Union Flag: Wikis


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Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The Union Flag: a red cross over a red saltire, both with white border, over a dark blue background.
Name Union Flag or
Union Jack
Use National flag
Proportion 1:2
(War flag 3:5)
Adopted 1801
Design The Cross of Saint Andrew counterchanged with the Cross of Saint Patrick, over all the Cross of Saint George.

The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom.[1] It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada.[2] The current design dates from the Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.[3]



Union Flag flies on a flagpole with clear sky and sun behind.
The "Union Flag" or "Union Jack"

Whether to use "Union Flag" or "Union Jack" is a matter of debate.

The Flag Institute, the vexillological organisation for the United Kingdom, stated that the term Union Flag is a "relatively recent idea". Jack was a word previously used to denote any flag.[4] 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".[3] Nevertheless, the term "Union Flag" is used in King Charles's proclamation of 1634,[5] 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.[6] One theory is that the "Jack" part of the name may also have come from the name of King James I/James VI of Scotland.[7]

When the first flag was introduced in 1606, it became known simply as "the British flag" or "the flag of Britain". The royal proclamation gave no distinctive name to the new flag. The word "jack" was in use before 1600 to describe the maritime bow flag.[citation needed] 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.[3]

Amongst the proclamations issued by King George III at the time of the union of 1801 was a proclamation concerning flags at sea, and which referred to "Our Flags, Jacks, and Pendants" and forbade merchant vessels from wearing "Our Jack, commonly called the Union Jack" nor any pendants or colours used by the King's ships.[8] In contrast, the King's proclamation of the same day concerning the arms and flag of the United Kingdom, not colours at sea, called the new flag "the Union Flag".

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 colonies, it is possible that the term "Jack" occurred 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.[9] Members of the Royal Navy only refer to the flag as the Union Jack when it is flying on their ships, commonly phrased as 'at sea'. Even the same flag, before it is flying will be called the Union Flag.[citation needed]

The term "Union Flag" is less well-known outside the United Kingdom,[2][10] and may refer to other union flags.


Flag of Great Britain
Red cross with white border over a white saltire and dark blue background.
Name Union Flag, The King's Colours or "Union Jack"
Use National flag
Proportion 3:5
Adopted 1606-1800
Design The Cross of St George over the Cross of St Andrew.

When James VI, King of Scots, inherited the thrones of England and Ireland and was crowned James I of England in 1603, the crowns of the Kingdom of England (which included the Kingdom of Ireland and, since 1535, 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.[9]

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 "joined together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects."[3] forming the flag of Great Britain and first union flag. This royal flag was at first only for use at sea on civil and military ships of both Scotland and England.[11] In 1634, King Charles I restricted its use to the monarch's ships.[12] (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.) In 2003 a committee of the Scottish Parliament recommended that the flag of Scotland use a lighter "royal" blue, (Pantone 300). (The Office of the Lord Lyon does not detail specific shades of colour for use in heraldry.)

A thin white stripe, or fimbriation, separates the red cross from the blue field, in accordance with heraldry's rule of tincture where colours (like red and blue) must be separated from each other by metals (like white, i.e. argent or silver). The blazon for the old union 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.[11] (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.)

Red cross with white border over a white saltire and dark blue background. At the centre is a gold harp in dark blue shield, which is the same size as the intersection of vertical and horizontal white bars.
Protectorate Jack, 1658–60

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.[11] However, the flag of The Protectorate from 1658 to 1660 was inescutcheoned with the arms of Ireland. These were removed after the Restoration, supposedly because Charles II disliked them.

The original flag appears in the canton of the Commissioners' Ensign of the Northern Lighthouse Board. This is the only contemporary official representation of the pre-1801 Union Flag in the United Kingdom[13] 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.[14]

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.

