Union Flag

Union Flag

The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Historically, the flag was used throughout the former British Empire. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms, e.g. in Canada, where it is known as the Royal Union Flag [http://www.pch.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/sc-cs/union_e.cfm The Royal Union flag in Canada] ] . The current design dates from the Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. [http://www.flaginstitute.org/index.php?location=7 British flags] , from the Flag Institute site. Accessed 2 May 2007]


Whether to use "Union Flag" or "Union Jack" is a matter of debate. One view is that "Union Jack" should be used only for the flag when it is flown as a jack (a small flag flown at the bow of a ship), [ [http://www.royal-navy.mod.uk/server/show/nav.3649 Royal Navy: Ship's Badges and Flags] , see "Union Flag"] but it is not universally accepted that the "Jack" of "Union Jack" is a reference to such a jack flag and is only an educated guess. [ [http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page5017.asp Union Flag] . Official web site of the British Monarchy.]

The Flag Institute, the vexillological organisation for the United Kingdom, stated that the term Union Flag is a "relatively recent idea". It also noted that "From early in its life the Admiralty itself frequently referred to the flag as the Union Jack, whatever its use, and in 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that Their Lordships had decided that either name could be used officially. Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag". Nevertheless, the term "Union Flag" is used in King James's proclamations of 1606 and 1634fact|date=September 2008, and in King George III's proclamation of 1 January 1801 concerning the arms and flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.fact|date=September 2008

When the first flag was introduced in 1606, it became known simply as "the British flag" or "the flag of Britain", although the royal proclamation had called it "the Union Flag". The word 'jack' was in use before 1600 to describe the maritime bow flagfact|date=September 2008. By 1627 a small Union Jack was commonly flown in this position. One theory goes that for some years it would have been called just "the Jack", or "Jack flag", or "the King's Jack", but by 1674, while formally referred to as "His Majesty's Jack", it was commonly called the Union Jack, and this was officially acknowledged.

The size and power of the Royal Navy internationally at the time could also explain why the flag was named the "Union Jack"; considering the navy was so widely utilised and renowned by the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, it is possible that the term "Jack" did occur because of its regular use on all British ships using the "Jack Staff" (a flag pole attached to the bow of a ship). Even if the term "Union Jack" does derive from the jack flag (as perhaps seems most likely), after three centuries, it is now sanctioned by use, has appeared in official use, and remains the popular term.FOTW|id=gb|title=United Kingdom|accessdate=2008-06-10]

The BBC website does not use the term "union flag" because of its "great potential for confusion", preferring union jack (in lower case). [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4895076.stm "Union recognition"] BBC News online article.] The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1995/Ukpga_19950021_en_1.htm Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (c. 21)] section 4(1)(a)(ii)] refers to the national colours of the United Kingdom as "the Union flag (commonly known as the Union Jack)".

The term "Union Flag" is less well-known outside the United Kingdom, [ [http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/publications/symbols/factsheets/australian_national_flag.pdf The Union Jack in the Australian National Flag] ] and may refer to other union flags.


Before 1801

When King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England and was crowned James I of England in 1603, the crowns of the Kingdom of England (which since 1535 had included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland were united in a personal union through him. Despite this Union of the Crowns, each kingdom remained an independent state.

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 (also representing Wales by implication), (a red cross with a white background, known as St George's Cross) and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire with a blue background, known as the Saltire or Saint Andrew's Cross) would be "joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects." This royal flag was at first only for use at sea on civil and military ships of both Scotland and England.Cite web |url=http://www.know-britain.com/general/union_jack.html|title=Union Jack Brief History|work=Know Britain|accessdate=2008-06-10|format=HTML] In 1634, King Charles I restricted its use to the monarch's ships ["Proclamation appointing the Flag, as well for our Navy Royal as for the Ships of our Subjects of South and North Britain", 5 May 1634] . Land forces continued to use their respective national banners. 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). The currently accepted flag of Scotland however uses a lighter "royal" blue, (Pantone 300), following the Scottish Parliament recommendation of 2003.

The blazon for the old 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 because Wales, having been annexed by Edward I of England in 1282 and following the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, was legally part of the Kingdom of England and was therefore represented by the flag of England. (The present-day Flag of Wales and St David's Cross emerged, or re-emerged, in the 20th century: the former based on the historical emblem of Wales, the Red Dragon, and the latter based on the arms of the Diocese of Saint David's.)

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.

The flag does remain in use, however, appearing in the canton of the Commissioners' Ensign of the Northern Lighthouse Board. This remains the only contemporary official representation of the pre-1801 Union Flag in the United Kingdom [FOTW|id=gb-lthse|anchor=cnlc|title=Northern Lighthouse Commissioner's Flag] 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 [FOTW|id=us-pa-wc|title=Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (U.S.)] .

