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1.a flag usually bearing a white skull and crossbones on a black background; indicates a pirate ship
drapeau muni d'un symbolisme particulier (fr)[ClasseParExt.]
drapeau muni d'un symbolisme particulier (fr)[ClasseParExt.]
(firebrand; agitator; troublemaker)[termes liés]
Jolly Roger (n.)
The Jolly Roger is any of various flags flown to identify a ship's crew as pirates. The flag most commonly identified as the Jolly Roger today is the skull and crossbones, a flag consisting of a human skull above two long bones set in an x-mark arrangement on a black field. This design was used by several pirates, including Captains Edward England and John Taylor. Some Jolly Roger flags also include an hourglass, another common symbol representing death in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. Despite its prominence in popular culture, plain black flags were often employed by most pirates in the 17th-18th century. Historically, the flag was flown to frighten pirates' victims into surrendering without a fight, since it conveyed the message that the attackers were outlaws who would not consider themselves bound by the usual rules of engagement—and might, therefore, slaughter those they defeated (since captured pirates were usually hanged, they did not have much to gain by asking quarter if defeated). The same message was sometimes conveyed by a red flag, as discussed below.
Since the decline of piracy, various military units have used the Jolly Roger, usually in skull-and-crossbones design, as a unit identification insignia or a victory flag to ascribe to themselves the proverbial ferocity and toughness of pirates. In a non-naval context the skull and crossbones motif has additional meanings, for example, to signify a hazard such as poison.
The origin of the pirate flag has been lost. It is thought that pirates originally used a red flag, which was also common in naval warfare, to signal that no quarter would be given. This red flag was called Joli Rouge (pretty red) by the French, and may have been corrupted into English as Jolly Roger. From the red flag it seems that individual pirates began to develop their own personal flags in order to terrify their foes into a quick surrender. In contrast with the well known red flag, they used the black flag of quarantine and disease as the base, with the universal symbol for death, the skull and bones, and modified it to suit their individual tastes. The skull and bones was also used in captains' logbooks to indicate the death of a sailor.
Not everyone agrees on this. Some historians[who?] think the term Jolly Roger is more likely a reference to the English use of 'Roger' as a term for fornication. Stud bulls in England were commonly named Roger. This implied that if the victim did not surrender, they would be 'Rogered'.
A third possibility is that Jolly Roger derived from 'Old Roger' as a term for the devil.
Johnson specifically cites two pirates as having named their flag "Jolly Roger": Bartholomew Roberts in June, 1721 and Francis Spriggs in December 1723. While Spriggs and Roberts used the same name for their flags, their flag designs were quite different, suggesting that already "Jolly Roger" was a generic term for black pirate flags rather than a name for any single specific design. Neither Spriggs' nor Roberts' Jolly Roger consisted of a skull and crossbones.
Richard Hawkins, captured by pirates in 1724, reported that the pirates had a black flag bearing the figure of a skeleton stabbing a heart with a spear, which they named "Jolly Roger".
Despite this tale, it is assumed by most that the name Jolly Roger comes from the French words joli rouge, meaning "pretty red" and referring to a plain red flag which was flown to indicate that the ship would fight to the death, with no quarter given or expected. During the Elizabethan era "Roger" was a slang term for beggars and vagrants who "pretended scholarship." "Sea Beggars" had been a popular name for Dutch privateers since the 16th century. Another theory states that "Jolly Roger" is an English corruption of "Ali Raja," supposedly a 17th century Tamil pirate. Yet another theory is that it was taken from a nickname for the devil, "Old Roger". The "jolly" appellation may be derived from the apparent grin of a skull.
The first record of the skull-and-crossbones design being used by pirates is found in a December 6, 1687 entry in a log book held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The entry describes pirates using the flag, not on a ship but on land.
"And we put down our white flag, and raised a red flag with a Skull head on it and two crossed bones (all in white and in the middle of the flag), and then we marched on."
17th and 18th century colonial governors usually required privateers to fly a specific version of the British flag, the 1606 Union Jack with a white crest in the middle, also distinguishing them from naval vessels. Before this time, British privateers such as Sir Henry Morgan sailed under English colours.
Black flags are known to have been used by pirates at least five years before the name "Jolly Roger" became popularized. Contemporary accounts show Captain Martel's pirates using a black flag in 1716, Edward Teach, Charles Vane, and Richard Worley in 1718, and Howell Davis in 1719. An even earlier use of a black flag with skull, crossbones, and hourglass is attributed to pirate captain Emanuel Wynn in 1700, according to a wide variety of secondary sources. Reportedly, these secondary sources are based on the account of Captain John Cranby of the HMS Poole and are verified at the London Public Record Office.
