave their lives for the freedom of their people.

If you want to read more about this stirring story from history, this is a good article to start with. (Warning: It's in Italian.)

Campaign Badges From History

It's campaign season!

If you're like me, you're probably getting tired of seeing and hearing campaign ads everywhere. They all seem to say the same things over and over, don't they?

Just for fun, I thought we could go back in history and look at something more interesting (and entertaining!) - campaign badges!

Political Police

If you think politics are rowdy now, you should have seen the 1860s! Riots, disruptions, brawls and beatings were often seen at political rallies. That's why the "Wide Awakes" were formed - to "protect" Republican party members at political meetings. Of course, they didn't mind doing a little rough stuff themselves to the other side, but their 1860 Mission Statement sounded quite virtuous:

To act as a political police. To do escort duty to all prominent Republican speakers who visit our place to address our citizens. To attend all public meetings in a body and see that order is kept and that the speaker and meeting is not disturbed. To attend the polls and see that justice is done to every legal voter. To conduct themselves in such a manner as to induce all Republicans to join them. To be a body joined together in large numbers to work for the good of the Republican Ticket.

A Mark For the Enemy

May 30th 1861

Dear Brother
I take my pen in hand this morning to write you a few lines....Hutchens are all unionists I believe even to the women Some of us got to arguing with Eliza yesterday but we might as well have tried to make her believe that the sun shines here in the night as to make a secessionist of her, and this is the way with all the unionists Tell John Beard he must try to make a secessionist of his father and Sam. ...Thomas have you received your secession badge yet Hannah was telling us that she had made one for you but Ma told her she ought not to have done it as it would be a mark for the enemy to shoot at. You must excuse all these mistakes scratches & blotches in this nor you must not criticise it so closely as you used to do

I remain your affectionate sister

Mary A Smiley

We Will Print No Badges

Debate raged hotly in 1863-64 between the War Democrats and the Peace Democrats, also called Copperheads. In Ohio, in particular, tempers were high between John Brough (War Democrat) and Clement Vallandigham (Peace Democrat) who were both running for govnernor. I guess the "Tiffin Weekly Tribune's" position was pretty clear from the following statement:

The War Democrats of Ohio have cut loose from the Copperheads. They met in State Convention at Columbus a week ago, and took strong grounds in favor of a vigorous prosecution of the war; sustained the National Administration and the soldiers in the field, and condemned the nomination and the course of Vallandigham. No Nominations were made. The Ohio war Democrats generally, will support Brough.

Don’t Laugh:—“We will print no Vallandigham badges on the day of the Brough meetings.”—Advertiser.

If you do, you must have a hard check, after such disgraceful proceedings on that 18th. The idea of printing badges for a traitor to his country - a man that was banished from his native State for treason! O, shame, where is thy blush!

Hogarth's 1754 "The Polling," shows both
buff and blue flags and cockades
British Cockades and Corruption

But angst over political badges wasn't confined just to the United States. There were rows over cockades for decades in England. Laws were passed periodically trying to suppress both cockades and corruption, as evidenced by this quote:

"Mr. Lockhart said (March 2d, 1818,) that he approved of the general principle of the (election laws amendment) bill, especially that part forbidding the distribution of cockades. He had known 30,000 cockades given away at an election, and this signal of party was thus made an engine of bribery, not to the multitude at large, but towards persons of particular trades."

Several decades later, Charles Dickens noted the quarrel over cockades and corruption was still raging. In his Household Words in August 1853, tongue firmly in cheek, he noted humorously:

FLAGS, pennons, banners, bribery, beer, cockades, rosettes, brass bands and bludgeons being manifestly contrary and inimical to virtue, are to be abolished by the strong arm of the law. They are not in themselves, as things, essentially immoral; but they are vicious, when taken in connection with the election of members to the Commons House of Parliament. That assembly, confessed to be composed of the collective wisdom of the nation, has perhaps been held to include also the collective national virtue; and with this view, a Bill has been introduced, and is now before the House relating to expenses at elections, in which war to the knife is waged against every species of flag, banner, rosette, cockade, colour, or procession, which might dare to flaunt its drapery during, or immediately before or after, an election. The game is up. The flags must be furled.

