The Story Of The Union Jack: The National Flag Of The United Kingdom

The Union Jack flying high in the sky.
The Union Jack flying high in the sky.

The United Kingdom, or Britain, is found in Western Europe. The UK is made up of the Island of Great Britain, Ireland, and other smaller islands. UK is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II being the sitting monarch. The UK consists of four countries including England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Irelands with the last three having a devolved administration. The UK has several national symbols some of which are unique to its constituent countries. Some of the common national symbols include the national flag, national personification known as Britannia, National animals (Bulldog and Lion), Royal Court of Arms of the United Kingdom, national motto, and the national anthem.

The Flag Of The United Kingdom

The national flag of the UK is famously called the Union Jack or the Union Flag. The flag has degree of status in some of the Commonwealth Countries like Canada where it is considered an official flag there by the parliamentary resolution. The flag is also used in some of the smaller UK overseas territories as the official flag. The Union Jack also appears in flags of some of the nations and territories that were under the dominion of the British. The current design of the flag dates back to 1801 during the Royal Decree after the union of the England and Ireland. The flag is created with the aspects of three older national flags; St George’s Red Cross of the kingdom of England, St Andrew’s white saltire of Scotland, and St Patrick’s red saltire of the Irelands. The origin of the flag of the Great Britain dates back to 1606 when James VI united England and Scotland.

Origin And Use Of The Term “Union Jack”

Union Jack and Union Flag are used interchangeably to refer to the flag of the UK. Both terms are historically correct in the description of the national flag of the UK. England and Scotland remained independent kingdoms in the 17th century up to the passing on of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603. Since she died childless and was unmarried, the crown was given to James VI who was her cousin and also the king of Scotland. In 1606, King James VI ordered for the creation of a flag which bore the crosses of both St George and St Andrew. The resultant flag was the Union Flag or Union Jack with Jack as the short form of Jacobus which is a Latin word for James. When the first flag was established, it was just referred to as the British Flag.

No unique name was given to it during the royal proclamation. The word Jack was used before the 17th century as a description for the maritime bow flag. By 1620s, a small union flag was flown in the position of the maritime bow. By 1674, the flag was being referred to as Union Jack which finally became its official name. In 1801, King George proclaimed the new flag as the Union Flag. The Royal Navy which was also powerful at the same time also informed the name Union Jack given to the flag. The Navy Ship was commonly used by the UK and its colonies with the British ship using the jack staff or the pole for the flag and was attached to the bow of the ship. Winston Churchill who served as the prime minister of UK from 1940 to 1945 also referred to the flag as the Union Jack.

History Of The Flag

When James VI took over the reign in the Kingdoms of English and Ireland in 1603 and united the crowns, he asked for the establishment of a new flag as the representation for the regal union. On April 12, 1606, a new flag was established with the flag of Kingdom of England, and that of Scotland put together to create the flag of the UK and the first ever union flag. The royal flag was meant for civil and military ship of both kingdoms on sea only while the land forces were to continue using their respective flags. In 1634, the flag was restricted to use on the royal ships only by King Charles I. However; the flag gained regular in the Kingdom of Britain after the Acts of Union in 1707. The flag was finally adopted by the armies operating on land although the shade of blue used on the field resembled that of the flag of Scotland. The current flag has a dark navy blue which traces its origin from the Royal Navy’s Blue Squadron. The thin white stripe separating the red crosses from the blue fields is in line with the requirements of the rule of tincture where some colors like red and blue must be separate from each other. Wales was not recognized in the flag because it had been part of England since 1282. The Kingdom of Ireland was also not represented in the original version of the flag with the flag of the Protectorate between 1658 and 1660 escutcheoned with the Ireland’s arms.

The Status Of Union Jack

The flag is mounted on warships and submarines commissioned by the Royal Navy and also on air force vessels. The flag is worn at the masthead of a ship as an indication of the presence of an Admiral of the Fleet. No law recognized law make the Union Jack as the kingdom’s national flag, but it was upgraded to one through precedents. The use of the Union Flag on land by the civilians has been permitted, but the use at sea has been restricted to only the military. According to Lord Lyon, the Union Jack is the right flag for the people and the corporate bodies of the UK. In Australia, the Union flag was systematically replaced by the current national flag through the Flag Act of 1953. Union Jack is incorporated by four former British colonies as a part of their national flags. These colonies include New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and Tuvalu. The flag was also used by the US in its first flag. There are designated days when the Union flag needs to be flown on buildings throughout the UK. Also, there are days when the flag is flown on specific places only.


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