Lord Howe's action, or the Glorious First of June, painted in 1795, shows a Union flying from HMS Queen Charlotte on the "Glorious First of June" 1794. The actual flag, preserved in the National Maritime Museum, is a cruder approximation of the proper specifications; this was common in 18th and early 19th-century flags.[15]


Other proposed versions

Page of ancient book showing six flag designs, all showing combinations of English and Scottish flags.
Other proposed versions.
Engraving of a castle on top of a steep hill, above the title "The North East View of Edinburgh Castle". On the castle flies a large Union Flag with Scottish saltire part of flag most visible.
Slezer's Edinburgh Castle c.1693 depicting the Scottish Union Flag.
White saltire clearly visible over white-bordered red cross on blue background.
"Azure, a Cross gules, fimbriated, argent; over all a Saltier of the last"

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.[16] 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.

Scottish Union Flag

In objecting to the design of Union Flag adopted in 1606, whereby the cross of Saint George surmounted that of Saint Andrew, a group of Scots took up the matter with John Erskine, 18th Earl of Mar, and were encouraged by him to send a letter of complaint to James VI, via the Privy Council of Scotland, which stated that the flag's design "will breid some heit and miscontentment betwix your Majesties subjectis, and it is to be feirit that some inconvenientis sail fall oute betwix thame, for our seyfaring men cannot be inducit to resave that flage as it is set down".[17] Although documents accompanying this complaint which contained draughts for alternative designs have been lost, evidence of an unofficial Scottish variant, whereby the Scottish cross was uppermost, does exist.[18][19] An early account of the possible use of such a flag refers to an occasion in 1617 where in welcoming James VI to Dumfries, the Town Commissar was reported to have stated "Your Royall Majestie, in whose sacred person the King of kings hath miraculouslie united so many glorious Kingdoms, under whose Scepter the whyte and reid crocies are so proportionablie interlaced".[20] This description of the crosses being "so proportionablie interlaced" is interpreted by some as evidence of a Scottish version of the union flag,[21] however others dispute this interpretation.

Evidence to suggest actual use of this flag appears in the depiction of Edinburgh Castle by John Slezer, in his series of engravings entitled Theatrum Scotiae, c. 1693. Appearing in later editions of Theatrum Scotiae, this engraving depicts the Scotch (to use the appropriate adjective of that period) version of the Union Flag flying from the Castle Clock Tower.[22] Furthermore, this flag's design is described in the 1704 edition of The Present State of the Universe by John Beaumont, Junior, which contains as an appendix The Ensigns, Colours or Flags of the Ships at Sea: Belonging to The several Princes and States in the World. Within this appendix, the flag's blazon is given as "Azure, a Cross gules, fimbriated, argent; over all a Saltier of the last".[23] This blazon is described elsewhere as "On a blue shield (field?) of Scotland the red cross of St. George fimbriated with its white field, surmounted by the white cross of St. Andrew".[24]

On 17 April 1707, just two weeks prior to the Acts of Union coming into effect, and with Sir Henry St George, Garter King of Arms, having presented seven designs of flag to Queen Anne and her Privy Council for consideration, the flag for the soon to be unified Kingdom of Great Britain was chosen. Along with that version finally selected, the designs for consideration had included that version of Union Flag showing the Cross of Saint Andrew uppermost; identified as being the "Scotts union flagg as said to be used by the Scotts".[25] Despite bold lobbying on the part of the Scots representatives to the Privy Council, all their efforts were to be in vain, for that version of Union Flag showing the Cross of Saint George uppermost was destined to win the day.[26]

In 2006, despite almost three centuries having passed since last being used, Scottish historian David R. Ross called for Scotland to once again adopt this design, in order to "reflect separate national identities across the UK".[27] Despite an apparent lack of widespread public support in Scotland for such a proposal, the Scottish Union Flag may yet continue to find favour in some quarters. For example, to mark the 2009 Open Day celebrations on May 31 at Lennoxlove House, the historic seat of the Dukes of Hamilton, the Scottish Union Flag was observed flying from the flag pole on Lennoxlove House itself.[28]

Since 1801

The current and second 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 a red saltire, the so-called "cross of Saint Patrick", for Ireland. This is counterchanged with the saltire of St Andrew, such that 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. As with the red cross, so too the red saltire is separated by a white fimbriation from the blue field.[9] This fimbriation is repeated for symmetry on the white portion of the saltire, which thereby appears wider than the red portion. The fimbriation of the cross of St George separates its red from the red of the saltire.