In case you're wondering, the law was passed in 1854 and states the following:

An Act to consolidate and amend the Laws relating to Bribery, Treating, and undue Influence at Elections of Members of Parliament. 10th August 1854.

Section VII: No Candidate before, during, or after any Election shall in regard to such Election, by himself or Agent, directly or indirectly, give or provide to or for any Person having a Vote at such Election, or to or for any Inhabitant of the County, City, Borough, or Place for which such Election is had, any Cockade, Ribbon or other Mark of Distinction; and every Person so giving or providing shall for every such offence forfeit the Sum of Two Pounds to such Person as shall sue for the same, together with full Costs of Suit; and all Payments within this Act.

Black Cockade Federalists - Horrors!

And for a final example of election furor over cockades, I'll go to my favorite: the 1840 US presidential election. William Henry Harrison, a retired Army general and war hero, was running for president. The black cockade he wore as part of his required US Army uniform had since become synonymous with Federalist party tyranny and was hated by a much of the public. Therefore a violent debate raged in the press as to whether - get ready for this - General Harrison ever wore the black cockade after he retired! Horrors! 

I don't have space for all the hysterical items in the press (you can read some of them in my blog here), but here's just one from the 1840 Columbia (Bloosmburg, PA) Democrat: 

The Boston Courier, a violent Harrison paper, refers to the charge of the democratic presses against Gen. Harrison, that he wore a BLACK COCKADE curing the reign of Terror in 1800 in the following independent manner:

“The Van Buren papers are charging Gen. Harrison with having worn a black cockade during the reign of the elder Adams and parade the testimony of a Mr. Fowler of Kentucky, in support of the Imputation. Well, suppose Gen. Harrison did.  HE COULD NOT HAVE WORN A MORE HONORABLE BADGE, OR SUPPORTED A PURER ADMINISTRATION!”

Support Your Candidate!

Whether you want to "support" a candidate from history or support a candidate today, I'm happy to make a cockade for you!

Search "campaign" to see some of my ready-made designs or contact me for a custom order. I'll be glad to make something for your candidate.

Whether we like rowdy politics or not, we are indeed blessed to be in a country where we can campaign and vote freely! So... go vote!

A Royal Wedding Cockade

On a trip to England in 2012, I brought home a lovely little cream silk cockade with the Prince of Wales feathers in the center. I had no idea what it had been used for, and thought it would be fun to do a little detective work when I got home to discover its past. When I dug into its past - what a fun discovery I made!

In my research I came across this picture showing cockades similar to mine labeled as "wedding favors" from the wedding of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to the Prince of Wales in 1863. As I dug deeper, I found that this wedding was a rather romantic story.

Both Edward and Alexandra were a mere 18 years old when they married in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. They had only met a few times, but the Prince's sister knew Alexandra and thought they would be perfect for each other.

A nervous Alexandra had gone to stay with Queen Victoria, Edward's mother a short time before the wedding. But she won Victoria's heart as she had already won the Prince's and the Queen pronounced her "a pearl."

When Alexandra arrived in England at the end of February, the English people threw a great celebration. After all, a Princess of Wales is pretty rare (there have only been 11 in history)! Eighty thousand people crowded into Gravesend and delightedly watched the nervous young Prince run up the gangway and kiss his beautiful bride-to-be.

Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem in honor of the occasion. Here are the final lines:

Bride of the heir of the kings of the sea - 
O joy to the people and joy to the throne, 
Come to us, love us, and make us your own: 
For Saxon or Dane or Norman we, 
Teuton or Celt, or whatever we be, 
We are each all Dane in our welcome of thee, 

The music at the couple's wedding on March 10 had been composed by Prince Albert, Edward's father. Albert had died a little over a year earlier - in fact, Victoria was still in mourning and not "officially" present for the ceremony (though she watched from above the altar). Nearly everyone there became choked up and the groom was unable to do more than nod when asked if he "would have this woman to be his wife."

