"Turstinus filius Rollonis vexillum Normanorum portavit." — Orderic. Vit.
This brave and renowned knight, to whom the honour of bearing the Duke's gonfanon at Senlac was finally accorded, was the son of Rollo, or Rou, a younger son of Crispin, Baron of Bec-en-Caux, near Fécamp, and maternally descended from the Princes of Monaco. Two of his cousins, William and Gilbert Crispin, were also in the invading army, and it appears probable that his brother, Goisfrid de Bec, or Marescal, was the progenitor of the great family of the Marshals. Nothing particular is recorded of Toustain Fitz Rou, however, previous to his selection by Duke William for the honourable office above mentioned, except that he was born at Bec.
"He bore the gonfanon," we are told, "boldly, high aloft in the breeze, and rode beside the Duke, going wherever he went. Whenever the Duke turned, he turned also, and wheresoever he stayed his course, there he stayed also." His kindred, the same writer tells us, still have quittance of all service for their inheritance on that account, and their heirs are entitled to hold their possessions for ever. Monsieur Auguste le Prévost adds that a noble house in Upper Normandy, claiming to descend from this Toustain le Blanc, in memory of this office performed at Hastings, took for supporters of their arms two angels, each bearing a banner.
Apropos of "banner," in default of any more information respecting the man, let me say a few words concerning the gonfanon which he bore so gallantly "with a good heart," until it was planted in triumph beside "the hoary apple tree." We are expressly informed by Wace that it was "the one which the Pope Alexander had sent" to William, Duke of Normandy. The Latin writers use the word Vexillum, the French render it Gonfanon and Enseign, and the English, Banner and Standard. None of these words convey the least idea of the true shape of this consecrated ensign, nor of the device embroidered on it, and the indiscriminate use of the terms banner and standard at the present day can only suggest to the general reader an utterly erroneous one. That which we now call the royal standard is, strictly speaking, a banner. The colours of our infantry regiments are also banners. The earliest of these flags or ensigns appear to be nearly co-eval with the general adoption of armorial bearings, properly so called, viz., towards the end of the twelfth century, and in the thirteenth its form was oblong, but fastened lengthwise to the staff, and embroidered with the full arms of the owner. In the fourteenth century it became perfectly square, the shape it has retained to the present day.
The standard, properly so called, is a long streamer, tapering towards the end, which is swallow-tailed. In England all standards bore the red cross of St. George on a square white field next the staff, the remaining portion being parted longitudinally by the colours of the owner, and embroidered with his badges, crest, and motto, after the adoption of these latter insignia, but never with his armorial coat, which was only displayed on the banner.
But neither banner nor standard of this description existed in the days of the Conqueror, the latter term implying in its original sense an ensign of any kind, the staff or pole of which was fixed into a framework of wood upon four wheels, and therefore called a carrocio by the Italians, and of which in England we first hear at the famous "Battle of the Standard," fought at Northallerton, 28th of August, 1138, and so called, it would seem, from the car-standard brought into the field by the English, haply for the first time, formed, we are told, of a mast placed on a car, having at its summit a silver pix containing the host, and beneath three flags or streamers, said to have been those of St. Peter, St. John of Beverley, and St. Wilfred of Ripon; but this description leaves us uncertain of the shape, and no dependence can be placed on the representation given us in the "Decem Scriptores," from "Ailred de Bello Standardi," p. 339.
At all events, such was not the standard borne by Toustain the White, and we must turn to the Bayeux Tapestry for a contemporary pictorial illustration of the Norman gonfanon.
Therein we find it in two different forms, the most general resembling the later standard, but smaller, and terminating in three instead of two tails. In one instance only does it vary, presenting a semi-circular outline, with an indented border, and within it the figure of a bird, which, it has been conjectured represents the famous Ræfan of the Danes. By the side of the knight who bears this ensign is another, bearing a three-tailed gonfanon, displaying only a cross, which may be the consecrated ensign spoken of; but one almost precisely similar is seen in the hand of a mounted warrior, over whose bead in the tapestry Mr. Stothard, as I have already stated, discovered the nearly obliterated name of "Eustatius," fairly presumed to indicate Eustace, Count of Boulogne.
Moreover, in other portions of the tapestry gonfanons are to be seen of precisely the same form, borne by knights and princes, notably in the surrender of Dinan by Conan, Count of Brittany, to Duke William, and in the following subject, where William is giving arms to Harold.
In point of fact, the Norman gonfanon was a small two or three tailed flag attached to the lance, as we see the still smaller one flutter from below the steel heads of the lances of our light cavalry in the present day, but in the eleventh century its use was limited to leaders of rank. It is to be seen on the seals of our Norman kings and nobles, where they are represented on horseback, down to the time of Henry 1, and was evidently the precursor of the heraldic standard of the middle ages, which preserved the distinctive feature of the bifurcated tail.
We are, therefore, unable to identify Toustain or the consecrated ensign he carried in the curious "Toile de St. Jean," or "Toilette de la Reine Mathilde," as the tapestry has been indifferently called, and though the Saxon ensign of the dragon is clearly indicated, Harold's own standard, so particularly described as representing an armed man richly embroidered and begemmed, is nowhere to be seen, and whether a pendant figure, like the dragon, or a streaming flag is left undecided.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.