The Union Flag
The British are a Christian nation, as their great cathedrals,
their classic literature and their flags proclaim. The kingdoms
that formed the British nation, the English, Scots and Irish,
took for their emblems the crosses of three Christian Saints ~
George, Andrew and Patrick ~ which, conjoined, became the most
famous flag in the world.
|The identity of St George has been controversial, partly because
one famous author had him born in Coventry, for which there is
no evidence, but it is now accepted that he was a famous soldier
born in Cappadocia who was tortured to death for his religion
in Nicomedia in the year 303. His association with the English
dates from at least the foundation by Edward III of the Order
of the Garter in the mid-14th century.
|St Andrew was martyred in the year 69, on 30th November according
to the Calendar of Saints, and has been the Patron Saint of Scotland
since the mid-8th century. That Achaius, King of Scots, who died
in 819 saw the cross of St Andrew (a saltire in heraldry) in the sky before his battle with Athelstan, and
that after his victory he went barefoot to his church to vow that
the Saint's cross would be the national device, is anachronistic.
|St Patrick's origins also have been contested, but the most credible
are that he was born at Dumbarton, in Scotland, in 373, was kidnapped
by the Irish and sold as a slave, escaped to become a priest in
Gaul, and returned to Ireland as a bishop missionary. St Patrick
had no cross, nor was he tortured, and his saltire gules on argent
is the original heraldic device of the Geraldines who invaded
Ireland with the Normans in 1169.
|When James VI of Scots became King of England, the flags his ships
were to fly created much argument which, in 1605, was temporarily
solved by his proclamation that the flag illustrated here on the
left ("the Union") be flown from the top of the mainmast. But this solution did
not quieten the Scots and, during the time of Oliver Cromwell,
other proposals resulted in a quartered flag with St George 1st
and 4th, St Andrew 2nd and 3rd.
|After the Restoration there was more argument until, with the
Union of Scotland and England in 1707, Queen Anne re-authorised
"the Union". "The Commonwealth" of Cromwell had seen other combinations
that included Ireland, initially with the harp in the third quarter,
then with the adopted "St Patrick cross" ~ a combination difficult
to distinguish at sea.
The Union of Great Britain (England and Scotland) with Ireland in 1801 necessitated a revision of the national ensign, and the Union Flag became ~
|The Army accepted this blazon unquestioned, but the Royal Navy
modified it to make the flag easier to recognise at sea, and as
the years followed and infantry regiments replaced their colours,
the Admiralty design became the accepted version.
In the illustrations above, the flags are square, and most military flags are almost square. Naval flags are much more rectangualar. (The reasons for the difference are the obvious ones.) The shapes are not critical, and "the Union" can be displayed on a shield also, as shown here on the left.
|In the illustration shown here on the right, the hoist is to the
left of the flag. If it were on the right of the flag, the flag
would be upside down ~ a signal of distress. The key is the width
of the white (silver) saltire of St Andrew. Scotland joined England
before Ireland did, and thus is senior. This is signified by the
St Andrew saltire appearing above the St Patrick saltire "at the
hoist" (the staff), the higher ranking part of the flag.
|The smaller version of "the Union" flown at the jackstaff was
named the "Union Jack", and this is really a term restricted to
a flag used aboard ship.
The Union is borne also by many member states of the British Commonwealth, not to signify any subordinate status, but to recognise their history.
|The Union Flag ~ previous page|
|Oct-Dec 1999 Baronage contents page|
|© The Baronage Press Ltd and Pegasus Associates Ltd|