Outside the Union flag, Saint Patrick's cross has seldom been used to represent Ireland, and with little popular recognition or enthusiasm; it is usually considered to derive from the arms of the powerful FitzGerald family rather than any association with the saint.[29]

The current flag's design, in use since 1801, is blazoned Azure, the Crosses Saltire of St Andrew and St Patrick, quarterly per saltire, counterchanged Argent and Gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of St George of the third, fimbriated as the saltire.

Flag speculation when Irish Free State founded

When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was concluded on 6 December 1921 and the creation of the new Irish Free State was an imminent prospect, the question arose as to whether the cross of Saint Patrick should remain in the Union Flag. The New York Times reported that on 22 January 1922:

At the College of Arms it was stated that certain modifications were under consideration and that if any action were taken it would be done by the King in Council. No parliamentary action would be necessary. Heraldry experts say that alterations in arms are very expensive. Some years ago there was a demand from Irish quarters that the blue ground of the golden harp on the royal standard should be changed to green. It was then estimated that the alteration would cost at least £2,000,000. To remove all reference to Ireland from the present Union Jack and Royal Arms would be vastly more expensive.[30]

There was some speculation on the matter in British dominions also, with one New Zealand paper reporting that:

...the removal of the cross of St. Patrick Cross after 120 years will transform the appearance of the flag. It will certainly become a flag under which great victories were won in the seventeenth [sic] and eighteenth centuries, but to most minds the sentimental loss will be great. Probably it will be found that the deletion is not absolutely necessary. Other possible changes include the abolition of the title of the United Kingdom, and the removal of the harp from the Royal Standard and the Coat of Arms, and the substitution of the Ulster emblem.[31]

However, the fact that it was likely that Northern Ireland would choose not to remain part of the Irish Free State after its foundation and instead exercise its right to opt back into the United Kingdom, gave better grounds for keeping the cross of St. Patrick in the Union Jack. In this regard, Sir James Craig, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland remarked in December 1921 that he and his government were "glad to think that our decision [to opt back into the United Kingdom] will obviate the necessity of mutilating the Union Jack."[32] Ultimately, when the British Home Secretary was asked on 7 December 1922 (the day after the Irish Free State was established) whether the Garter King-of-Arms was to issue any regulations with reference to the Union flag, the response was no and the flag has never been changed.[33]

Campaigns for a new Union Flag

Union Flag with intersection of red vertical and horizontal bars replaced by a red dragon on white background.
Proposal of Union Flag incorporating the Welsh Dragon.
Union Flag divided vertically into two halves. The left half is traditional red, white and blue; the right half is yellow, black, red and white.
Proposal of Union Flag incorporating the St David's Cross.

In 2003 a private individual started a campaign – dubbed "reflag" or "Union Black" – to interpret the Union Flag in a racial context, and introduce black stripes in it. The proposal was denounced by MSP Phil Gallie as "ridiculous tokenism [that] would do nothing to stamp out racism".[34] The campaign received little support from any quarter and is now defunct.

Since there is no uniquely Welsh element in the Union Flag, Wrexham’s Labour MP Ian Lucas proposed 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.[35] 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 even anime characters and leeks.[36][37]


The Union Flag flies on a flagpole at the bow of a docked ship. Only front half of the ship is visible, and signal flags are tied between bow and mast.
The "Union Jack" flying from HMY Britannia's jackstaff.
Union Flag, Scottish Flag and EU Flag on poles against a blue sky.
The "Union Flag", Scottish Flag and EU Flag flying from the Scottish Parliament's flag poles.

The Union Flag is used as a jack by commissioned warships and submarines of the Royal Navy, and by commissioned Army and Royal Air Force vessels, though no such vessel was in commission as of June 2007. When at anchor or alongside, it is flown from the jackstaff at the bow of the ship. When a ship is underway, the Union Jack is only flown from the jackstaff when the ship is dressed for a special occasion, such as the Queen's official birthday.

