The History of the Flag of the United Kingdom
What is the design for the British flag?
The British flag derives from three countries of the United Kingdom. Initially the design is formed by the red cross of Saint George (the patron saint of England) and edged in white. This is superimposed onto the cross of Saint Patrick (the patron saint of Ireland). These two red crosses are then superimposed on the saltire of Saint Andrew (the patron saint of Scotland). Wales, however, is not represented at all on the Union Flag.
The flag may appear symmetrical when you look at it, however the white lines above and below the cross of St Patrick are different widths. On the side of the flag hung closest to the flagpole, the white lines above the diagonals are wider; on the side furthest from the flagpole, the opposite is true. This means the flag can only be flown one way up and it is not reversible.
When was the flag first proposed?
The current design of the Union flag (or better known as Union Jack) was originally drawn up in 1801, with the union between Ireland and Great Britain-when the cross of St Patrick was included. Prior to the alteration of the flag’s design in 1801, the existing concept had no Irish (or Welsh for that matter) representation. It was simply the cross of Saint George on the saltire of Saint Andrew
After the historic the ‘Union of the Crowns ‘, in 1603, (when King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England) the first union flag was created-albeit three years later in 1606. The design displayed both the cross of St George and the Saltire of St Andrew. The principality of Wales had united with England in 1536; therefore it was not deemed unnecessary to include a Welsh representation because Wales was not a separate kingdom.
The progression of the flags
Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) saw a different idea of the national flag compared to what we adhere to now. The Royal Standard (flown by HM or their family) was considered to be the flag of the United Kingdom, not soley the flag of the monarch. This flag, used by HM or members of their royal family was flown on specific occasions only; particular military parades; on official buildings in the United Kingdom; at Government House in the colonies; on HM’s birthday; on the days of a Coronation and Accession; and flown on government buildings when the sovereign was passing.
In 1906, five years after Queen Victoria’s death, the Admiralty and War Office decreed that unless HM was present in person, the Royal Standard was not to be displayed. 1908 brought a report that action was to be taken against persons or bodies reported for flying the Royal Standard. To substantiate this event the Earl of Crewe wrote a letter addressed to The Times newspaper, concerning a belief that the Royal Standard could be flown anywhere, by anyone, was in fact incorrect. As George V succeeded Edward VII in 1910 as the King of England, it had become accepted practice that the Royal Standard of the UK was also the sovereign’s personal banner. Still only permitted to be flown when HM was present inside the building in question.
This restriction of the Royal Standard, or standard of the United Kingdom, led to a public outcry. The general population, now unable to fly the Royal Standard in support of their national pride, began looking for an alternative. The Union Jack slowly began to replace the Royal Standard in relatively few places or occasions where the standard was no longer permissible. The change was encouraging for the public, the idea and profile of the Union Jack increased until the thought surfaced that it could be used for the country as well.
What about now?
After 6 July 2007, when Gordon Brown proclaimed, “When I came into government I realised that you could only fly the flag on 18 days in the year and I thought that was wrong,” a change came that much of the country had been searching for. Mr Brown repealed the old law which meant anyone could now fly the national flag on any day of the year, not singled out to a few days of the year.
When troops came home, for pride, festivals, and much more, the flag was now permitted to be flown, without recourse. The Royal Standard still flies, wherever HM or their immediate family are present and it remains an emblem solely for them. The English flag is simply the St George cross; the Union Jack is for the entirety of the UK. If you look at the flags of the Commonwealth, you will see the spread of the empire and the old ties back to the United Kingdom. Australia, New Zealand and many others still display the Union Jack in one corner of their flag.
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