Sunday, June 10, 2012

Unions and Jacks


I had lunch with a friend, Graham, at his home this weekend, the Queen’s birthday weekend.  Graham had decorated  his place on a British/Royalty theme – Union Jack flags, photographs of Her Maj etc – and was serving British food and drink.  He also played English music and songs and had the Jubilee celebrations and concert on the flat screen.

Although Her Maj’s birthday is actually on 21 April, celebrating it on that date would clash with Easter in many years and would also position it too close to Anzac Day, 25 April.  Further, before Australia instituted its own Honours Lists, the Queen’s Honours List was published twice per year, one at the beginning of the year and the second about six months later on the Queen’s official birthday.  Australia now has its own Honours List but the dates are maintained.

Being somewhat of a stirrer, I pointed out to Graham that the Union Jacks he had downloaded and printed were incorrect insofar as they showed the internal ends of the red X meeting in the corners in the same manner for all four, ie:

This touched off a discussion with those present as to whether I was right or wrong, what it should be and why.

The following is a brief description of the origin of the Union Jack:

The Union Jack, also known as the Union Flag, is a composite design which incorporates the national symbols of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland:

St George’s Cross, the flag of England

St Andrew’s Cross, the flag of Scotland

St Patrick’s cross, the flag of Ireland

The cross represented in each flag is named after the patron saint of each country: St. George, patron saint of England, St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland and St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

The Welsh flag is not part of the British flag in that Wales had already been united with England when the first version of the Union Flag was designed in 1606.

When King James VI of Scotland became king of England  as King James I, in 1603, the union of the two realms under one king was represented symbolically by a new flag in 1606. Originally It consisted in the red cross of England superimposed on the white cross of Scotland on the blue background of the Scottish flag, as follows:

This flag was known as, and officially called, the Union Flag.

The intended unity of the flag was instead characterised by disunity. The English resented the fact that the white background of their cross had disappeared and that the new flag had the blue Scottish background. Likewise the Scots resented the fact that the English red cross was superimposed on the Scottish white cross.  The Scots even developed their own version:

Under Oliver Cromwell a harp was placed in the centre, representing Ireland, but original design was restored when the monarchy came back into power in 1660.

With the union of Ireland and Great Britain on 1 January, 1801, it was necessary to represent Ireland in the Union Flag.  Accordingly the cross of St. Patrick was added, creating the present Union Jack:

When the southern part of Ireland gained its independence in 1921 and became the Irish Free State no alteration was made to the Union Jack.

The Saint Patrick’s Cross is asymmetric so that the white St Andrew's cross is not interpreted as simply a border separating the cross of St. Patrick from the blue field, in order to avoid having the red directly on the blue. The asymmetry makes it clear that the St. Andrew cross is an element of the flag.  The Saind Andrew's Cross has the higher position on the hoist side and the Saint Patrick's Cross has the higher position on the opposite side.

The right way to fly the Union Jack:

The wrong way to fly the flag:

The official design measurements:

One further note on the name. 

Jack is the slang term for a naval flag, or ensign, and was first used to describe a flag flown from the bow of a ship.  It was in use before 1600.

By 1627 a small Union Flag was commonly flown at the bow of British ships and it came to be known as the “Jack Flag”, “the King’s Jack” or simply “the Jack”.  By 1674 it was formally called "His Majesty's Jack" but was also commonly called “the Union Jack”.  The name "Union Jack" became official when it was approved in Parliament in 1908. It was stated that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag".

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