The Union Flag is worn at the masthead of a ship to indicate the presence of the Sovereign or an Admiral of the Fleet.[38] It is also worn at the masthead of 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.[39] The Union Flag may also be flown from the yardarm to indicate that a court-martial is in progress, though these are now 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 precedent. 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, Sir John Gilmour, 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.[9]

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. Naval ships will fly the white ensign, and merchant and private boats can fly the red ensign, both of which contain the union flag as part of the design.

The Court of the Lord Lyon, which has legal 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."[40]

The Union Flag has been in use in Canada dating back to the Scottish settlement in Nova Scotia in 1621.[citation needed] At the close of the Great Canadian 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.[41] 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'. However the Bill had not received its second reading by the end of that parliamentary session.[42]

Other ratios

Union Flag truncated to remove far-left and far-right edges.
3:5 variant or War flag.

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.[43] The 3:5 version is most commonly used by the British Army and is sometimes known as the War flag. In this version the innermost points of the lower left and upper right 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 jacks of ships flying variants of the Blue Ensign are square and have a square Union Flag in the canton.[43] The Queen's Colours of Army regiments are 36 x 43 inches; on them, the bars of the cross and saltire are of equal width; so are their respective fimbriations, which are very narrow.[44]

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 Britain, 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 transferred 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 independent 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, as do some regional flags such as the Upper and Lower Murray River Flags. 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 Britain 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 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.

Horizontal orange, white and blue stripes. In the centre are three small flags, the left of which is the Union Flag.
Oranje-blanje-blou, or the flag of South Africa (1928-1994).

The Union Flag also appeared on both the 1910-1928 and 1928-1994 flags of South Africa. The 1910-1928 flag was a red ensign with the Union coat of arms in the fly. The 1928-1994 flag, based on the Prinsenvlag and commonly known as the oranje-blanje-blou (orange-white-blue), contained the Union Flag as part of a central motif at par with the flags of the two Boer republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. To keep any one of the three flags from having precedence, the Union Flag is spread horizontally from the Orange Free State flag towards the hoist; closest to the hoist, it is in the superior position but since it is reversed it does not precede the other flags.

Thin red white and blue horizontal stripes with Union Flag as top-left quarter.
Ka Hae Hawaiʻi, or the flag of Hawaii.

Hawaii, a state of the United States, incorporates the Union Jack in its state flag. According to one story, the King of Hawaii asked the British mariner, George Vancouver, during a stop in Lahaina, what the piece of cloth flying from his ship was. Vancouver replied that it represented his King's authority. The Hawaiian King then flew the flag as a symbol of royal authority (his own) not recognising its national derivation. Hawaii's flag represents the only current use of the Union Jack in any American state flag.


The Union Flag can be found in the canton of several of the ensigns flown by vessels and aircraft of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. These are used in cases where it is illegal to fly the Union Flag, such as at sea from a British ship. Normal practice for UK ships is to fly the White ensign (Royal Navy) or the Red ensign (Merchant and private boats). Similar ensigns are used by other countries (such as New Zealand and Australia) with the Union Flag in the canton. Other countries (such as India and Jamaica) follow similar ensign etiquette as the UK, replacing the Union Flag with their own national flag.

Red cross on white background,Union Flag as top-left quarter.
Solid red flag with Union Flag as top-left quarter.
The Merchant Navy Ensign. 
Sky blue flag with concentric circle RAF icon in right half and Union Flag as top-left quarter.
Dark blue cross with white border on powder blue background, with Union Flag as top-left quarter.
Dark blue flag with red and yellow castle to right and Union Flag in top-left quarter.
Gibraltar State Ensign. 
Red flag with multicoloured shield to right and Union Flag in top-left quarter.
Cayman Islands Red Ensign. 
Australian Flag with white background and blue stars
Australian Flag with pale blue background and small RAF icon in bottom-right.
Royal Australian Air Force Ensign. 
Dark blue cross with white border on powder blue background, with Union Flag as top-left quarter and red stars in bottom-right corner.
New Zealand Civil Aviation Ensign. 

