This site is a mirror of the original site, made in 2022 by Heraldry of the World. The original site is unaltered. This mirror functions as an archive to keep the material available on-line.
All rights remain with the late Hubert de Vries, the original site owner.




Back to United Kingdom



Gibraltar became part of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania following the collapse of the Roman Empire and came under Muslim Moorish rule in 711 AD. It was permanently settled for the first time by the Moors and was renamed Jebel Tariq – the Mount of Tariq, later corrupted into Gibraltar. The kingdom of Castile annexed it in 1309, lost it again to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada in 1333 and finally regained it in 1462. Gibraltar became part of the unified Kingdom of Spain and remained under Spanish rule until 1704. It was captured during the War of the Spanish Succession by an Anglo-Dutch fleet in the name of Charles VI of Austria, the Habsburg contender to the Spanish throne. At the war's end, Spain ceded the territory to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.

Spain tried to regain control of Gibraltar, which Britain had declared a Crown colony, through military, diplomatic and economic pressure. Gibraltar was besieged and heavily bombarded during three wars between Britain and Spain but the attacks were repulsed on each occasion. By the end of the last siege, in the late 18th century, Gibraltar had faced fourteen sieges in 500 years.

Since 1985, Gibraltar has undergone major changes as a result of reductions in Britain's overseas defence commitments. Most British forces have left the territory, which is no longer seen as a place of major military importance.




The idea of Gibraltar being the key to Spain or the Mediterranean originated well before the Spanish conquest. The followers of Tariq ibn-Ziyad, who invaded Spain via Gibraltar in 711, are said to have adopted the symbol of the key when they settled in Granada. The coat of arms was accompanied by the inscription "Seal of the noble city of Gibraltar, the Key of Spain".


Flags of Ceuta and Melilla

On a map of Petrus Vesconte, 1325.


The symbol of the key occurs in 14th century North West African muslim empires (Marinids, Ziyanids, Hafsids). Therefore we may propose that a key was the badge of office of a socalled Ras Nawhat al Nuwwab, the official responsilble for a stronghold and urban patrols (a kind of viscount) as mentioned for the Mamluks by Jonathan Riley-Smith in his Atlas of the Crusades (London New York 1991).


In Nasrid Granada, we find  the configuration of a gate and a key on several gates of the Alhambra, constructed by Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr (1232-‘73) and his successor. who were the owners of Gibraltar.  


Key on the Wine Gate of the Alhambra (Granada)


The castle has its roots in the heraldry of the Kingdom of Castile, the largest and most important medieval Spanish kingdom, of which Isabella was Queen. The preamble to the warrant granting the coat of arms to Gibraltar said:


"...and we, deeming it right, and acknowledging that the said City is very strong and by its situation it is the key between these our kingdoms in the Eastern and Western Seas and the sentinel and defence of the Strait of the said Seas through which no ships of peoples of either of these Seas can pass to the other without sighting it or calling at it."





Arms consisting of a triple-towered castle with a golden key dependent from the centre were granted to "The Most Loyal City of Gibraltar" by the most catholic kings Ferdinand and Isabella on the 10th July 1502. The original grant on vellum is now in the archives of the Municipality of San Roque.


Detail of the parchment with the arms of Gibraltar, 10.07.1502




PRIVILEGE of the Coat of Arms granted by their most Serene Catholic

Majesties to the Most Noble and Loyal City of Gibraltar.


WE, Don Fernando and Dona Isabel, by the Grace of God King and Queen

of Castilia, of Leon, of Aragon, of Sicily, of Granada, of Toledo, of

Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Seville, of Sardinia, of Cordoba, of

Murcia, of Jean, of the Algarves, of Algeciras, of Gibraltar, of the Canary

Islands, Counts of Barcelona, Lords of Biscay and of Molina, Duke of

Athens and the Neopatria, Counts of Rosellon and Ardania, Marquises of

Oristan and the Gociano.