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.

Other proposed versions

Various other designs for a common flag were drawn up following the union of the two Crowns in 1603, but were rarely, if ever, used. ["The Kings and Queens of England and Scotland" by Plantagenet Somerset Fry (Grove Press, 1990). Includes several proposed versions of the original Union Flag.] One version showed St George's cross with St Andrew's cross in the canton, and another version placed the two crosses side by side. Also, some Scots were upset that the Scottish flag was underneath the English flag in the version finally adopted, and preferred a version where the Scottish cross was on top (the English flag was placed between the cross of St Andrew and its background).

ince 1801

The current Union Flag dates from 1 January 1801 with the Act of Union 1800, which merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The new design added the red saltire cross of St Patrick's Flag for Ireland. This saltire is overlaid on the saltire of St Andrew, but still beneath the cross of St George. The Irish saltire is arranged countercharged with the saltire of St Andrew, so the white is always on the clockwise side of the red. The arrangement has introduced a requirement to display the flag "the right way up"; see specifications for flag use, below. The additional white stripe is added (as with the St George's cross) to prevent "colour next to colour", a heraldic imperative.

This Saint Patrick's cross is problematic in several ways. Firstly, the symbol does not have much emotional resonance since its history is so thin and hard to find; some believe that it was essentially 'invented' for the purposes of inclusion in the Union Flag. One possible origin is from the arms of the Fitzgerald family (Dukes of Leinster) who were sent by Henry II of England to aid Anglo-Norman rule in Ireland and has rarely been used as an emblem of Ireland by the Irish; a harp, a Celtic cross, a shamrock, or latterly an Irish tricolour have been more common. However, the exact origin of the flag is unknown, with evidence of saltires being present on ancient Irish coins and maps. The St Patrick's saltire flag has been used in more recent times for St Patrick's Day in Northern Ireland and by both state and civil organisations wishing to avoid the sectarianism that may be implied by the use of either the tricolour or symbols of Unionism, including the recently formed Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The current flag is blazoned "Azure, the Crosses Saltire of St Andrew and St Patrick, quarterly per saltire, countercharged Argent and Gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of St George of the third, fimbriated as the saltire."

Campaigns for a new Union Flag

In 2003, Nigel Turner started a private campaign – dubbed "reflag" or "union black" – to interpret the Union Flag as racial and introduce black stripes in it; the proposal was rejected as "ridiculous tokenism [that] would do nothing to stamp out racism". [citeweb|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2981038.stm|title=Rebranding puts black marks against UK flag|work=BBC News Online|date=11 June 2003|accessdate=2008-02-26]

Wrexham’s Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Ian Lucas said, on 27 November 2007 in a House of Commons debate that the Union Flag should be combined with the Welsh flag to reflect Wales’ status within the UK, and that the Red Dragon should be added to the Union Flag's red, white and blue pattern [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7114248.stm Welsh dragon call for Union flag] "BBC News Online" 27 November 2007] . He said the Union Flag currently only represented the other three UK nations, and Culture minister Margaret Hodge conceded that Mr Lucas had raised a valid point for debate. She said "the Government is keen to make the Union flag a positive symbol of Britishness reflecting the diversity of our country today and encouraging people to take pride in our flag". This development sparked design contests with entries from all over the world; some of the entries incorporated red dragons, St David's Cross and anime characters into the Union Flag. [citeweb|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/12/11/nflag111.xml|title=The new face of Britain Flag poll results|work=telegraph.co.uk|date=11 December 2007|accessdate=2007-12-11] [citeweb|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/11/30/nflag130.xml|title=Japan offers to solve 'Union Jack problem'|work=telegraph.co.uk|date=6 December 2007|accessdate=2008-02-26]


The Union Flag is used as a jack by commissioned Royal Navy warships, and by commissioned Army and Royal Air Force vessels, though none are currently (June 2007) in commission. When at anchor or alongside, it is flown from the jackstaff at the bow of the ship. The Union Jack is only flown from the jackstaff when underway when the ship is dressed for a special occasion.

The Union Flag is worn at the masthead to indicate the presence of the Sovereign or an Admiral of the Fleet.FOTW|id=gb-use|anchor=sea|title=Use of the Union Flag at Sea] The Union Flag is also worn at the masthead by Her Majesty's Canadian ships within Canadian territorial waters on certain days of the year, such as the Queen's official birthday and Commonwealth Day. [ [http://www.saskd.ca/heritage.pdf Department of National Defence: "The Honours, Flags and Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces"] ] The Union Flag may also be flown from the yardarm to indicate that a court-martial is in progress, though these are normally held in shore establishments.

