Flag captured from French by Lord Nelson displayed for first time in 100 years

February 22, 2024

The 223-year-old giant French flag of the famous French ship Le Genereux, which was captured by the British in 1800, has survived to this day.

The ensign of Le Genereux, which is roughly the size of a tennis court, was taken by Nelson and his men in 1800 and is believed to be one of the earliest Tricolours in existence.

Volunteers are currently carrying out painstaking conservation works prior to it being unveiled to the public.

The 217-year-old flag is a remarkable survivor from the days of sea battles when national flags played a vital role in naval engagement so warring ships could identify who was the enemy through cannon smoke and the chaos of battle.


Le Genereux was one of only two ships to escape the British attack at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798 – the battle that sealed Nelson’s reputation as England’s hero.

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Lord Nelson in 1801 ( Image: NorfolkCountyCouncilLibrary/BNPS)

Museum staff check over the precious flag ( Image: NorfolkMuseumService/BNPS)

The British caught up with warship in February 1800, the Battle of the Malta Convoy.

On the morning of February 18, the English fleet chased the French squadron and Le Genereux covered allowing three French ships to escape before surrendering.

It is believed it could be the oldest surviving Tricolour, as it is thought it was present on the ship at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

The huge flag will go on display for the first time in 100 years ( Image: NorfolkMuseumService/BNPS)

Nelson’s trusted flag captain Sir Edward Berry gifted the flag to the City of Norwich after its capture and it was on display at St Andrew’s Hall in the city in the late 1800s.

It was last on display at Norwich Castle in 1905 for the Battle of Trafalgar centenary, but due to its huge size and fragile nature, it has been kept in storage ever since.

It will form the centrepiece of an exhibition exploring Nelson’s relationship with his home county of Norfolk this summer and conservationists had to find a space big enough to unroll it and carry out checks and cleaning, which was done at its previous home St Andrew’s Hall.

The flag will form the centrepiece of a new exhibition ( Image: NorfolkMuseumService/BNPS)DON’T MISS

Ruth Battersby-Tooke, curator of Costume and Textiles at Norwich Castle, said: “The Ensign is remarkable for its survival in such a complete state, given its age and inherent fragility.

“It is emblematic of Norfolk Museums Service’s Nelson collections, the oldest French Ensign in the UK and the one with the most stirring and thrilling history.

“When we conceived the exhibition we were determined to find a way of putting the flag on display. This has not been without its challenges, not least finding a space large enough to unroll the flag to condition check it and begin the conservation process.

The flag on display in 1905 ( Image: NorfolkMuseumService/BNPS)

“It was incredibly moving to be able to unroll the Ensign in the space where it had been on display until 1897.”

The flag, which measures 52ft by 27ft, will be on display at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery from July 29 to October 1.

Norfolk Museums Service and the Costume and Textile Association are raising funds for the full conservation and permanent display of the ensign as part of a Nelson gallery, with the work likely to cost about £40,000.