TO YOU, the Council, Chief Mayors, Constable, Council-men,

Commissaries, Knight, Esquires, Officers, and good men of the City of





KNOW YE, that we have seen a petition of yours by which you sent to pray

us to command to be granted to the said City Arms to be put on its Seal,

Standard and Banners, and on those other places where it may be

considered necessary, as there are in the other cities of our Kingdom. And

WE, deeming it right, and acknowledging that the said City is very strong

and that by its situation it is the key between these our Kingdoms in the

Eastern and Western seas, and the Sentinel of defence of the Strait and the

said seas through which no ships or peoples of either of these seas can pass

to the other without sighting it or calling at it;


BY THESE PRESENTS, We give you as Arms an escutcheon on which the

upper two thirds shall have a white field, in the said field set a Red Castle;

underneath the said Castle, on the other third of the escutcheon, which

shall be a red field in which there shall be a white line between the castle

and the said red field: on this a golden key which We give you, and which

you may and shall place on the Seal of the said City, on its Standard and

Banners and the Towers, and Gates, and Bridges, and on any other Place

and Public Works you may make or paint; for which purpose we have

ordered to be given to you this our letter written on parchment and sealed

with our red-fronted Seal, and which we sent to Their Highness Princes

Don Felipe and Dona Juana, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Burgundy, our

most dear and honoured children and the Princes of the Blood, Dukes,

Prelates, Counts, Marquises, Grandees of Castile, Masters of the Orders,

Priors and Sub-Priors of the Military Religious Orders, and to those of our

Council, and Judge of our Supreme Court, Mayors and other Officers of

Justice whomsoever of our Household and Court and Chancery, and to all

the Councils, Chief Mayors, Mayors and Constables Council-men, Knights,

Esquires, Officers and good men, so that all the Cities, Towns and Villagers

of our Kingdoms and Lordships which are now ours or may hereafter be,

and to each one of them, that they may preserve fulfil and make to be

preserved and fulfilled in all cases and by all respects as herein contained,

now and for all time; and that against the tenor and form thereof they may

not go, exceed nor allow others to go or exceed, now, or at any time, for

any cause or reason whatever; and that neither one nor the other, neither

you nor they, do such thing in any manner whatever, under pain of our

displeasure and of a payment of ten thousand marawedis for our household

by each one that shall so neglect the observance and fulfilment thereof.

Besides which we have ordered the man who shall present to you this our

letter, to summon you to appear before us at our court wherever we may be

on the day you are summoned and up to and within the fifteen days first

following it; under the said penalty, concerning which letter we order any

Notary Public who may be called for the purpose to give whomsoever shall

show me this, a testimony verified by his mark in order that we may know

how our mandate is observed.


Given in the CITY OF TOLEDO on the tenth day of the month of July, year

of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, one thousand five hundred and two.


I THE KING                                                                    I THE QUEEN


But later there are some other descriptions too:


1575 Dourado, Fernao Faz: Universalis Orbis Hydrographia. Lissabon, 1575:

Gibraltar: ¼ of Aragon and Argent, a fleur de lis Azure  (? not found!)


1675 ca: Gibraltar: campo de sinople con un castillo sobre peñas en el mar, el castillo de oro. (peñas = rocks) [2]


Habsburg occupation






Commemorative medal for the Siege of Gibraltar (1779-’83).


1783 General [George Augustus] Elliot, the Relief of Gibraltar, White Metal Medal, 1783, by Johann Christian Reich, With usual copper plug.  Æ 45mm.

Obv.: uniformed bust of Elliot right wearing tricorn hat,

Rev.: panoramic view of the siege with mortars firing around the Rock. L.: VICTRIX IN FLAMIS VICTRIX  GIBRALTAR IN VNDIS  MDCCLXXXIII


The Badge


The British did not continue the official spanish coat of arms of 1502 but borrowed the castle with the key from it to make a badge.


1787 Azure, between two pillars (of Hercules) a castle argent, masoned sable from the gate a golden key pendant subscribed “plus ultra”.

[refer to a grant to Lord [George Augustus] Heathfield, [of Gibraltar] (1717-’90) 1787, “the arms of Gibraltar” being granted to him as a chief of augmentation.] [3]



The achievement of the Barons Heatfield, 1790

From: Catton, Charles: The English Peerage


From the beginning of the 19th century the tower and the key became the emblem associated with british Gibraltar.


Token 1802

Obv.: Seascape with ship and  rock of Gibraltar.  Rev.: Triple tower with pendant key


Token 1810

Obv.: British lion sejant with key. Rev.: Triple tower


Token 1820

Obv.: British lion sejant  with key. Rev.: Gibraltar moorish castle.


