The Union Flag, commonly known as the Union Jack, has a rich history dating back to 12th April 1606 when it was first commissioned by James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of England.

On this day in 1606, Britain was united under one flag, as the Union Jack was created to settle confusion at sea.

The flag combined the red cross of St. George, the patron saint of England, with the white saltire cross of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.

On 12th April 1606 the new flag was used for the first time and it looked like this.

The Welsh dragon does not appear at all in any flag because when the first Union Flag was designed in 1606 Wales was already united with England and was no longer a separate principality.

Over the years, the Union Flag underwent various changes, including the addition of a harp during Oliver Cromwell’s rule and the removal of the harp upon the Restoration of Charles II.

The harp was removed on the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and by 1674 it was known as the King’s Jack.

In 1801 when Ireland joined the United Kingdom, St Patrick’s Cross was added to the mix. Creating the flag we all know so well now.

The term “Union Jack” possibly originated during the reign of Queen Anne, though its exact origin remains uncertain.

The word ’Jack’ was used before 1600 to refer to a seagoing bow flag. However it might have come from the fact that is was then worn on the jackets of soldiers or possibly from the nickname of James I. 

The favourite theory is that it was used on boats of the Royal Navy and was flown as a ‘jack’ – a small flag on the bowsprit at the front of the vessel. The idea that it is only called a “Union Jack’ officially when used on a boat is a more modern notion.

It is often stated that the Union Flag should only be described as the Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. 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.”

The flag has been used by many Commonwealth countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Bermuda and even the US State of Hawaii. A whopping 23 countries around the world still use the British flag for official purposes (most of these countries are former colonies and part of the Commonwealth).

Did you know? Hawaii was once a British protectorate and the Hawaiian Kingdom flag has had the Union Jack on it since 1793.

When the present Union Flag design was made official in 1801, it was originally a Royal flag and ordered to be flown on all the King’s forts and castles, but not elsewhere. It is today one of the most recognised flags in the world and flown above Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Sandringham when The King is not in residence.

Photographer: Sgt Donald C Todd. UK MOD © Crown copyright – OGL Licence.

The Royal Arms of Scotland (Lion Rampant) is flown at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Balmoral when The King is not in residence.

On news of a Royal death, the Union Flag (or the Royal Arms of Scotland (Lion Rampant) where appropriate) is flown at half-mast.

The Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast, as the Sovereign never dies (the new monarch immediately succeeds his or her predecessor).

DID YOU KNOW?

It’s one thing to know that the flag is blue, red and white, but do you know the exact numbers for the official colours? They’re actually called the Union Jack royal blue, the Union flag red and white. Here are the actual specifications for the three colours:

  • RGB: blue (1, 33, 105); red (200, 16, 46); white (255, 255, 255);
  • HEX: blue (#012169); red (#C8102E); white (#FFFFFF);
  • Pantone: blue (280 C); red (186 C); white (Safe);
  • CMYK: blue (100.85.5.22); red (2.100.85.6); white (0.0.0.0).
  •  The Union Jack is twice as long as tall, making the aspect ratio to 1:2. It’s unique in the UK since other land flags usually have the aspect ratio of 3:5.
  • The design you see now has been in use since 1801.
  • Although it looks symmetrical at first, there’s a slight difference in the St Patrick’s and St Andrew’s crosses.
  • For the very same reason, there’s a right and a wrong way to fly the flag.

For more information – Flags: the Union Flag and flags of the United Kingdom

1 COMMENT

  1. Happy Anniversary to our flag. Just a shame you have ruined the country it once was. You and the Communist Labour Party.

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