Archive → September, 2011
just 3 simple steps!
In 1603, James VI of Scotland inherited the English and Irish thrones (as James I), thereby uniting the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland in a personal union (which remained separate states). On 12 April 1606, a new flag to represent this regal union between England and Scotland was specified in a royal decree, according to which the flag of England (a red cross on a white background, known as St. George’s Cross), and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire on a blue background, known as the Saltire or St. Andrew’s Cross), would be joined together, forming the flag of Great Britain and first union flag:
“By the King: Whereas, some differences hath arisen between Our subjects of South and North Britaine travelling by Seas, about the bearing of their Flagges: For the avoiding of all contentions hereafter. We have, with the advice of our Council, ordered: That from henceforth all our Subjects of this Isle and Kingdome of Great Britaine, and all our members thereof, shall beare in their main-toppe the Red Crosse, commonly called St. George’s Crosse, and the White Crosse, commonly called St. Andrew’s Crosse, joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects: and in their fore-toppe our Subjects of South Britaine shall weare the Red Crosse onely as they were wont, and our Subjects of North Britaine in their fore-toppe the White Crosse onely as they were accustomed.”
This royal flag was at first for use only at sea on civil and military ships of both England and Scotland, whereas land forces continued to use their respective national banners. In 1634, King Charles I restricted its use to the royal ships. After the Acts of Union 1707, the flag gained a regularised status as “the ensign armorial of the Kingdom of Great Britain”, the newly created state. It was then adopted by land forces as well, although the blue field used on land-based versions more closely resembled that of the blue of the flag of Scotland.
Various shades of blue have been used in the Saltire over the years. The ground of the current Union Flag is a deep “navy” blue (Pantone 280), which can be traced to the colour used for the Blue Ensign of the Royal Navy’s historic “Blue Squadron”. (Dark shades of colour were used on maritime flags on the basis of durability.) In 2003 a committee of the Scottish Parliament recommended that the flag of Scotland use a lighter “royal” blue, (Pantone 300). (The Office of the Lord Lyon does not detail specific shades of colour for use in heraldry.)
A thin white stripe, or fimbriation, separates the red cross from the blue field, in accordance with heraldry’s rule of tincture where colours (like red and blue) must be separated from each other by metals (like white, i.e. argent or silver). The blazon for the old union flag, to be compared with the current flag, is Azure, the Cross Saltire of St Andrew Argent surmounted by the Cross of St George Gules, fimbriated of the second.
Wales had no explicit recognition in the Union Flag as it had been a part of the Kingdom of England since being annexed by Edward I of England in 1282 and its full integration by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, and was therefore represented by the flag of England.
Protectorate Jack, 1658–60
The Kingdom of Ireland, which had existed as a personal union with England since 1541, was likewise unrepresented in the original versions of the Union Flag. However, the flag of The Protectorate from 1658 to 1660 was inescutcheoned with the arms of Ireland. These were removed after the Restoration, supposedly because Charles II disliked them.
The original flag appears in the canton of the Commissioners’ Ensign of the Northern Lighthouse Board. This is the only contemporary official representation of the pre-1801 Union Flag in the United Kingdom and can be seen flying from their George Street headquarters in Edinburgh.
Taunton, Massachusetts, USA, has in recent years used a flag with the old style Union Flag. Likewise, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, has been known to fly a flag containing the Kings Colours since 1973.
This version of the Union Flag is also shown in the canton of the Grand Union Flag (also known as the Congress flag, the First Navy Ensign, the Cambridge Flag, and the Continental Colours), the first widely used flag of the United States, slowly phased out after 1777.
Lord Howe’s action, or the Glorious First of June, painted in 1795, shows a Union flying from HMS Queen Charlotte on the “Glorious First of June” 1794. The actual flag, preserved in the National Maritime Museum, is a cruder approximation of the proper specifications; this was common in 18th and early 19th-century flags.
The British Army’s flag is the Union Flag, but in 1938 a “British Army Non-Ceremonial Flag” was devised, featuring a Lion on crossed blades with the St Edward’s Crown on a red background. This is not the equivalent of the ensigns of the other armed services, but is used at recruiting and military or sporting events, when the Army needs to be identified but the reverence and ceremony due to the regimental flags and the Union Flag would be inappropriate.
le sigh… le heil… le woof