Gbraltar Moorish Castle (711-1462)


Crown colony



Royal coat of arms as used during the reign of the House of Hanover above the Gibraltar Law Courts (1832-)


Regular coinage 1841-1861

Obv. Bust of  Queen Victoria. Rev.: Triple tower with pending key



Suffolk Regiment (1685-1959), badge [4]


But the badge as published by the Admiralty (1882) for use upon the Union Flag by the Governor are “Gules, a triple towered castle proper, and suspended by a chain from the gateway, a key Or. Motto – “MONTIS INSIGNIA CALPE.”


The words usually found underneath the Arms are “MONTIS INSIGNIA CALPE”, meaning “Badge of the Rock of Gibraltar” and these words also appear on the Colours of the Suffolk Regiment, which Regiment obtained permission to have the Arms of Gibraltar inscribed on their Colours in recognition of the gallant part they played in the Siege of Gibraltar (1779-’83). The words “Nulli Expugnabilis Hosti” meaning “Conquered By No Enemy” also occasionally appear under the Arms of Gibraltar, having been copied from the Official Seal of the Colony which consists of a picture of the Rock with these words underneath.


In 1869, a Circular despatch was sent to all Colonies requesting that a sketch of the Arms or Badge to be adorned in the centre of the Union Jack used by the Governor should be supplied to the Colonial Office. The sketch which was submitted by this Government on the 1st January 1870, depicted the triple towered castle with dependent key with the words “Montis Insignia Calpe” underneath. This design was approved by the then Secretary of State and concurred in by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.


In 1875 the British Admiralty office forwarded a circular to all Colonies with an enquiry in order to verify their respective badge designs in advance of publishing them in the Admiralty Flag book (1882). It was also stated in the same despatch that in those Colours in which Badges for Flags had been approved which differed from the Armorial Bearings or device shown on the Seal of the Colony, no objection would be offered to their continued use but that it was hoped that the first opportunity would be taken of adopting the device on the Seal. The reply to this despatch was to the effect that the Badge for the Union Jack shown in the Flag Book was correct but that it differed from the device on the Seal of the Colony and that the earliest opportunity of adopting the latter device would be taken.


Device on the seal of the Colony

as on the 1802 token


The origin of the device on the Seal of the Colony which consists of a picture of the Rock with a sailing ship in the foreground and the words “Nulli Expugnabilis Hosti” underneath cannot be traced but it has been suggested that it has been taken from a Commemorative Medal of the Siege, which is believed to have been designed under instructions from General Eliott. No record of such a model can, however, be traced.


Badge 1882-present


The arms re-adopted, 1926


No action has been taken with regard to replacing the badge originally approved for the centre of the Union Jack by the device shown on the Seal. In his despatch No. 171 of the 28 th September 1926, the late Sir Charles Monro (†1929) recommended that the Arms originally granted by Ferdinand and Isabella should be regarded as the true and proper Arms of Gibraltar and that the device on the Seal should be changed to conform with this as soon as opportunity offered. He also recommended that the words "Montis Insignia Calpe" should be regarded as part of the device.


The Secretary of State sought the advice of the Garter King of Arms as to whether the Arms granted by Ferdinand and Isabella could be regarded as the recognised ones without the necessity for a Royal Warrant and, if so, whether they could be placed on record officially with the addition of the motto "Montis Insignia Calpe". He was advised that this could be done without the issue of a Royal Warrant and it was suggested that a properly attested and accurate copy of the Grant of Arms in 1502 should be recorded at the College of Arms.


Nevertheless it took a long time before the reommendations of Sir Charles Monro were followed, and a coat of arms without the bordure Or remined in use throughout  the 20th century.


Arms of Gibraltar on a 10 shillings note, 1942

The arms within a narrow bordure


On Government ensign (t. Queen Elizabeth II)


Sign board of the City of Gibraltar

Gibraltar castle within bordure

No date known


Embellished coat of arms of Gibraltar

Golden  £ 100 piece, 1975


British Dependent Territory



Only in the first decade of the 21st century the spanish version of the arms reappeared.


