The Burning Torch for Protestantism.

[Flag of the United Kingdom]

History of the flag
by Edward Mooney

When King James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne, thereby becoming James I of England, the national flags of England and Scotland on land continued to be, respectively, the red St George's cross and the white St Andrew's cross. Confusion arose, however, as to what flag would be appropriate at sea. On 12 April 1606 a proclamation was issued:

"All our subjects in this our isle and kingdom of Great Britain and the members thereof, shall bear in their main top the red cross commonly called St George's Cross and the white cross commonly called St. Andrew's Cross joined together according to a form made by our heralds and sent to our Admiral to be published to our said subjects."
This is the first known reference to the Union Flag. Although the original design referred to has been lost, it is presumed that it was the flag which, with the addition of the St Patrick's cross, forms the basic design of the British Union Flag today. It is also interesting to note that the new flag was not universally popular nor accepted. The English were not overly pleased at the obscuring of the white field of the St George's flag. The Scots, with more justification, were upset at the fact that the red cross was laid over the white. The Scots proposed a number of alternative designs. These included:
The St George's flag with the St Andrew's flag in the canton
The St George's flag with a St Andrew's flag in each quarter. In this bizarre design the white cross of the St Andrew's flag does not extend to the corners of the flag.
The St George's flag with a St Andrew's flag in the centre
None of these are very convincing designs and none were ever used. The Scots did, however, use an ingenious design in which the white cross of the St Andrew's flag was brought forward to overlay the red cross. This flag even seems to have achieved some limited official sanction. When the king visited Dumfries in 1618 he was hailed as the king under whose banner "the whyte and reid croces are so proportionablie interlaced." The word interlaced is held to be significant as it implies the use of the 'Scottish' version of the Union Flag:
by Stuart A. Notholt

As late as 1693, Slezer, Captain of Artillery and Surveyor-General of Stores and Magazines in Scotland, produced an engraving on Edinburgh Castle in which the 'Scottish' version is shown: again, an implication of actual use. Source: Paul Harris (ed.), Story of Scotland's Flag, Lang Syne Publishers Ltd, 1992. Available from the Flag Research Center.

Stuart A. Notholt, 4 May 1996

According to Whitney Smith's book on flags, merchant ships from 1606-1634 flew the Union Jack (minus the cross of St Patrick of course) on the foremast and the flag of England (Cross of St George) on the jack staff. He gives four possible positions for flags, going from fore to aft on the ship they are: jack staff, foremast, mainmast, ensign staff.

Before 1606 they flew the flag of England from both the foremast and the jack staff.
From 1634-1707 they flew the flag of England from the jack staff and a version of the Red Ensign (with the cross of St. George in the canton instead of the entire Union Jack) from the ensign staff.
From 1707-1801 they flew the flag of England from the jack staff and the Red Ensign from the ensign staff.
From 1801 onward they flew the Union Jack with a white border from the foremast and the Red Ensign from the ensign staff.
Nathan Augustine, 23 August 1995

The design of the Union Flag that preceded the current version was established by a royal proclamation of 12 April 1606. However it was for use only at sea in civil and military ships of both Scotland and England. In 1634 its use was restricted to the king's ships. The flag went out of use in 1649 when England became a commonwealth but was restored for use in the king's ships after the restoration in 1660. The flag became 'the ensign armorial of the United Kingdom of Great Britain' as one of the provisions of the Act of Union in 1707, when the kingdoms of England and Scotland were united.

David Prothero, 2 July 1998

According to Barraclough's Flags of the World, it's not clear whether the white fimbriation should be taken from the blue background or from the crosses. In the first case the red is wider than in the second case.