Pilot Jack

Union Flag with thick white border comprising about half of the area of the flag.
The Union Jack with a white border.

The flag in a white border occasionally seen on merchant ships was sometimes referred to as the Pilot Jack. It can be traced back to 1823 when it was created as a signal flag, never intended as a civil jack. A book issued to British consuls in 1855 states that the white bordered Union Flag is to be hoisted for a pilot. Although there was some ambiguity regarding the legality of it being flown for any other purpose on civilian vessels, its use as an ensign or jack was established well in advance of the 1864 Act that designated the Red Ensign for merchant shipping. In 1970 the white-bordered Union Flag ceased to be the signal for a pilot, but references to it as national colours were not removed from the current Merchant Shipping Act and it was legally interpreted as a flag that could be flown on a merchant ship, as a jack if desired. This status was confirmed by the Merchant Shipping (Registration, etc.) Act 1993 and the consolidating Merchant Shipping Act 1995 which prohibits the use of any distinctive national colours or those used or resembling flags or pendants on Her Majesty's Ships, except the Red Ensign, the Union Flag with a white border, and some other exceptions permitted elsewhere in the Acts.

Flag days


In Canada, the Royal Union Flag is flown on specified days from federal buildings, airports, warships, military bases, and other government buildings on the following days:

The flag is only flown in addition to the Canadian national flag, where physical arrangements allow (e.g., when there is more than one flag pole).

United Kingdom

In July 2007, British prime minister Gordon Brown unveiled plans to have the Union Flag flown more often from government buildings.[45] While consultation on new guidelines is underway, the decision to fly the flag may be made by each government department.

Previously the flag was generally only flown on public buildings on days marking the birthdays of members of the Royal Family, the wedding anniversary of the monarch, Commonwealth Day, Accession Day, Coronation Day, the Queen's Official Birthday, Remembrance Sunday and on the days of the State Opening and prorogation of Parliament. The Union Flag is flown at half mast from the announcement of the death of the Sovereign (save for Proclamation Day), or upon command of the Sovereign.[46]

The current flag days where the Union Flag should be flown from government buildings throughout the UK are:

In addition, the Union Flag should be flown in the following areas on specified days:

On 30 November, (St Andrew's Day), the Union Flag can be flown in Scotland only where a building has more than one flagpole—on this day the Saltire will not be lowered to make way for the Union Flag if there is only one flagpole.[47] This difference arose after Members of the Scottish Parliament complained that Scotland was the only country in the world that could not fly its national flag on its national day. However, on 23 April, St. George's Day, it is the Union Jack that is flown over government offices in England rather than England's flag, St. George's Cross.[48]

Non-government organisations may fly the Union Flag whenever they choose.

Specifications for flag use

Union Flag with red bars in diagonals to one side of the white diagonals, such that there is a thicker white border on one side. The red bars are all off-centre as if they had been pushed in an anticlockwise direction.
Correct way to fly flag, assuming flagpole to the left
Union flag where red bars in diagonals are moved off-centre in a clockwise direction. This is both the vertical and horizontal mirror image of the previous image.
Incorrect way to fly flag, assuming flagpole to the left

The flag does not have reflectional symmetry, due to the slight pinwheeling of St Patrick's cross, which is technically called the counterchange of saltires. Thus, it has a right side and a wrong side up. To fly the flag the correct way up, the broad portion of the white cross of St Andrew should be above the red band of St Patrick (and the thin white portion below) in the upper hoist canton (the corner at the top nearest to the flag-pole), giving the Scottish symbol precedence over the Irish symbol. This is expressed by the phrases wide white top and broad side up. Traditionally, flying a flag upside down is understood as a distress signal. In the case of the Union Flag, the difference is so subtle as to be easily missed by many.