Æ See illustration in the head of this article


British Overseas Territory




Government of Gibraltar achievement 2014


 Photo GBC TV and Radio Gibraltar

Royal achievement and arms, Gibraltar Parliament mace, 2017

almost a replica from the mace of 1951


The flag of Gibraltar



The flag of Gibraltar is an elongated banner of the Arms of Gibraltar, known from 1972, granted by Royal Warrant 1982


Governor’s Flag until 1982


The arms as published by the Admiralty for use on the Union Jack of the governor  is "Gules, a triple towered castle proper, and suspended by a chain from the gateway a key or. Motto: "montis insignia calpe" (this is the emblem of the rock) (on a golden ribbon). [5]




The Royal Gibraltar Police, previously the Gibraltar Police Force, was formed in 1830, only nine months after Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police in London. It was Peel who sent one of his officers to Gibraltar to form the Gibraltar Police Force.




Gibraltar Defense Force


Badges and Insignia


Cap Badges


Cap Badge of The Gibraltar Volunteer Corps (1915-1920)


The GVC was formed by the will of the people of Gibraltar, not by Royal ordinance, so the badge is not surmounted by the sovereign’s crown. The simple badge shows the Castle and Key of the crest of the City of Gibraltar, with the subscripted motto, ‘Nulli Expugnabilis Hosti’ – ‘No enemy shall expel us’.



Cap Badge and Crest of the Gibraltar Defence Force (1939-1958)


Now with the sovereign’s crown, as the GDF was founded at the suggestion of the Governor.  The subscription reads simply ‘Gibraltar Defence Force’.

Cap Badge and Crest of the Gibraltar Regiment and the Royal Gibraltar Regiment (since 1958)


By the formation of the Gibraltar Regiment the cap badge once again included the motto ‘Nulli Expugnabilis Hosti’.The crown surmounting the whole is that of Queen Elizabeth II rather than that of King George V as in the GDF badge.


The background to the crest of Gibraltar includes a ‘Mediterranean green’ sky and, curiously, a black and white representation of the sea itself.


The Lanyard

The White lanyard worn on the Regiment’s ceremonial uniforms is an inheritance from the Royal Artillery, where it originally served a functional purpose in initiating the firing of guns. The white lanyard shown on the left is worn by all ranks up to Colour Sergeant on No 2 and No 6 dress.  Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers wear a lanyard of woven cord (right) in the Regiment’s colours of red and grey, worn on No 2 (Service) dress and No 4 dress.


The ‘Collar Dogs’

Another inheritance from the RA, the Regiment’s collar dogs, worn on the lapels or collar of all ceremonial uniforms, represent flaming grenades containing the Castle and Key.  The ‘Bombs’ as they are known by soldiers, are metallic on most uniforms, with embroidered badges being worn on Scarlets and officers’ mess dress.


The Keys








1 During the Second World War, formation badges and signs were universally adopted having been reintroduced in 1940. This time they were more widely used than during the Great War, having been extended to Home Commands, District Overseas Commands and Garrisons.  The Gibraltar Garrison badge is described as:

“A yellow key picked on a scarlet rectangle is the appropriate badge worn by the Gibraltar Garrison – The Key to the Mediterranean.”  The key is taken from the coat of arms of Gibraltar.


2 During the Second World War, Gunners from the Gibraltar Defence Force (GDF) wore the key with the letter ‘A’ on either side, a sign of their role as Anti-Aircraft gunners.

The badge was discontinued by the Regiment when No 2 dress superseded Battle Dress, but it continued to be used by the staff of Fortress Headquarters until this was abandoned by Headquarters British Forces.


3ab Today the Regiment once again wears its key on the right sleeve of the service uniforms. Red is worn on ceremonial uniforms and the green key is worn on combat uniforms.


4 A key embroidered in gold thread is worn by officers and the RSM on No 1 dress (Blues) and No 3 dress (Whites).



Back to Main Page



 © Hubert de Vries 2018-11-25




[1] From: https://nava.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/icv24klimes.pdf . The English translation of this document was sent to the author (i.e. Roman Klimeš) by the government of Gibraltar together with a letter dated 1 December 1981

[2] Vicente Cascante, Ignacio Heraldica General y Fuentes de las Armas de España. Salvat. Eds. S.A.. Barcelona, 1956. 648 pp., 345 figs. P. 534

[3] Fox-Davies, 1915.: The Book of Public Arms. London, 1915. Also: Drawings of the Flags in use at the present time by Various Nations. Admiralty 1915

[4] https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/324/suffolk-regiment/

[5] Fox-Davies A.C,  op cit 1915.


Flag Counter In cooperation with Heraldry of the World