The Union Flag, popularly known as the *Union Jack, is the national flag of the United Kingdom. It is the British flag.
It is called the Union Flag because it symbolises the administrative union of the countries of the United Kingdom. It is made up up of the individual Flags of three of the Kingdom’s countries all united under one Sovereign – the countries of ‘England, of ‘Scotland’ and of ‘Northern Ireland‘ (since 1921 only Northern Ireland has been part of the United Kingdom). As Wales was not a Kingdom but a Principality it could not be included on the flag.
In 1194 A.D., Richard I of England introduced the Cross of St. George, a red cross on a white ground, as the National Flag of England.
At this point in the story on the United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were separate countries. However, this was soon to change….
In 1536, under Henry VIII, an Act of Union was passed making Wales, in effect a province of England.
After Queen Elizabeth I of England died in 1603, King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne and became King James I of England. It was a Union of the Crowns, but not yet of the nations. Each country still kept their own parliaments.
Early in his reign James attempted to combine England and Scotland in a united kingdom of ‘Great Britain’. This was the policy he presented to his first Parliament, called on 22 March 1604. The union was resisted.
James defied them. On 20 October 1604 he proclaimed a new title for himself as ‘King of Great Britain‘.
But what flag should be used?
A problem arose, which flag should be hoisted on the king’s ships. English sailors resented the Scottish colours and the Scots scorned the cross of St. George .
In 1606 the problem was solved A compromise was the answer and it led to the creation of the first Union Flag.
On 12 April 1606, the National Flags of Scotland and England were united for use at sea, thus making the first Union ‘Jack’. Ashore however, the old flags of England and Scotland continued to be used by their respective countries.
A royal decree declared that the ships of the Kingdom of Great Britain “shall bear on their maintops the red cross, commonly called St. George’s cross, and the white cross, commonly called St. Andrew’s cross.”
When the red cross of England was put onto the flag of Scotland, a white border was added around the red cross for reasons of heraldry. (The rules of heraldry demanded that two colours must never touch each other.)
On 28th July, 1707, during the reign of Queen Anne, this flag was by royal proclamation made the National flag of Great Britain, for use ashore and afloat.
The Act of Union of 1707, joined England and Scotland together, creating a single kingdom with a single Parliament called ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’.
England Wales and Scotland were now united together under one monarch and one parliament.
The Royal Navy christened the British flag ” The Union”.
When the ‘Union Flag’ was first introduced, in 1606, it was known simply as ‘the British flag’ or ‘the flag of Britain’.
Nearly one hundred years later, another country was added to the Union flag
Ireland is represented by the cross of St Patrick
(a diagonal red cross on a white background.)
On 1 January 1801, Ireland was united with Great Britain and it became necessary to have a new national flag in which Ireland was represented. The cross St. Patrick was combined with the Union Flag of St. George and St. Andrew, to create the Union Flag that has been flown ever since.
Cross of St. Patrick was inserted so the position given to St. Andrew’s Cross in one quarter was the same as that given to the Irish one in the diagonally opposite quarter opposite quarter, in heraldry this is known as “counterchanging”
The new British Flag is not symmetrical because of the counterchange.
As Scotland joined the Union 200 years before Ireland, St. Andrews Cross was placed uppermost in the top quarter nearest the flagstaff, this being the most honorable position according to heraldry, while the Irish cross was given the second most honorable position, the top quarter of the fly.
In order to avoid having the red of Irish Cross directly upon the blue field of the Scottish one and edging of the white field of the Irish Cross is used.
The symbols of Scotland and Ireland are placed are sided by side of the Union Flag.
England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland were all joined together and called United Kingdom, Great Britain and Ireland. The name was later changed to United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland when the greater part of Ireland left the United Kingdom in 1921.
N.B: St. Patrick’s Cross remains in the flag even though today only Northern Ireland is Part of the United Kingdom.