On 3 February 2009, the BBC reported that the flag had been inadvertently flown upside-down by the UK government at the signing of a trade agreement with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. The error had been spotted by readers of the BBC news website who had contacted the BBC after seeing a photograph of the event.[49]

The normal proportions of the flag are 1:2, except in the British Army, where a 3:5 version is used. The British Army's flag is the Union Flag, but in 1938 a "British Army Non-Ceremonial Flag" was devised, featuring a Lion on crossed blades with the St Edward's Crown on a red background. This is not the equivalent of the ensigns of the other armed services, but is used at recruiting and military or sporting events, when the Army needs to be identified but the reverence and ceremony due to the regimental flags and the Union Flag would be inappropriate.

The colour specifications for the colours Union Flag (Royal) Blue, Union Flag Red and White are:[9]

Scheme Blue Red White General Note: The colour schemes are not all congruent. This is due to different specifications for different types of media (for example, screen and print)

* Not official; these are Wikimedia Commons' own conversions of the Pantone.

Pantone (paper) 280 C 186 C Safe
Web-Safe Hex #003399 #CC0000 #FFFFFF
MoD 8711D 8711H 8711J
NATO 8305.99.130.4580 8305.99.130.4584 8305.99.130.4585
RGB (Hex)* 0, 36, 125 (#00247D) 207, 20, 43 (#CF142B) 255, 255, 255 (#FFFFFF)

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.[50]

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).[9] [9]

Other names

Other uses

Commonly the Union Flag is used on computer software and Internet pages as an icon representing a choice of the English language where a choice among multiple languages may be presented to the user.


Flag on pole before grey sky and trees in early spring. A modern brick building is visible on the left.
Pre-1801 Union Flag at the historic Fort York, Toronto, Canada. 
Colour engraving of carroon ship at sea flying flag with red cross over white saltire on blue background.
The flag flying on Britannia's boat in this 1793 James Gillray cartoon is considerably different from the present flag. 
Satirical cartoon has flag with light blue cross and saltire on white background, and light blue cross in top-left quarter of flag.
A different style of Union Flag appears again in another cartoon by Gillray
Flag with solid red background and Union Flag as top-left quarter and initials "HBC" in white in bottom-right.
The Hudson's Bay Company's historical flag has a Union Flag on the corner. 
Commissioners' Flag of the Northern Lighthouse Board
Typical use of the Union Flag. 
The Royal Union Flag alongside the flag of Canada and the flag of British Columbia, at Stanley Park in Vancouver
The flag of the Canadian Province of Ontario
The flag of the Canadian Province of Manitoba
The flag of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador
The Grand Union Flag is considered to be the first national flag of the United States
The flag of the U.S. state of Hawaii, incorporating the Union Flag. 
Union Flag flying above Downing Street

See also

Further reading

  • Nick Groom (2007). The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag. Atlantic Books. ISBN 9781843543374. 