The bride's dress was designed by the famous Charles Frederick Worth and was covered with British-made Honiton lace. The lace had emblems of England, Ireland and Scotland in the form of roses, shamrock and thistles. The gown was the first royal wedding dress to be photographed.

In celebration of this joyous national event, ribbons and cockades were worn by everyone. Some were more elaborate than others, but all had the distinguishing mark of the Prince of Wales feathers.

These three cockades were worn in celebration of the event. Note the cockade on the far right. Does it look familiar? In fact, look at it side-by-side with my cockade.

Looks like I've found the story behind my lovely cockade! What do you think?

If you want to read more about the courtship and wedding of Edward and Alexandra, you can see articles here and here.

Announcing - South American Cockades!

There are hundreds of cockades and their accompanying stories in North American history. There are thousands of them in European history. But did you know there are also cockade stories from South America?

I've added a "South America" page to my website and will be adding new countries as I learn the history of their cockades. Here's a few highlights to wet your appetite!


As you may know, in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, the Pope divided the "New World" between Spain and Portugal. (The rest of Europe disagreed, naturally, and pretty much ignored this treaty.) The line cut through the edge of South America, which meant that for the rest of history most of South America would be Spanish-speaking, while Brazil (over the line) would speak Portuguese.

Brazil’s national cockade draws from its Portuguese history. The traditional symbol and crest of the House of Braganza is a green dragon, representing Saint George, patron saint of Portugal. Pedro I, of the House of Braganza, was Brazil’s first emperor. His wife, Maria Leopoldina, brought the color gold from the House of Habsburg. Thus, green and gold became the national colors.

On September 7, 1822, Brazil declared its independence from Portugal and became Empire of Brazil. A military coup in 1889 established the First Brazilian Republic. In order to keep a feeling of stability to the new regime, the old colors and flag were kept with slight modifications, including the addition of the color blue. So modern Brazilian cockades are green, yellow and blue.


There are many stories about the origin of the Argentine cockade. It's possible it was inherited from the royal house of Bourbon, which has the same color scheme.

When the country revolted against Spanish rule in the early 1800s, a definitive cockade was required to distinguish freedom fighters from Spanish royalists who wore the red cockade. Eventually the Argentine cockade was standardized as light blue, white, light blue, and codified into law in 1812.

In 1935, May 18 was established as National Cockade Day, in honor of the ladies of Buenos Aires who first wore the cockade during the 1810 May Revolution.


During Chile's period of colonization by Spain in the 1600-1700s, the red Spanish cockade was the national emblem. In 1808, Napoleon installed his brother as the king of Spain, which eventually brought about a freedom movement in Chile. The nation was proclaimed an autonomous republic under Spain's protection in 1810. In 1812, a new tricolor cockade was created of white, blue and yellow. As a struggle for power continued for the next five years, the cockade went back and forth from the Spanish red to the Chilean tricolor.

Intermittent warfare continued until 1817 when Bernardo O'Higgins and José de San Martín, hero of the Argentine War of Independence, led an army that crossed the Andes into Chile and defeated the royalists once and for all. On February 12, 1818, Chile was proclaimed an independent republic.

At this point a new tricolor cockade was created of red, white and blue. In the early 20th century, a star was added in the blue center of the cockade to match the national flag.


July 28 is Peru's Independence Day in commemoration of José de San Martín's Declaration of Independence in 1821. The first flag of the Republic of Peru was officially created by General José de San Martín,on October 21, 1820. It's main colors were red and white.

Opinions vary on the symbolism of the colors. Some say San Martín took the red from the flag of Chile and the white from the flag of Argentina, recognizing the heritage of the men of the liberation army. Others believe San Martín reached into Peru's European heritage, bringing red and white from Castile and Burgundy, and red from Spain. Red was also in the royal symbol of the Inca kings.

