From last week’s blog post, you saw how the United Kingdom represents several nations and each has a national flag for their respective countries.
Flag of England
The “red cross” as an emblem of England can be traced back to the Middle Ages. It is widely believed Richard I, the Lionheart, adopted both this flag and patron saint (St. George) of Genoa, Italy at some point during his crusade. This emblem, the red cross of St. George, was worn by English soldiers from the early years of the reign of Edward I (1270s). The flag of St. George remained the ensign of England for other purposes until the Acts of Union 1707 (Union with Scotland).
Churches belonging to the Church of England may fly the St. George’s Cross but only with the arms of the diocese in the left-hand upper corner of the flag. The flag of St. George is also the rank flag of an Admiral in the Royal Navy, and civilian craft are forbidden to fly it. Though the flag has no official status within the UK, it has been used ever increasingly, particularly at national sporting events, since the 1990s.
Flag of Wales
This flag incorporates the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd, along with the Tudor colors of green and white to represent the Welsh dynasty of 1485. During the reign of Henry VIII, the Laws in Wales Acts was passed in 1536 and 1543 which then created a single state and legal jurisdiction, effectively annexing Wales to England. Due to this official acquisition by England, Wales is not represented on the Union Flag, other than the cross of St. George (patron saint of England). It was officially recognized as the Welsh national flag, after successful lobbying of Gorsedd of Bards and others, by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.
Today the flag can be seen flying from the Senedd in Cardiff, and from the Wales Office in Whitehall, London each day.
Flag of Scotland
The Saltire or the Saint Andrew’s Cross represents the cross of the patron saint of Scotland on a blue field. According to legend, Saint Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross at Patras (Patrae) in Greece. It first appears in the Kingdom of Scotland in 1180 during the reign of William I. It was again depicted on seals used during the late 13th century, including on one used by the Guardians of Scotland, dated 1286. In June 1285, the Parliament of Scotland decreed that Scottish soldiers serving in France would wear a white Saint Andrew’s Cross, both in front and behind, for identification.
After the proclamation by King James, made on April 12, 1606, the Saltire became one of the key components in the creation of the Union Flag.
The Saltire is the official flag for all individuals and corporate bodies to fly in order to demonstrate both their loyalty and Scottish nationality.
Flag of Northern Ireland
Over the centuries, there have been several flags representative of Northern Ireland, mainly in an unofficial capacity. The most common are Ulster Banner and the Saint Patrick’s Saltire.
- Ulster Banner – The Ulster Banner was the official flag used to represent the Government of Northern Ireland from 1953 to 1973. When the Parliament of Northern Ireland was dissolved by the British government under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, the flag ceased to have official standing. However, several sports and media organizations use the flag to represent teams and athletes from Northern Ireland for various sporting events.
- Saint Patrick Saltire – Also known as the Cross of Saint Patrick, after the patron saint of Ireland. The association with Saint Patrick dates from the 1780s, when the Order of Saint Patrick, a British chivalric order, was established in 1783 by George III. Still used by some Unionists, the Church of Ireland, some family clans, and various Irish organizations in which these symbols are incorporated. One such assimilation is in the badge of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, most Irish nationalists reject its use to represent Ireland as a “British invention”.
Union Flag – Though these other flags are used in unofficial capacities, the Union Flag is the only true flag of Northern Ireland.
Since 1801, via the Acts of Union 1800, the Union Flag is the national flag of the United Kingdom which officially represents England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The flag also has an official or semi-official status in some other Commonwealth realms. It is, by law, an official flag in Canada and known there as the Royal Union Flag. Additionally, it is used as an official flag in some smaller British overseas territories. The Union Flag also appears in the canton (upper left-hand quarter) of the flags of several nations and territories that are former British possessions or colonies.
The first and fourth quadrants represent the ancient Kingdom of England with three gold lions on a red field. The second quadrant represents the ancient Kingdom of Scotland and contains a red lion rampant on a gold field, and the third quadrant represents the ancient Kingdom of Ireland which contains a version of the gold harp from the coat of arms of Ireland on a blue field.
Used by Elizabeth II in her capacity as Sovereign of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The flag is flown when the Queen is in residence in one of the royal palaces and on her car during official journeys. It may be flown on any building, official or private, during a visit by the Queen, if the owner or proprietor so requests.
Too Many Flags?
Did you ever find the various flags of the UK confusing? Did you know any of the origins of these the flags? Log in to discuss your thoughts.