|For other uses, see Jolly Roger (disambiguation)|
The Jolly Roger was the name for any of various flags that pirates flown to identify themselves, usually before attacking another ship. The most famous and traditional variation of the Jolly Roger was the skull and crossbones, a flag consisting of a human skull above two long bones (although swords were also common) set in an X-mark arrangement, usually depicted crossing each other directly under the skull, on a black background. This design was used by several pirates, including Captains "Black Sam" Bellamy and Edward England, but pirates often add special features to reflect their personalities.
Despite its prominence, plain black flags were often employed by most pirates in the 17th-18th century. Some Jolly Roger flags also include an hourglass, another common symbol representing death in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. 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. The same message was sometimes conveyed by a red flag, though meant that the crew would fight to the death.
Every pirate ship flies a trademark variation of the skull-and-crossbones theme, and so every pirate captain flies his own variation of the Jolly Roger flag. The most notable flag of Edward Low was a red skeletal figure on a black background.
Pirates were also known to change their flags, and use false flags. For different reasons at different times, different flags were chosen. For instance, Sao Feng had two notable flags: one flag was purple and featured a golden hand holding a sword with Chinese letters next to it, while the other flag followed Edward Low's design of a black flag featuring a red skeleton dangling in the center.
At the beginning of his pirate career, Blackbeard used the typical skull and crossbones flag. He later used a flag designed to intimidate his enemies, one that depicted a demonic horned skeleton holding a goblet in one hand and a spear pointing to a bleeding heart in the other, as if he's toasting his victims. At some point prior to the voyage to the Fountain of Youth, Blackbeard flew a new variation, featuring a skull with flames that revealed his passion for forbidden dark magic.
As early as 1704, pirates were referring to their flags as Rogers and in 1703, one captain referred to his flag as "Old Roger". The name Roger derives from the word rogue, meaning a wandering thief or vagabond. The name "Old Roger" was another name for the devil.
The earliest known mention of the Jolly Roger is in Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, published in 1724. The book mentions that both Bartholomew Roberts and Francis Spriggs called their flag the Jolly Roger, though the flags were different and neither were the popular skull and crossbones design.
Less popular theories include the name being derived from the French term "Joli Rouge" (meaning "Pretty Red") or from the name Ali Raja, a famous Indian pirate.
- "So I orders me crew to run up me black flag. The moment we raised our true colors, that sloop, he run up his flag, too. A red flag, with a black demon skull on it. 'Twas then I knew for certain that he was another pirate. We all had a good laugh, me and me crew."
- ―Hector Barbossa
Bones and skulls have been a sign of death since early Rome. Skulls and long bones have been displayed in catacombs, crypts, and graveyards since the Middle Ages. Bones were used because they lasted long after the rest of the body was gone. Later, carvings of the skull and bones were used to remind people who entered that they would one day die also.
The use of plain black flags was more common than flags with the skull and crossbones. When the skull and crossbones was used, they were often modified by the captain. The Welsh privateer Henry Morgan was the first captain who flew the typical skull and crossbones on a red background. Three and a half decades later, the pirate captain Edward England used the same flag, but with the black background, a design which was later adopted by many other members of the Brethren of the Coast. The same flag, but with the reversed colours, was used among pirates to signal parlay. For unknown reasons, many pirates believed that England's design was allegedly the first used and standardized pirate flag.
Gallery of notable Jolly Rogers
Behind the scenes
- One of Marc Davis' concept artworks shows Henry Morgan holding the red Jolly Roger with the white skull and crossbones. In real-world history, the Jolly Roger wasn't used by pirates before the end of the 17th century, almost a decade after Morgan's historical death.
- Hector Barbossa's flag (the skull with crossed swords) is the best known flag used throughout the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. It was seen in the trailer for Armada of the Damned, and is one of the two pirate flags to appear in more than one POTC film (the other being Jack Sparrow's flag). While appearing in the trailers and featurettes for Dead Man's Chest and On Stranger Tides, the flag never made an appearance in the films themselves, though it can been seen very briefly in a shot of the Black Pearl in a bottle. In Dead Men Tell No Tales Barbossa uses a redesigned flag with the black skull and crossed swords on a crimson red background while the original black flag can be briefly seen during the flashback scene on one of the sinking pirate ships. In the script and Irene Trimble's junior novelization for The Curse of the Black Pearl, the skull on Barbossa's pirate flag was described to be exactly like the skull imprinted on the Aztec gold medallion.