  1. ^ Union Jack, The official website of the British Monarchy.
  2. ^ a b The Royal Union flag in Canada
  3. ^ a b c d British flags, from the Flag Institute site. Accessed 2 May 2007
  4. ^ The International Flag Book, Pederson cf, Blandford Press London
  5. ^ "Proclamation appointing the Flag, as well for Our Navy Royal as for the Ships of Our Subjects of South and North Britain" (1634) - … none of Our Subjects, of any of Our Nations and Kingdoms shall from henceforth presume to carry the Union Flag in the Main top, or other part of any of their Ships (that is) St Georges cross and St Andrews Cross joined together upon pain of Our high displeasure, but that the same Union Flag be still reserved as an ornament proper for Our own Ships and Ships in Our immediate Service and Pay, and none other."
  6. ^ "A Proclamation Declaring His Majesty's Pleasure concerning the Royal Style and Titles appertaining to the Imperial Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and its Dependencies, and also the Ensigns, Armorial Flags, and Banners thereof" (1 January 2009) London Gazette, 30 December 1800
  7. ^ The International Flag Book, Pederson FP, 1971 Blandford Press London
  8. ^ "A Proclamation Declaring what Ensign or Colours shall be borne at Sea, in Merchant Ships or Vessels, belonging to any of His Majesty's Subjects of the United Kingdom London Gazette 17 January 1801
  9. ^ a b c d e f g United Kingdom at Flags of the World. Retrieved on 2008-06-10.
  10. ^ The Union Jack in the Australian National Flag
  11. ^ a b c "Union Jack Brief History". Know Britain. http://www.know-britain.com/general/union_jack.html. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  12. ^ "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
  13. ^ Northern Lighthouse Commissioner's Flag at Flags of the World
  14. ^ Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (U.S.) at Flags of the World
  15. ^ "Command flag, Admiral of the Fleet, RN (before 1801) (AAA0730)". Collections Online. National Maritime Museum. http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/object.cfm?ID=AAA0730. Retrieved 2009-07-10.  (see also Post Office Blue Ensign (made between 1833 and 1864) from the same collection.
  16. ^ The Kings and Queens of England and Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry (Grove Press, 1990). Includes several proposed versions of the original Union Flag.
  17. ^ Hulme, Edward. F. (1897). The flags of the world : their history, blazonry and associations. F. Warne & co.. pp. 152.  Full text at 'The Internet Archive'
  18. ^ William McMillan and John Alexander Stewart (1925). The story of the Scottish flag. H. Hopkins. pp. 112.  Google books: "This flag had official recognition"
  19. ^ Bartram, Graham (2005). British Flags & Emblems. Flag Institute/Tuckwell. pp. 122.  Google books: "Unofficial 1606 Scottish Union Flag"
  20. ^ Nichols, John (1828). The progresses, processions, and magnificent festivities, of King James the First: his royal consort, family, and court; collected from original manuscripts, scarce pamphlets, corporation records, parochial registers, &c., &c. ... Illustrated with notes, historical, topographical, biographical .... J. B. Nichols.  Google books
  21. ^ Paul Harris, William McMillan and John Stewart (1992). Story of Scotland's Flag. Lang Syne Publishers. pp. 48. 
  22. ^ John Slezer, Robert Sibbald and Abel Swall (1693). Theatrum Scotiae: Containing the prospects of their Majesties castles and palaces: together with those of the most considerable towns and colleges; the ruins of many ancient abbeys, churches, monasteries and convents, within the said kingdom. All curiously engraven on copper plates. With a short .... John Leake. pp. 114. 
  23. ^ Beaumont, John (1704 - first published 1701)). The Present State of the Universe: Or an Account of I. The Rise, Births, Names, ... of All the Present Chief Princes of the World. .... Benj. Motte, and are to be sold by John Nutt, 1704. pp. 164. 
  24. ^ Various contributors (1882). The Reliquary v. 22. John Russell Smith.  Google books
  25. ^ de Burton, Simon (1999-11-09). "How Scots lost battle of the standard". The Scotsman (Johnston Press plc). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1P2-18715263.html. Retrieved 2009-06-30. Partial view at Encyclopedia.com
  26. ^ Sears, Neil (1999-12-07). "Byline: Now the father of the Union Jack flies into battle". The Daily Mail (Associated Newspapers Ltd). http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/daily-mail-london-england-the/mi_8002/is_1999_Dec_7/father-union-jack-flies-battle/ai_n36091156/. Retrieved 2008-12-15. Full view at bnet Business Library: Newspaper Collection
  27. ^ "Let's have a Scottish version of Union flag, says historian" The Scotsman 21 June 2006. Retrieved on 2009-05-05.
  28. ^ Close up image at flickr.com Retrieved on 2009-07-21 Additional images at Haddington Pipe Band website Retrieved on 2009-07-22
  29. ^ Hayes-McCoy, Gerard Anthony (1979). Pádraig Ó Snodaigh. ed. A history of Irish flags from earliest times. Dublin: Academy Press. p. 38. ISBN 090618701X. 
  30. ^ May Alter The Union Jack - New York Times
  31. ^ Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLII, Issue 9409, 13 December 1921, Page 5
  32. ^ Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLII, Issue 9413, 16 December 1921, Page 5
  33. ^ House of Commons Debate, 7 December 1922 (Vol. 159 cc2015-6W 2015W)
  34. ^ "Rebranding puts black marks against UK flag". BBC News Online. 11 June 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2981038.stm. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  35. ^ Welsh dragon call for Union flag BBC News Online 27 November 2007
  36. ^ "The new face of Britain Flag poll results". telegraph.co.uk. 11 December 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/12/11/nflag111.xml. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  37. ^ "Japan offers to solve 'Union Jack problem'". telegraph.co.uk. 6 December 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/11/30/nflag130.xml. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  38. ^ Use of the Union Flag at Sea at Flags of the World
  39. ^ Department of National Defence: The Honours, Flags and Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces
  40. ^ "Court of Lord Lyon page". http://www.lyon-court.com/lordlyon/218.183.html. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  41. ^ Commonwealth Day (www.pch.gc.ca) Accessed 30 Dec 2007
  42. ^ Bills and Legislation - Union Flag Bill
  43. ^ a b United Kingdom: 3:5 variant at Flags of the World. Retrieved on 2008-07-22.
  44. ^ Grieve, Martin; Christopher Southworth, David Prothero. "United Kingdom: Regimental Colours". Flags of the World. http://flagspot.net/flags/gb-regt.html. Retrieved 2009-07-09. 
  45. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Brown lifts ban on national flag
  46. ^ Department of Culture, Media and Sport's rules, issued on behalf of The Queen
  47. ^ Scotland.gov.uk- "Royal and ceremonial"/
  48. ^ BBC News- "Ministers agree flag day review"
  49. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Flag mistake at UK-China ceremony
  50. ^ Canadian Flag Etiquette at Flags of the World
  51. ^ A Google Images search for '米字旗' turns up several United Kingdom flags
  52. ^ and Scottish and Welsh Nationalists. In Scotland the name came about because of the bloddy aftermath of the battle of Culloden where widespread murder of innocent civilians was carried out by the British state.Groom, Nick (2007). "Union Jacks and Union Jills". in Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Richard Jenkins. Flag, Nation and Symbolism in Europe and America. Routledge. p. 81. ISBN 0415444047. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SlhbERCCqzUC&lpg=PA81&pg=PA81. 
  53. ^ http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/news/tm_objectid=16609593&method=full&siteid=66633-name_page.html