Mark Sensen, 25 September 1995

If the St Patrick's Cross was centred on the St Andrew's Cross, then it would look like Andrew was just a fimbriation for Patrick. In reality, they are equal, and so you will note that the thin white stripe next to the St Patrick's Cross is a fimbriation, whereas the Saint Andrew's Cross of course needs no fimbriation. Why the anticlockwise attitude of St Patrick vis-à-vis St Andrew? Because The St Andrew's Cross, representing Scotland, the older member of the United Kingdom, comes before Saint Patrick for Ireland, a younger addition. And so the Saint Andrew's Cross is first when we start in the canton and move downwards.

Robert M. J. Czernkowski, 20 November 1995

The official specification is based on 1/30ths of the width (or height) of the flag. The St George's Cross is 6/30ths (1/5th) of the width, the fimbrations to it are 2/30ths (1/15th) of the width. The St Andrew's Cross is a total of 6/30ths (1/5th) of the width, measured perpendicularly to the diagonal. This is made up, in the top hoist corner, top to bottom, of 3/30ths white, 2/30ths red, 1/30th white. These dimensions apply regardless of the length of the flag. An accurate drawing of the flag can be found at this page.

by Graham Bartram

[Flag of the United Kingdom]

However, the army's version of the flag is not 1:2 but 3:5, so the two values of 25 along the bottom edge would be 20. In this case the diagonals of the St Patrick's cross are not quadrilaterals and are cut off as shown above. This is not a mistake - it is simply a result of the geometry. Both the 1:2 and 3:5 versions are official (although the government uses 1:2) and their specifications are given in BR20 Flags of All Nations, the British government's flag book.

There are other versions of the Union Flag: Queen's Colours are usually almost square and have very narrow fimbrations, with the red and white parts of the diagonal being of equal width; Queen's harbourmaster has a central Union Flag which is longer than 1:2; jacks for ships carrying blue ensigns are square and have a square Union Flag in the canton, etc.

Graham Bartram, 1 and 7 December 1999

The origin of the St. Patrick's cross introduced into the Union Jack in 1801 is a bit of a mystery. It appears that until the St. Patrick's cross was added to the Union Jack, there was no acknowledged St. Patrick's cross flag, certainly not one that was acknowledged in any form as a national flag for Ireland.

Mike Oettle, 15 December 2001


Name of the flag
The following is quoted from the article on the flag's name at the website of the Flag Institute, by Cdr Bruce Nicolls OBE RN (Retd):

The first use of the name 'Union' appears in 1625. There are various theories as [to] how it became known as the 'Union Jack', but most of the evidence points to the name being derived from the use of the word 'jack' as a diminutive. This word was in use before 1600 to describe a small flag flown from the small mast mounted on the bowsprit, and by 1627 it appears that a small version of the Union flag was commonly flown in this position. For some years it was 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.

In the 18th century the small mast on the bowsprit was replaced by staysails on the stays between the bowsprit and the foremast. By this time the Ensign had become the principal naval distinguishing flag, so it became the practice to fly the Union Jack only in harbour, on a specially rigged staff in the bows of the ships, the jackstaff. It should thus be noted that the jack flag had existed for over a hundred and fifty years before the jack staff came into being, and its name was related to its size rather than to the position in which it was flown.

It is often stated that the Union Flag should only be described as the Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. 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".

Graham Bartram, 29 May 1999

It is noticeable that in official correspondence and publications the term 'Union Jack' was used much more frequently than 'Union Flag' until the late 1880's when 'Union Jack' is often printed but has a hand-written amendment crossing out 'Jack' and inserting 'Flag'. This was probably instigated by a recommendation of the Committee for Revising the General Signal Book in 1887.

David Prothero, 1 December 1999


Colour of the flag
According to my old stand-by, Colours of the Fleet, the blue was darkened in 1869 when the Admiralty standardised the naval Union Flag at 1:2, with a narrower St Patrick's saltire. No explanation is given for the dark blue, but I'd speculate that the Admiralty chose the darkest possible shade of blue so that the colour would not fade away before the flag needed replacing.