Simón Bolivar's administration officially decreed a version of the flag from which the modern design is taken, and also established the national red and white cockade on February 25, 1825.

Useful and Appropriate: Cockades and Bazaars

Have you ever donated money to a fund that helps our soldiers and received a "Support Our Troops" ribbon to wear? Or maybe you've participated in a raffle for a donated item, knowing the raffle money was going veterans.

The idea of buying donated items at bazaars to support the troops is not new. Hundreds of these fairs were held across America during the Civil War. The simplest affairs were basic booths of items to buy. But many bazaars combined these booths with entertainment and education as well. They became great social events where participants might go to socialized, have their fortune told, hear concerts, skate on a summertime ice rink (how up-to-date and exciting!), and more.

And yes, they could buy a cockade as well!

This photo is a booth from one of the largest of these bazaars, the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair in 1864.

This fascinating website gives you an interactive page to see photos and read newspaper accounts of the various displays in the fair. There were vendors for everything from books to candy to furniture to art, florals, and jewelry.

The fair lasted two weeks and proceeds - over $550,000! - benefited wounded soldiers and people displaced by the war.

Useful and Appropriate

There is a fun section in Little Women that tells a fictitious story of one of these fairs. May, one of the girls in the Little Women family, has some gentleman friends who want to support her booth by buying her items. This humorous paragraph pictures the fellows' predicament as they blew their money on feminine frills - and then had no idea what to do with them!

"The Empty Purse" by James Collinson
"To May's great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases, but pervaded the hall with one under each arm. The other gentlemen speculated with equal rashness in all sorts of frail trifles, and wandered helplessly about afterward, burdened with wax flowers, painted fans, filigree portfolios, and other useful and appropriate purchases."

This painting called "The Empty Purse" or "At the Bazaar" is set a little earlier in the 1850s, but it shows us some of the many items that would have been available. A doll, some pictures, a floral arrangement, embroidered slippers waiting to be "made up," suspenders and a hat are just a few of the "novelties" the poor lady can't purchase because she apparently spent all her money!

...And Cockades!

You may be wondering what all this has to do with cockades. Well, the answer is that two of my favorite original cockades were items that were sold at just such a bazaar!

The Relic Room in Columbia, SC has a number of items related to the Grand Bazaar held at the State House in 1865. Here's a fascinating young lady's diary entry about it:

"Jan. 18th. - Well, our great bazaar opened last night, and such a jam! I was at the State house helping to arrange the tables until four o'clock so I was thoroughly tired. There are seven booths in the House (of Representatives) South Carolina, at the Speaker's desk, is the largest, and on either side are Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri. In the Senate are North Carolina, at the Desk, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The tables or booths are tastefully draped with damask and lace curtains, and elaborately decorated with evergreens. To go in there one would scarce believe it was war times. The tables are loaded with fancy articles - brought through the blockade, or manufactured by the ladies. Everything to eat can be had if one can pay the price - cakes, jellies, creams, candies - every kind of sweets abound. A small slice of cake is two dollars - a spoonful of Charlotte Russe five dollars, and other things in proportion. Some beautiful imported wax dolls, not more than twelve inches high, raffled for five hundred dollars, and one very large doll I heard was to raffle for two thousand. "Why" as Uncle John says, "one could buy a live negro baby for that." How can people afford to buy toys at such a time as this! However I suppose speculators can. A small sized cake at the Tennessee table sold for seventy-five dollars."

Sherman was on the march at that point, and the diary notes that rumor said he intended to attend the Grand Bazaar himself! (No word on whether he offered to buy anything.)

In the absence of the modern government assistance we are used to, the ladies of the 1860s stepped up to provide wartime relief themselves. These fairs and bazaars were amazing monuments to the organizational powers of women - as well as to their ability to create "useful and appropriate" items for sale!