External links

External images
The Cross of Saint Andrew. 26 September 2009. By cthonus Accessed 2009-12-30.
The Cross of Saint George. 11 June 2006. By Two Thumbs. Accessed 2009-12-30.
Scottish Union Flag. 02 June 2009. By boongiepam. Accessed 2009-12-16.
English/British Union Flag. 29 March 2008. By dr.nic. Accessed 2009-12-31.
The Cross of Saint Patrick. 17 March 2007. By tim ellis. Accessed 2009-12-30.
United Kingdom Union Flag. 15 July 2009. By leegibb13. Accessed 2009-12-16.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun

first Union Flag


first Union Flag

The Union flag of the Great Britain. FIAV 111000.svg Flag Ratio: 1:2
  1. The flag of the Great Britain, consisting of the flags of England (St. George's Cross) and Scotland (St. Andrew's Cross) combined.
  2. (nautical) (British) The flag, consisting of the flags of England (St. George's Cross) and Scotland (St. Andrew's Cross) combined, flown on ships of the government of Great Britain

second Union Flag


second Union Flag

The Union flag of the United Kingdom. FIAV 111000.svg Flag Ratio: 1:2
  1. The flag of the United Kingdom, consisting of the flags of England (St. George's Cross), Scotland (St. Andrew's Cross), and Ireland (St. Patrick's Cross) now only used in Northern Ireland combined.
  2. (nautical) (British) The flag, consisting of the flags of England (St. George's Cross), Scotland (St. Andrew's Cross), and Ireland (St. Patrick's Cross) now only used in Northern Ireland combined, flown on ships of the government of the United Kingdom

Usage notes

The Union Flag (also Union Jack, union jack) is regarded as the official flag of the United Kingdom, although technically no law to that effect has ever been passed


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