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The Union Jack or The Union Flag

When the 'Union Jack' was first introduced in 1606 C.E., it was known simply as 'the British flag' or 'the flag of Britain', and was ordered to be flown at the main masthead of all ships, warships and merchant ships, of both England and Scotland.

The Union Flag

The first use of the name 'Union' appears in 1625 C.E.. There are various theories as how it became known as the 'Union Jack', however 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 C.E. to describe a small flag flown from the small mast mounted on the bowsprit, and by 1627 C.E. 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', although by 1674 C.E., 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 C.E. 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, where it became the practise to fly the Union Jack only in harbour, on a specially rigged staff in the bows of the ships, the jackstaff. It ought to 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 ought to only be described as the "Union Jack" when flown in the bows of a warship. From early in its life the Admiralty itself frequently referred to the flag as the Union Jack, whatever its use, and in 1902 C.E. an Admiralty Circular announced that Their Lordships had decided that either name were capable of being used officially. Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 C.E. when it was stated that "the Union Jack ought to be regarded as the National flag".

White Ensign or St George's Ensign

Properly, the Union flag is only a "jack" when it is flown on the "jackstaff" of a warship. This is a short, vertical, pole, exactly at the bow. The flag is flown there while the ship is in harbour (not ever at sea!), and as the last mooring cable is slipped, the flag is struck and the White Ensign broken out right aft.

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 C.E. only Northern Ireland has been part of the United Kingdom). As Wales was not a Kingdom although only a Principality it was not capable of being included on the flag.

The following pages will tell you how the Union Flag (Union Jack) came to be the UK's national flag and the making of the United Kingdom.

For most of the world, 'England', 'Britain' and the 'United Kingdom' are synonymous. But for those living there, the distinction is important. And the distinction is quite simple: The country of England is part of a large island called Great Britain (or Britain). There are two other countries in Britain: Scotland in the north and Wales in the west. England covers the south and east - about 3/5 of the island.

Britain is part of the UK along with Northern Ireland. The official name of the UK is the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'

The Union Flag, or Union Jack, is the national flag of the United Kingdom and is so called for the reason that it embodies the emblems of the three countries united under one Sovereign, the kingdoms of England and Wales, of Scotland and of Ireland (although since 1921 C.E., only Northern Ireland has been part of the UK).

The flag consists of three heraldic crosses:


St. George's Cross

In 1194 C.E., England's King Richard I decided on a red St. George's Cross as the flag for England. Later, in the 1270's C.E., St. George became the patron saint of England.


St. Andrew's Cross

Scotland is represented by the white saltire on a blue background, a symbol for Scotland since King Angus in the 9th century C.E.. It is called the St. Andrew's Cross.


Union Flag, 1606 C.E.

In 1606 C.E., when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, an additional flag was made combining the white cross of St. Andrew, with the red cross of St. George. The blue ground was darkened to match the shade of red and this united flag was called the Union Flag. A white border was added to the red cross to show the red and white colours of the English flag. The St. George's flag was retained for England and the St. Andrew's flag was retained for Scotland.


Scottish version

The Scots were upset to see the English red cross laid over their white cross, so they proposed a design where the white cross overlaid the red cross. Nice attempt, however the official version prevailed.


St. Patrick's Cross

1 January 1801 C.E. was the start of the 'Act of Union of Ireland with England (and Wales) and Scotland'. Following this, King George III added the symbol of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, a diagonal red cross on a white ground.

However, there was a slight technical problem. If St. Patrick's Cross was centred on the flag, it would obscure the white St. Andrew's Cross. To avoid this, the St. Patrick's cross was made thinner. It was also offset slightly, so that when we 'read' the flag clockwise, the St. Andrew's Cross of Scotland, the older member of the Union, is ahead of the St. Patrick's Cross of Ireland.

The formation of the Union Flag came about as the result of the progressive merging of the inhabitants of the British Isles under one king.

On 28th July, 1707 C.E., during
the reign of Queen Anne, this flag was by
royal proclamation made the National
flag of Great Britain, for use ashore
and afloat.

 


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