With the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, many privateers turned to piracy. They still used red and black flags, but now they decorated them with their own designs. Edward England, for example, flew three different flags: from his mainmast the black flag depicted above; from his foremast a red version of the same; and from his ensign staff the English National flag.
Just as variations on the Jolly Roger’s design existed, red flags sometimes incorporated yellow stripes or images symbolic of death. Colored pennants and ribbons could also be used alongside flags.
While pirates used the red, or bloody, flag as well as black flags, there was a distinction between the two. In the mid-18th century, Captain Richard Hawkins confirmed that pirates gave quarter beneath the black flag, while no quarter was given beneath the red flag.
The gallery below showing pirate flags in use from 1693 (Thomas Tew's) to 1724 (Edward Low's) appears in multiple extant works on the history of piracy. All the secondary sources cited in the gallery below are in agreement except as to the background color of Every's flag.
Sources exist describing the Jolly Rogers of other pirates than the ones above; also, the pirates described above sometimes used other Jolly Rogers than those shown above. However, no pictures of these alternate Jolly Rogers are easily located.
Pirates did not fly the Jolly Roger at all times. Like other vessels, pirate ships usually stocked a variety of different flags, and would normally fly false colors or no colors until they had their prey within firing range. When the pirates' intended victim was within range, the Jolly Roger would be raised, often simultaneously with a warning shot.
The flag was probably intended as communication of the pirates' identity, which may have given target ships an opportunity to change their mind and surrender without a fight. For example in June 1720 when Bartholomew Roberts sailed into the harbour at Trepassey, Newfoundland with black flags flying, the crews of all 22 vessels in the harbour abandoned them in panic. If a ship then decided to resist, the Jolly Roger was taken down and a red flag was flown, indicating that the pirates intended to take the ship by force and without mercy. Richard Hawkins reports that "When they fight under Jolly Roger, they give quarter, which they do not when they fight under the red or bloody flag."
In this view of models, it was important for a prey ship to know that its assailant was a pirate, and not a privateer or government vessel, as the latter two generally had to abide by a rule that if a crew resisted, but then surrendered, it could not be executed:
An angry pirate therefore posed a greater danger to merchant ships than an angry Spanish coast guard or privateer vessel. Because of this, although, like pirate ships, Spanish coast guard vessels and privateers were almost always stronger than the merchant ships they attacked, merchant ships may have been more willing to attempt resisting these "legitimate" attackers than their piratical counterparts. To achieve their goal of taking prizes without a costly fight, it was therefore important for pirates to distinguish themselves from these other ships also taking prizes on the seas.
Flying a Jolly Roger was a reliable way of proving oneself a pirate. Just possessing or using a Jolly Roger was considered proof that one was a criminal pirate rather than something more legitimate; only a pirate would dare fly the Jolly Roger, as he was already under threat of execution.
Following the introduction of submarines in several navies, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, the First Sea Lord of the British Royal Navy, stated that submarines were "underhanded, unfair, and damned un-English", and that he would convince the British Admiralty to have the crews of enemy submarines captured during wartime be hanged as pirates.
In September 1914, the British submarine HMS E9 successfully torpedoed the German criuser SMS Hela. Remembering Wilson's statements, commanding officer Max Horton instructed his sailors to manufacture a Jolly Roger, which was flown from the submarine as she entered port. Each successful patrol saw Horton's submarine fly an additional Jolly Roger until there was no more room for flags, at which point Horton then had a large Jolly Roger manufactured, onto which symbols indicating E9's achievements were sewn. A small number of other submarines adopted the practice: HMS E12 flew a red flag with the skull and crossbones on return from a foray into the Dardanelles in June 1915, and the first known photograph of the practice was taken in July 1916 aboard HMS H5.
The practice restarted during World War II. In October 1941, following a successful patrol by HMS Osiris, during which she sank the Italian destroyer Palestro the submarine returned to Alexandria, but was ordered to remain outside the boom net until the motorboat assigned to the leader of the 1st Submarine Flotilla had come alongside. The flotilla leader wanted to recognise the boat's achievement, so had a Jolly Roger made and delivered to Osiris.(I) After this, the commanders of submarine flotillas began to hand out the flags to successful submarines. Although some sources claim that all British submarines used the flag, the practice was not taken up by those submarine commanders who saw it as boastful and potentially inaccurate, as sinkings could not always be confirmed. During the war, British submarines were entitled to fly the Jolly Roger on the day of their return from a successful patrol: it would be hoisted as the boat passed the boom net, and remain raised until sunset.
