The flag of Elba

The flag of Elba is white with a red stripe crossing it diagonally from the top to the bottom with inside a representation of three golden bees facing upwards.

Upon Napoleon's arrival in Elba, the new state needed a flag and Napoleon made prepare one when he was still aboard the British frigate Undaunted. Napoleon wanted the flag to be a symbol of unity and the flag of the Polish cavalry was probably chosen; it is also known that Napoleon possessed a book * with all the old flags of Tuscany and he wanted something that recalled the ancient rule of the Appiani in the island **.

The meaning of the flag chosen by Napoleon has been for long matter of debate also among historians. The bee was to be born from the lily symbol of the hated Bourbons.The three bees probably represented the tripartite that the island had had up to twelve years before.

Throughout the time, many interpretations and meanings have been given to the three bees on the flag of Elba, ranging from the Elban people's hard work to the royal symbol that Napoleon created specially for Elba.

Actually the symbolism of the three bees during the reign of Napoleon had a specific meaning.

It is in fact believed that Napoleon chose the bee as symbol because this was already dear to him as it had represented a form of link with the Merovingian dynasty.

In the tomb of King Childeric was in fact discovered a golden bee and also in the ancient Egyptian civilization the bee was considered a very important symbol of power, obedience and loyalty.

Napoleon had given the three golden bees to those cities to which he was particularly devoted and that generally exceeded 13,000 inhabitants. He assigned the three bees also to Elba, who at that time had about this number of population. His intention was to give them a sense of unity under his reign, even though, a few months after his arrival he divided them into 10 municipalities to be able to manage them better.

The Napoleonic flag was set for the first time in Elba upon Fort Falcone, the highest point of the city of Portoferraio, to give the green light to the landing of the Emperor, on May 4, 1814. This flag was for 10 months sign of prestige and respect for the ships that hoisted it in the Mediterranean ports. Its great success is also witnessed by the writings of Pons de l'Herault in “Souvenirs et anecdotes de l’Ile d’Elbe” ("Souvenirs and anecdotes of Elba Island") where he writes that the flag was also greeted by pirates, who were seeing in it the symbol of their warrior hero, Napoleon while they were sailing through the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Today the original flag is preserved in the Napoleonic residence of Villa de Mulini and a speech was drafted by Napoleon himself for its hoisting. Napoleon conceived two other flags, one for war and trades and another one personal.

These two flags were similar and recalled those of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, already known also in Elba before 1801 and back in use after the Napoleonic period.

The flag had three red-white-red stripes and was loaded on top of a canton pole  bearing the emblem of Elba. This was the flag hoisted by merchant ships and by the Napoleon's fleet.

The personal flag of Napoleon was very similar to this one, but was adorned in the middle by the initial of his name with a golden N having a crown on the top.

When he boarded on the brig Inconstant for his departure on the 26th of February in 1815 this flag was hoisted on the mainmast.

* Admiral Thomas Ussher, former captain commander of the British frigate  "Undaunted", which led him to Elba, said that: "Napoleon had with him a book depicting all the flags of Tuscany, ancient and modern; he asked me his opinion on what he had chosen. " This version is confirmed by Campbell, (6) who wrote in his diary: "It was a flag of ancient Tuscany as exactly as possible."

** According to Mellini, in his "Napoleon on Elba Island": "this flag remembered to Elba  their first lords, the Appiani, who ruled Elba after the fall of the Republic of Pisa." Even Jean Brunon said that Napoleon chose the flag of his new domain while navigating, after a discussion with his three men of trust, who undertook the positions of greater responsibility in the government of Elba. Finally Sandro Foresi asserts that "the emperor decided to take the old flag of Elba, that got tailored by his crew."

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