No law has been passed making the Union Flag the national flag of the United Kingdom: it has become one through usage. Its first recorded recognition as a national flag came in 1908, when it was stated in Parliament that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag". A more categorical statement was made by the Home Secretary in 1933, when he stated that "the Union Jack is the National Flag". But it is still officially a flag of the monarch, rather than the country.

Civilian use is permitted on land, but non-naval/military use at sea is prohibited. Unauthorised use of the flag in the 17th Century to avoid paying harbour duties – a privilege restricted to naval ships – caused James' successor, Charles I, to order that use of the flag on naval vessels be restricted to His Majesty's ships "upon pain of Our high displeasure". It remains a criminal offence under the "Merchant Shipping (Registration, etc.) Act 1993" to display the Union Flag (other than the "Pilot Jack" – see below) from a British ship.

The Court of the Lord Lyon, which has criminal jurisdiction in heraldic matters in Scotland, confirms that the Union Flag "is the correct flag for all citizens and corporate bodies of the United Kingdom to fly to demonstrate their loyalty and their nationality."cite web |url=http://www.lyon-court.com/lordlyon/218.183.html |title=Court of Lord Lyon page|accessdate=2008-06-10|format=HTML]

The Union Flag has been in use in Canada dating back to the British settlement in Nova Scotia in 1621. At the close of the Great Flag Debate of 1964, which resulted in the adoption of the Maple Leaf Flag as the Canadian national flag in 1965, the Parliament of Canada voted to make the Union Flag the symbol of Canada's membership of the Commonwealth and its allegiance to the crown. The move was a concession given to conservatives who preferred to keep the old flag, with its Union Flag in the canton. The Royal Union flag (as it is now known in Canada) is flown alongside the Maple-Leaf Flag on Commonwealth Day and other royal occasions and anniversaries. [http://www.pch.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/jfa-ha/commonwealth_e.cfm Commonwealth Day (www.pch.gc.ca)] Accessed 30 Dec 2007] Until 1980, it was also the official flag of the province of Newfoundland.

On 5 February 2008, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell introduced the 'Union Flag Bill' as a private member's bill as a 10-minute bill in the House of Commons. The Bill seeks to formalise the position of the Union Flag as the national flag of the UK in law, to remove legal obstacles to its regular display and to officially recognise the name 'Union Jack' as having equal status with 'Union Flag'. The bill will receive its second reading on the 17 October 2008. [ [http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/unionflag.html Bills and Legislation - Union Flag Bill] ]

Other ratios

Although the most common ratio is 1:2, other ratios exist. The Royal Navy's flag code book, BR20 "Flags of All Nations", states that both 1:2 and 3:5 versions are official.FOTW|id=gb|anchor=35|title=United Kingdom: 3:5 variant|accessdate=2008-07-22]

The 3:5 version is most commonly used by the British Army and is sometimes known as the War flag. Note that in this version two of the diagonals of the St Patrick's cross are cut off or truncated.

The Queen's Harbour Master's flag, like the Pilot Jack, is a 1:2 flag that contains a white-bordered Union Flag that is longer than 1:2. The Queen's Colours of regiments of the British Army are almost square and the red and white parts of the diagonal are of equal width. The jacks of ships flying variants of the Blue Ensign are square and have a square Union Flag in the canton.

Use in other flags

Other nations and regions

The Union Flag was found in the "canton" (upper left-hand quarter) of the flags of many colonies of the UK, while the "field" (background) of their flags was the colour of the naval ensign flown by the particular Royal Navy squadron that patrolled that region of the world. Nations and colonies that have used the Union Flag at some stage have included Aden, Borneo, Ceylon, Cyprus, East Africa (Kenya), Gambia, Gold Coast (Ghana), India, Jamaica, Lagos, Malta, Mauritius, Nigeria, Palestine, Penang (Malaysia), Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somaliland, Tanganyika, Trinidad and the United States. As former British Empire nations were granted independence, these and other versions of the Union Flag were decommissioned. The most recent decommissioning of the Union Flag came on 1 July 1997, when the former Crown Colony of Hong Kong was returned to China.

All administrative regions and territories of the United Kingdom fly the Union Flag in some form, with the exception of Gibraltar (other than the government ensign) and the Crown dependencies. Outside the UK, it is usually part of a special ensign in which the Union Flag is placed in the upper left hand corner of a blue field, with a signifying crest in the bottom right.

Four countries incorporate the Union Flag as part of their national flags: Australia, New Zealand, Tuvalu and Fiji.

In former British colonies, the Union Flag was used semi-interchangeably with territorial flags for significant parts of their early history. This was the case in Canada until the introduction of the Maple Leaf Flag in 1965, but it is still used in the flags of a number of Canadian provinces such as British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario. Newfoundland and Labrador uses a modified version of the Union Flag, once the flag of the province. Canadian practice allows the flag, known in Canada as the Royal Union Flag, to be flown by private individuals and government agencies to show support for the Monarch and the Commonwealth. On some official occasions, the flag is always flown besides the Maple Leaf Flag, one such occasion is on the anniversary of the Statute of Westminster.