Symbols on the flag indicated the history of the submarine, and it was the responsibility of the boat's personnel to keep the flag updated. The Royal Navy Submarine Museum (which, as of 2004, possessed fifteen Jolly Rogers) recognises 20 unique symbols. A bar denotes the torpedoing of a ship: red bars indicated warships, white bars represented merchant vessels, and black bars with a white "U" stood for U-boats. A dagger indicated a 'cloak and dagger' operation: typically the delivery or recovery of shore parties from enemy territory. Stars (sometimes surrounding crossed cannon) stood for occasions where the deck gun was fired. Minelaying operations were shown by the silhouette of a sea mine: a number inside the mine indicated how many such missions. A lighthouse or torch symbolised the boat's use as a navigational marker for an invasion force. Rescue of personnel from downed aircraft or sunken ships was marked by a lifebuoy. Unique symbols are used to denote one-off incidents: for example, the Jolly Roger of HMS Proteus included a can-opener, referencing an incident where an Italian destroyer attempted to ram the submarine, but ended up worse off because of damage to the destroyer's hull by the submarine's hydroplanes.
Flying the Jolly Roger continued in the late 20th century and on into the 21st: HMS Conqueror raised the flag decorated with the sillouette of a cruiser to recognise her successful attack on the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano during the Falklands War of 1982, while HMS Turbulent flew a flag carrying crossed tomahawks (representing the launching of Tomahawk cruise missiles) on returning from a 2003 Iraq War deployment. In April and again in June 2011 HMS Triumph returning from Operation Ellamy also flew a Jolly Roger adorned with Tomahawk axes, six in total, to indicate the missiles fired by the submarine in the operation.
The practice, while commonly associated with British submarines, is not restricted to them. During World War II, Allied submariners working with Royal Navy fleets adopted the process from their British counterparts. While operating in the Mediterranean, the Polish submarines ORP Sokół and ORP Dzik were presented with Jolly Rogers by General Władysław Sikorski, and continued to update it during the war. At least one British surface ship recorded their U-boat kills through silhouettes on a Jolly Roger. The Australian submarine HMAS Onslow flew the Jolly Roger in 1980, following her successful participation in the Kangaroo 3 wargame as an opposing submarine. The flag bore the silhouettes of the seven surface ships involved in the exercise: Onslow had successfully 'sunk' all seven.
Four squadrons of the 90th Bombardment Group of the Fifth Air Force under General George C. Kenney, commanded by Colonel Art Rogers were known as the Jolly Rogers. Easily distinguished by the white skull and crossed bombs, from 1943, the four squadrons all displayed the insignia on the twin tail fins of their B-24 heavy bombers (heavies) with different color backgrounds for each squadron. The 319th's tail fin background was blue, the 320th's red, the 321st, green, and the 400th, the most graphic of the four, black. The skull and crossed bombs remains the heritage insignia of the group's successor, the 90th Operations Group.
The 90th Bombardment Group, commanded by Col. Rogers, known as the Jolly Rogers, used the Skull and Crossed bombs insignia. The Skull and Crossed bones was used by an outfit called Russell's Raiders.
Also on the cover of Michael Jackson's Dangerous album it can be seen on the left sde with the alteration of a skull over two swords.
"Pirate" Metal band Running Wild often reference the Jolly Roger and other pirate related themes in their music.
Before changing to a stylized 'P', the Pirate Party used the Jolly Roger as its symbol; it is still used extensively in the Pirate movement. The Piratbyrån and The Pirate Bay also use either the skull and crossbones symbol, or derivatives of it, such as the logo of Home Taping Is Killing Music.
A number of sports teams have been known to use variations of the Jolly Roger, with one of the best known in current use, an adaptation of Calico Jack's pirate flag, with a red background instead of the black, being that of the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with an American football over the crossing area of the two swords.
The supporters of FC St. Pauli, a sports club from Hamburg, Germany, best known for its association football team, have adopted a variation of Richard Worley's flag as their own unofficial emblem. Also, the Jolly Roger is the popular icon of all University College Cork (Ireland) sports teams.
It is also used in a statement by Pittsburgh Pirates Announcer Greg Brown when the Pirates win a game. Brown is known for his call "Raise the Jolly Roger" after every Pirates win. This is keeping in line with Pirate broadcasters, such as former announcers Lanny Frattare and Bob Prince, who like to end a Pirate win with a similar statement.
Another such variation is the Oakland Raiders, it uses a head with facial features, wearing an eye patch and a helmet, crossed swords behind the helmet completes the image.
All these variations are seen as the logos of sporting teams in (Scotland): The Braehead Paisley Pirates/Paisley Pirates of the Scottish National League Ice Hockey the and Paisley Buccaneers and Riversdale Pirates of the Scottish Recreational Ice Hockey Conference The East Kilbride Pirates American Football team in BAFA Division 1 The Edinburgh Buccaneers Basketball club of the Scottish Men's National League
The South African football or soccer team Orlando Pirates also has the classic Jolly Roger as their logo.