David Prothero, 23 March 1998

If you look at Perrin's British Flags you will see that the original 1606/1707 flag had a pale blue field while the 1801 flag has a darker blue field. One of the reasons is probably that the flag is defined as having an "azure" field and in recent British heraldic tradition this has been interpreted as a mid to dark blue. In our modern Pantone-regulated world we differentiate between many different shades of colour, but hundreds of years ago we didn't. I think there is something in David's idea that a darker blue was chosen so that the flags had to be replaced for fading less often.

Graham Bartram, 23 March 1998

Naval flags were changed in 1908 when the Admiralty decided that the blue in Union Flags and Ensigns should be the same shade of blue as that selected by King Edward VII for the Royal Standard. This was known as pattern 74 'Royal Blue', and replaced pattern 63 "Dark Blue". Pattern 63 was still used for signal flags and for the flags of countries such as Russia and Norway. The other two shades in use were: Pattern 61 'Azure'; Cuba and Ecuador were given as examples, and Pattern 61A 'Intermediate' which was a bright blue for Italy and Sweden. Source: Public Records Office ADM 116/1072.

David Prothero, 25 August 1998

The colours specified in BR20 Flags of All Nations, the British government's flag book, are Pantone 186 for red and Pantone 280 for the blue.

Graham Bartram, 1 December 1999

These Pantone colours (186 for the red and 280 for blue) are the official ones for the Union Flag and all UK derivatives. I know they are quite dark, but then so are the Union Flags that follow the official specification. The red also has quite a large blue component and even has some black. The CMYK values are C0 M91 Y76 K6. The dark blue is C100 M72 Y0 K18.5

Graham Bartram, 19 December 1999

After an intense discussion enlightened mainly by Graham Bartram, we sort of decided that the best browser-safe approximates for the union jack colors are RGB:204-0-0 for red and RGB:0-0-102 for blue (plus RGB:255-255-255 for white, of course!), that is our FOTW equivalences for dark red (R+) and very very dark blue (B+++).
António Martins, 24 January 2001


Use and status of the flag
Whilst the Union Flag has never been officially adopted by law as the national flag of the UK, it has become so by usage (which can count for a lot in the British constitutional/legal system) and the government has stated it is the correct flag for use by British citizens.

Afloat though, the Union Flag has been reserved by the government for specific, military purposes. It is the jack of the Royal Navy and the flag of rank for an admiral of the fleet. These are the reasons why it is illegal for a civilian ship to fly it.
Roy Stilling, 8 February 1996

The "Union Jack" is actually a Royal Flag, used as a national flag by permission of HM the Queen and on the advice of HM's Ministers (i.e., the government told us to use it in a parliamentary answer). It is perfectly acceptable to call it the "Union Jack" - in fact that is the term used by the Government Minister who stated that it should be used as the national flag. Of course a parliamentary answer isn't the same as a law or statutory instrument, so legally the UK does not have a singular national flag, but practically it does. Of course to make up for this we have more official national flags (of a non singular nature) than the rest of the world put together. At the last count we had exceeded 500!
Graham Bartram, 7 February 2001

The Union Jack has never been made an official civil flag by any legal process, but it has been authoritatively stated, on more than one occasion, that on land it may be used as though it were a civil flag. It is also used by the army so I would think that it should be (ooo/xxx)

Some extracts from Public Record Office documents.

