I recently posted on the antiquity of the Saltire. Continuing in this vexillological vein, I thought I’d post on the history of the Union Flag, the flag of the United Kingdom.
In 1606 James VI King of Scots inherited the English crown from his unwed and issueless cousin Queen Elizabeth I, unifying the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland under a single monarch. To symbolize this new union, King James decreed a new flag be created by combining the flags of England and Scotland to form the Union Jack, or more correctly, the Union Flag.
The king decreed:
We have, with the advice of our Council, ordered: That from henceforth all our Subjects of this Isle and Kingdome of Great Britaine, and all our members thereof, shall beare in their main-toppe the Red Crosse, commonly called St. George’s Crosse, and the White Crosse, commonly called St. Andrew’s Crosse, joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects: and in their fore-toppe our Subjects of South Britaine shall weare the Red Crosse onely as they were wont, and our Subjects of North Britaine in their fore-toppe the White Crosse onely as they were accustomed.
Some in Scotland were none too happy about the English flag being imposed over the Scots flag. In response, many in Scotland used an unofficial variant, imposing the Saltire over St. George’s Cross. The use of this variant seemed to die out before 18th century.
After England and Scotland shared the same monarch for 101 years it became official. In 1707 The Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England ratified the Treaty of Union creating the new Kingdom of Great Britain.
Great Britain also shared its monarch with the Kingdom of Ireland. In 1800 Great Britain and Ireland ratified an Act of Union creating the new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The new United Kingdom adopted a new version of the Union Flag incorporating St. Patrick’s Saltire, a flag used by the English for Ireland. This is the current version of the Union Flag, used even after Irish independence in 1922 with St. Patrick’s Saltire representing Northern Ireland.