Many other Australian flags retain the use of the Union Flag, including the Royal Australian Navy Ensign (also known as the Australian White Ensign), the Royal Australian Air Force Ensign, the Australian Red Ensign (for use by merchant and private vessels) and the Australian Civil Aviation Ensign. The flags of all six Australian States retain the Union Flag in the "canton". The Vice-Regal flags of the State Governors also retain the use of the Union Flag. See List of Australian flags for more information.

The Basque Country's flag, the Ikurriña is also loosely based on the Union Flag, reflecting the significant commercial ties between Bilbao and the UK at the time the Ikurriña was designed (1894). The Miskito people sometimes use a similar flag that also incorporates the Union Flag in its canton, due to long periods of contact in the Mosquito Coast.

The jack of the Russian Navy is a common equivalent to the British one with the St George's and St Andrew's crosses reversed in order and colours but unmistakably based on the same design.fact|date=June 2008 Similarly, the naval flags of Georgia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Latvia all use similar designs.

The Union Flag was used by the United States in its first flag, the Grand Union Flag. This flag was of a similar design to the one used by the British East India Company. It also appeared on the South African flag as part of a central motif long after the country had gained independence from Great Britain and become a republic.

Hawaii, a state of the United States, incorporates the Union Flag in its state flag. The canton of the flag reveals the British influence over those islands in the late 19th century. This is the only current use of the Union Flag in any American state flag.

Usage and disposal

In general there are no prescriptions regarding the use and disposal of the flag in a manner akin to the United States Flag Code. This reflects its largely unofficial status as a national flag. There is no contemporary national concept of flag desecration. There is also no specific way in which the Union Flag should be folded as there is with the United States Flag. It should just be folded ready for the next use. [FOTW|id=ca_prtcl|title=Canadian Flag Etiquette]

Royal Navy Stores Duties Instructions, article 447, dated 26 February 1914, specified that flags condemned for further service use were to be torn up into "small" pieces and disposed of as rags (ADM 1/8369/56), not to be used for decoration or sold. The exception was flags that had flown in action: these could be framed and kept on board, or transferred to a 'suitable place', such as a museum. (ADM 1/8567/245)

Other names

*In Canada the flag is officially called the Royal Union Flag.
*In China, especially in Hong Kong, the flag has the nickname Rice-Character Flag (米字旗 pinyin: "mǐzìqí") since the pattern looks like the Chinese character for "rice" (米). [ [http://images.google.com/images?svnum=10&um=1&hl=en&safe=off&q=%E7%B1%B3%E5%AD%97%E6%97%97&btnG=Search+Images A Google Images search for '米字旗' turns up several United Kingdom flags] ]
*In some countries, including Ireland, the Union flag is sometimes contemptuously termed the Butcher's Apron, because of its perceived association with the killing of civilian populations by English, and later British, forces. [ [http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/2006/06/25/story15150.asp Union Jack: representing the rabble] "The Sunday Business Post", 25 June 2006] In 2006, Sandra White, a Scottish National Party Member of the Scottish Parliament, caused some controversy when she referred to the flag in this way. [http://news.scotsman.com/latest_scotland.cfm?id=82122006 ] [ [http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/news/tm_objectid=16609593&method=full&siteid=66633-name_page.html Snp Face More Flak Over Flag Attacks - The Daily Record ] ]

ee also

* List of British flags – flags used within the United Kingdom.
* Gallery of flags by design
* Cross
* Union Jack Club, London
* Other "Union Flags":
** African Union Flag
**United States Flag, especially in relation to the American Civil War
*** American Grand Union Flag
** Flag of Europe (used as the European Union Flag)
** Kalmar Union Flag
** Soviet Union Flag
** Sweden-Norway Union flags

Further reading

* cite book
title = The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag
author = Nick Groom
year = 2007
publisher = Atlantic Books
id = ISBN 9781843543374


External links

* [http://www.lyon-court.com/lordlyon/ll_baseTemplate.jsp?pContentID=218&p_applic=CCC&pMenuID=183&p_service=Content.show& The Lyon Court: Flags]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/norfolk/4116988.stm Monochrome Union Flag not flown to avoid controversy]
* British flags during The Protectorate and the Commonwealth of England – see [http://flagspot.net/flags/gb-inter.html external link]
* [http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page5017.asp British Monarchy — Union Flag]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4895076.stm BBC page for 400th anniversary of flag]
* [http://www.jdawiseman.com/papers/union-jack/union-jack.html How to draw the Union Jack]

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