- In the Pirates world, Sao Feng had at least two known flags. According to the The Pirates' Guidelines and the Legends of the Brethren Court: Rising in the East, it was the same design used for the historical flag of Edward Low (the red skeleton on a black background). In the official website for At World's End, it was a purple flag with a golden hand holding a sword and Chinese letters on it. It's quite likely that either flag was chosen for different reasons at different times.
- When designing the Queen Anne's Revenge, producer Jerry Bruckheimer said that since the most famous pirate flag is the skull and crossbones, skulls and skeletons should be worked into the actual design of the ship. This resulted in production designer John Myhre to recall Kostnice, the famous "Church of Bones" in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.
- In real world history, Blackbeard's flag featured a horned skeleton clutching a goblet in one hand and a spear in the other, as if he's toasting his victims. Since John Myhre had already appropriated the skeleton from Blackbeard's real, historically correct flag for the Queen Anne's Revenge's figurehead, a new design was needed for the pirate's flag in On Stranger Tides. Earlier versions by Miles Teves show experimentation with the basic themes of skeletons, skulls, and flames. One flag was quite similar to Blackbeard's actual standard. The final incarnation, a large skull with flames, was conceived and ultimately contributed by Heather Pollington. According to the On Stranger Tides: The Visual Guide, the large skull with flames revealed Blackbeard's passion for dark magic. However, in real world history, Blackbeard never used dark magic. In the film's junior novelization, Blackbeard's flag featured the skeleton of the devil sticking a spear into a blood red heart.
- In Dead Men Tell No Tales, when Henry Turner looks at the Ruddy Rose with a piece of mirror, the pirate flag is flying from the mainmast. A few moments later, when Officer Cole looks at the ship with his spyglass, the flag is flying from the stern flagstaff.
- Jolly Rogers can be seen in several Disney Parks locations, including at the entrance of the Tortuga Tavern restaurant and in the 2012 attraction The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow.
- Pirates of the Caribbean (ride)
- The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure
- Jack Sparrow: The Pirate Chase
- Jack Sparrow: The Sword of Cortés
- Jack Sparrow: Silver
- Jack Sparrow: Dance of the Hours
- Jack Sparrow: Sins of the Father
- The Price of Freedom
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War
- Legends of the Brethren Court: The Caribbean
- Legends of the Brethren Court: Rising in the East
- Legends of the Brethren Court: Wild Waters
- Legends of the Brethren Court: Day of the Shadow
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Missing Pirate
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (First appearance)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow
- The Accidental Pirate! (First identified as the Jolly Roger)
- Open Sesame!
- The Buccaneer's Heart! (Non-canonical appearance)
- Going Overboard!
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (video game)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Master of the Seas
- Fantasmic! (Non-canonical appearance)
- LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (Non-canonical appearance)
- Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life (Non-canonical appearance)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (film series)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Jack Sparrow
- The Price of Freedom
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Complete Visual Guide
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: The Visual Guide
- The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
- The Pirates' Guidelines
- The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook
Notes and references
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Complete Visual Guide, pg. 30
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: The Visual Guide, p30-31: "Queen Anne's Revenge"
- In real-world history, a red skeleton with a black background was one of Edward Low's flags.
- "Pirates were known to change their flags, and use false flags. Rather than presume a mistake, I would go with the explanation that for different reasons at different times, different flags were chosen. Certainly the examples of treachery in At World's End supports the idea of choosing different flags to emphasize different situations and alliances." - Terry Rossio
- DisneyPirates.com: Pirate Lords Map: Sao Feng
- The Secret Files of the East India Trading Company
- The Pirates' Guidelines
- Legends of the Brethren Court: Rising in the East
- The Queen Anne's Revenge as shown in A General History of the Pyrates.
- Concept art of the Queen Anne's Revenge.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (junior novelization), p.48
- POTC4 Presskit
- Captain Morgan holds the red Jolly Roger.
- The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook, p54.
- The Price of Freedom, Chapter 14: "Hard Bargains"
- The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, pg. 55