The (Sergeant) Major flag with wavy pile on a red ensign used at sea?

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    S. W

    I have come across an early 17th century chart showing a ship with a red ensign but with a white wavy pile coming from the canton rather like the company colour for a (Sergeant) Major’s company in the later Civil War.1
    I have seen Sir Francis Drake’s flags in Cynthia Gaskell Brown’s book which show six flags again similar to army companies and again a wavy pile is shown for the (Sergeant) Major’s flag, the third in rank after Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel followed by 3 Captains’ ranks distinguished by seniority.2
    Did Drake use them on his ships and was it common practice for ships to perhaps denote a common squadron and the rank of the Officer on board?
    The same ship in the chart shows a Union flag of 1606 but the chart is before the date when it was only allowed on Royal Naval ships.
    I also came across this on the internet from David Prothero who seems to publish a lot about flags:
    ‘Colours were originally called ensigns. Ensigns came into use on the ships of Queen Elizabeth I in the 1570s, and imitated regimental flags, which at that time were called ensigns. Until the early 1600s each ship had its own individual ensign (colour) that was different to the ensign of any other ship. By this time the ensigns on land were being called colours, because of the variety of colours used to distinguish the flag of one regiment from another. The equivalent naval flags retained the name ensign, and it became the practice for all the ships in a squadron to have an ensign of the same design…’

    1. ‘The sergeant major was one rank below the lieutenant colonel, what today is called Major.’

    Ian Sumner 8 November 2010,accessed at
    2. Cynthia Gaskell Brown, The Battle’s Sound : Drake’s Drum and the Drake flags (Tiverton 1996), pp27 & 29
    3. David Prothero, 19 February 2002, accessed at

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