"It was the view of the King in Council 5th November 1800 that the Flag of Union could be flown on land only from His Majesty's forts and castles, and from His Majesty's ships at sea. It is the national official flag."
Sir A.Scott Gatty, Garter King of Arms in 1907. [HO 45/10287/109071]
31st October 1887. Governor of the Isle of Man wrote to the Home Office about, "the growing tendency among various places of amusement to fly flags, and on one occasion I saw a Royal Standard and sometimes Union Flags. Uncertain whether I have the right or ought to interfere."
"Wednesday 22 October 1902. Mr.Martin to ask First Lord of the Treasury whether he will consider the advisability of issuing a warrant defining what is the correct flag to be flown on land by civilians and what flag should be flown on public buildings and schools in Great Britain and the colonies.
"Mr Balfour (answered). The questions which have been raised as to the proper use of flags have received careful consideration by the Government, but they are unable to adopt the course of action suggested. Nor does it appear desirable to undertake the legislation that would be necessary in order to regulate the general use by civilians, or any class of civilians, of any particular flag on land. It is a matter which is best left, as hitherto, to the guidance of custom and good taste."
Parliamentary Debate 4th series Vol 113, Col 467. [HO 144/602/B22911]
"Union Jack is the national flag and there is no objection to its general use by private persons on land." and
"It appears to Mr.H.Gladstone (Home Secretary) that the Union Jack can be used on land without impropriety by any private person."
Home Office Memorandum of February 1907. [HO 45/10287/109071]
In 1908 reports that the police had been removing Union Jacks in various places under the impression that an offence was being committed [TS 28/417], led to a statement by the Earl of Crewe in the House of Lords on 14th July, that the Royal Standard could not be flown without the permission of His Majesty, but that the Union Flag could be flown on land.
[HO 45/15534]
This disturbed some of the Lord Lieutenants of Counties, the personal representative of the sovereign in each county. They flew the Union Jack as a symbol of their office, and on 25th February 1910, the Duke of Bedford representing the Association of County Lieutenants sent a Humble Petition to Winston Churchill (the Home Secretary) for presentation to His Majesty.
"That whereas the Union Flag has recently been declared by authority to be the National one, and therefore available to be hoisted by any British subject, His Majesty should be petitioned to grant a distinctive Flag for the exclusive use of His Majesty's Lieutenants of Counties."
As a result of this, the Lord Lieutenants of Counties were, in 1911, granted a special flag; the Union Jack defaced with a horizontal sword.
However there was still uncertainty, particularly in some colonies, as to what flag could be flown on land. It was known that the Blue and Red Ensigns were for use only at sea and widely believed that the Union Jack could be flown on land only by the governor or his representative.

In 1917 the Governor of the Windward Islands wrote to the Colonial Office that, "Residents of St.Vincent are reluctant to fly the Union Jack because it might have the appearance of discourtesy to the Administrator who is required by Colonial Regulations to fly the Union Jack on Government House."
[CO 323/1830/20]

The question was again raised in parliament, and on 27th June 1933 the Home Secretary, Sir John Gilmour, announced in the House of Commons that, "The Union Flag is the National Flag and may properly be flown on land by any of His Majesty's subjects."
Question 34 column 1324 of Hansard [CO 323/1272/21]

Much of the confusion in the colonies was caused by the fact that the governor flew a Union Jack with the badge of the colony on it when afloat, but a plain Union Jack when on land. The obvious solution was for the governor to fly the Union Jack with the colony badge whether he was on land or afloat, thus making it clear that the plain Union Jack was not the flag of the governor and could thus be flown by any British subject. In 1941 answers to a circular asking governors for their opinion on this matter revealed differing practices. The Governor of Ceylon wrote that the Union Jack was often flown in Hong Kong and Ceylon but not in Straits Settlements, adding that at the Silver Jubilee of George V (1935) a large British shipping firm had applied for permission to fly the Union Jack believing the flag to be the privilege of the governor.
[CO 323/1830/22]

The event that finally led to the decision to permit use of the governor's defaced Union Jack on land, and generally encourage the use of the Union Jack in the colonies, was the 1940 arrangement whereby the United States transferred 40 destroyers to Britain in exchange for bases in the West Indies. It was observed in a minute on the subject that unless something was done to encourage the use of the Union Jack, "bases in the West Indies leased to the United States would be a sea of Stars and Stripes with no Union Jacks in sight."
[CO 323/1830/20] David Prothero, 23 August 2001

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